Have the French learned their lesson? After episodes of unsolicited
aggression and some radical misreadings of the UK market, the Gallic
networks can at last be universally proud of their standing in the
Campaign Top 30 league.
Publicis rose from 12th to seventh place in the rankings, and Euro RSCG
Wnek Gosper moved up a rung to the 13th slot. BST-BDDP also held on to
its place at number 25 after a steady 1996, and put an extra pounds 13
million on its billings (Campaign, last week).
All three networks have come a long way since BDDP attempted an
ill-judged and hostile takeover bid for BMP DDB Needham in 1989 - an
event that was seen by many as a typical show of French arrogance.
Paul Foster, who was chairman and chief executive of Colman RSCG ten
years ago, observes: ’The French have at last learned that in the UK you
can’t crowd, rush and hassle an agency into being what you want it to
Instead, the Paris headquarters of Euro RSCG, BDDP and Publicis have all
been aiming for consistency and steady growth by allowing local agencies
the utmost autonomy.
Maurice Levy, Publicis’s chairman, says: ’I’d love to say that it is
because the British look at the French as the future of advertising, but
the London success has come about despite the French parent. It is due
to having the right people, and once you have found them, it is a
mistake to have too much outside input.’
Nick Baum, the European chief executive of Euro RSCG, agrees: ’We
recognise that France lacks automatic credibility and it makes up less
than 4 per cent of the global advertising market so we have no desire to
impose ourselves on the world. French are in the minority on our
Publicis’s chairman, Michael Conroy, and its joint chief executives, Dan
O’Donoghue and Rick Bendel, were not bragging about their steady stream
of success throughout 1996, which included multi-million pound wins from
Inmarsat, Roysters, Whitehall Laboratories, Thomson Electronics,
Hewlett-Packard, Guinness and Allied Bakeries.
Nor is much noise made about its work for top-spending clients such as
MFI and Asda, which together make up pounds 40 million of its pounds
186.5 million billing business. Coca-Cola adds a further pounds 26
million and Renault pounds 45.5 million (ACN-Meal).
Bendel says that the Publicis mindset is simply to ’get down to it’, and
that the network is ’relatively humble’, though he adds confidently:
’You have to find the best players and then let them play their own
It is unlikely now that the European networks would ever produce an
upset like that seen at DMB&B in February 1995 when the two successful
joint chairmen of the London agency - Graham Hinton and Tony Douglas -
were ousted by an edict from the US and replaced by the American bosses’
blue-eyed boy, John Farrell.
Over at Euro RSCG, they may shout louder than Publicis but they are
telling the same story - find the right local management and let them
get on with it. Baum says: ’We found a fantastic trio and all the credit
has to go to them. Our management tendency is to give people as much
responsibility as they can handle.’
Baum says the triumvirate - Mark Wnek, the executive creative director,
Brett Gosper, the chief executive, and Chris Pinnington, the managing
director - ’run the agency as if it were their own’.
At Publicis, local autonomy is a creed, and the communication from head
office is likely to be only about finances or setting long-term
International pitch teams are rare, and even work on French clients is
all done individually for local markets.
Euro RSCG, however, plays more on its cross-border teamwork. The
network’s key players spend a fair amount of time in the chunnel, and
Gosper and Wnek are both on the worldwide board.
Speed, youth and flexibility, Gosper claims, often give the European
networks an edge on the monolithic US networks. He says: ’The US
networks are like American Express, they have the same look and style
all over the world, whereas the European networks are more like a
familiar local bank card with a little Visa sign in the corner - the
international advantages are there for when you need them, but they
don’t swamp the local character.’
As the new kids on the block, relatively speaking, the French networks
struggle sometimes against agencies of the size and clout of Ogilvy and
Mather or J. Walter Thompson. ’In every market you have to be much
better than the obvious choice,’ Levy says.
Baum reveals that the French advertising fraternity tends to group
Americans and British together as one Anglo-Saxon community, thinking of
them as smart, smooth and likely to pull a fast one.
Out of necessity, the French networks are diluting their Frenchness and
gradually becoming as global as their American counterparts, although,
as Foster says: ’They are still a step away from the premier league.’
After all, Wieden and Kennedy originates most of the creative work for
Publicis’s Coke account and for Euro RSCG’s Microsoft business.
Rivalry between Publicis, BDDP and Euro RSCG is fierce, and the
agencies’ London bosses were reluctant to be grouped together in the
same article. They did agree on one thing, however - they all want to be
like Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.