McGarryBowen is hot in the US, but will it work here?

As the agency prepares to go international, its first flag will be planted in London because that's what clients want, Stewart Owen says.

From l-r, Angus Macadam, Stewart Owen, Ida Rezvani, Paul Jordan and Jim Kelly
From l-r, Angus Macadam, Stewart Owen, Ida Rezvani, Paul Jordan and Jim Kelly

Does London really need another ad agency?

London doesn't need another ad agency - at least, not for the sake of having yet one more nameplate. Neither does New York, Sao Paulo, Mumbai - or any of a hundred other cities.

So, why is McGarryBowen opening here? Our commitment to London is a commitment to our clients. It's as simple as that. We're here because we believe it's the right thing to do for them.

We also suspect that new clients will find there's room for an agency focusing on the things they value the most. That's the secret to our growth over the last decade - from three people to nearly a thousand - creating work that works to grow our clients' businesses.

Why have so many US hotshops launched in London?

To be honest, we don't spend a lot of time analysing or fretting over what other agencies are doing, be they hot, cold or lukewarm.

We assume that other US agencies are launching in London for the same reason we are - and for the same reason British hotshops are opening in the US. Client opportunities are becoming inexorably more global and increasingly require a multicountry presence, while the nuances of culture and competition continue to demand sharp local insights.

Why London, specifically?

Because London is important to our clients and is one of the great global advertising capitals with a deep talent pool and a rich advertising tradition. London, too, is one of the great creative centres of the world, with a long history of developing big organising ideas.

In other words, you can't build brands around the world without being present around the world, and you can't be a global network without playing in London.

Would you have launched in London without a Dentsu connection already in place?

Absolutely. McGarryBowen's need to be in London is independent of Dentsu's history or presence. That's why we began working for our clients in London last year and that's why we're expanding; because that's what clients want and need from us.

Once we committed to being in London, we were fortunate to discover an incredible management team and a talented staff that we felt could be made even stronger by merging them with McGarry- Bowen. And being part of Dentsu is a real asset to our clients and to us.

It has terrific resources and gives us valuable support. McGarryBowen was successful before joining Dentsu and, since then, we have almost tripled in size. It's a formidable combination.

How much are you investing in your UK launch?

Even if we were entering this process with a predetermined budget, we wouldn't share the number with you - but, as it happens, we aren't. Suffice to say that Dentsu is supporting us in our global roll-out and the funds are sufficient for the task.

How will McGarryBowen be different from Dentsu London?

McGarryBowen in London will evolve very quickly to have a deeper bench strength of traditional marketing skills to mix with its existing technology and innovation strengths. Our plan is to inject more international client service and multinational creative skills, as required, to help manage some of our global advertising clients.

Ultimately, our focus is not on how today's McGarryBowen is different than the Dentsu London of the past. What we care about is ensuring that McGarryBowen in London is a successful organisation doing fabulous work for its clients. This is a strategic move by Dentsu to support and leverage McGarryBowen's current opportunities, and it just makes sense to combine the two efforts.

Tell us something about the McGarryBowen culture and how you think it will translate to the UK.

Values and commitments are universal: an obsessive focus on delivering work that works for clients; never giving up or going home until the problem is solved; and always remembering that we got into this business because we love advertising.

Critics say McGarryBowen's creative work is solid but unexciting. Is that fair comment?

We don't really have a house style in New York or Chicago and don't plan to have one in London. Instead, we'll do what we always do -tune our work to the needs of the client and the market.

Paul Jordan and Angus Macadam have spent time with Gordon Bowen in New York and Ned Crowley in Chicago and they're on the same wavelength when it comes to work. We're confident that because we work so hard to create a strong, shared culture, our offices can operate with a great deal of creative independence.

Let us also be clear: we're very proud of our work. We took on a dominant competitor in the smartphone category and the result was one of the most successful new brand launches of the decade -Droid. We've taken declining brands in mature food markets and helped them start growing again for Kraft. We've already developed successful campaigns that speak to everyone from middle-American housewives to global energy and financial elites or international business travellers.

We believe in work that works and we hope to have the same great track record in the UK.

What's your view of the current state of British advertising?

I'm not sure we want to pontificate on the current state of British advertising. That said, it looks to us like there's more than one kind of shop in London and more than one way to win. It also looks like the local entrants are taking share at the expense of the old networks.

Is there anything British agencies can learn from US agencies?

It's a little early to start giving the Brits lessons on advertising.

What we would say is that from the day we opened our doors, McGarryBowen has been built to handle big clients with big problems. If anything, the sheer size of the US market has taught us to handle communications tasks on a scale that is generally unprecedented in this market.

And what can US agencies learn from British ones?

Obviously, we have all observed the "British cool" style of advertising and have seen how understatement can sometimes be a powerful alternative to the hard sell.

Stewart Owen is the chief strategic officer of McGarryBowen.


Launch date: 16 September 2002

Founders: John McGarry, chief executive (former president of Young & Rubicam); Gordon Bowen, chief creative officer (former chief creative director at Y&R, Ogilvy & Mather, McCann Erickson Worldwide); Stewart Owen, chief strategic officer (former vice-chairman of Y&R and Landor Associates)

Ownership structure: Independently owned by the partners at its founding. Acquired by Dentsu in November 2008 and now an independently operated, wholly owned subsidiary of Dentsu Holdings Inc

Founding client: Verizon

Key current clients: Verizon, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Kraft Foods, Marriott International, Disney, Reebok, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Chevron, Pfizer, Burger King, Sears, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, United Airlines, Crayola, Sharp

Billings: 2011 revenue was put at $175 million, up around 60 per cent on the previous year (Adweek estimates)

Staff: Nearly 800 in the US

Highlights from the first decade: McGarryBowen has only lost two clients in the past ten years - Reebok and Verizon - but has managed to win them both back. Though the agency isn't known for fancy work, its reputation is as an agency that builds its clients' bottom lines. After snatching Burger King from Crispin Porter & Bogusky last summer, it almost immediately turned a long-term decline into sales growth; it's a familiar story for many of the agency's clients. McGarryBowen was anointed Agency of the Year by Advertising Age, which described it as "a Jack-of-all trades at a time when clients want more integration and less specialisation"