NEWSMAKER/BRUCE CROUCH: Hegarty’s low-key successor pushed into limelight - Reformed bad boy Bruce Crouch talks to Emma Hall about his BBH promotion

’He is the first Bruce Crouch, not the second John Hegarty,’ John Bartle contends.

’He is the first Bruce Crouch, not the second John Hegarty,’ John

Bartle contends.

It is not a point that Crouch, who has just been named executive

creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty (Campaign, 16 October), is

going out of his way to prove. During our hour-long interview, it

becomes clear that he is not intimidated by his predecessor and he is

comfortable in his own skin. Unlike the very public grooming of Peter

Souter by David Abbott, Hegarty has gradually, quietly, allowed Crouch

to assume his mantle in the London office.

It is left to Bartle to emphasise the differences between Hegarty and

Crouch: ’They have different backgrounds and interests but they are

similar in some important ways - both have strong points of view about

what makes good creative work and how you get it. Bruce has been here a

long time, so there won’t be a revolution, but it’s important for the

company that others are able to step forward - we are a much bigger

operation than three people.’

Crouch was hoping that he could slip into Hegarty’s mantle unnoticed,

but Campaign (along with Hegarty himself) was keen to throw the

spotlight on advertising’s own ’no-nonsense’ man to find out just how he

became the first Bruce Crouch.

He has moved slowly but surely up the ranks at BBH, rising to power at

his own pace. In fact, Hegarty asked him to take over the creative

department a couple of years ago, but Crouch did not feel the time was

right and besides, he was having too much fun writing ads with his

partner, Graham Watson. ’There was an air of inevitability about (being

made executive creative director),’ Crouch concedes, ’because I love it

here and I don’t want to leave.’

Crouch liked the idea of working at BBH so much that, in 1989, he took a

pay cut to join the agency, blithely giving up his deputy creative

directorship at FCO in order to take ’one of the best jobs in town’ as

Watson’s copywriter.

It turned out to be the right move - Crouch was only 29 and he thrived

at BBH: two years later he was on the board and just five years after

that, in 1996, he was a creative director.

Since the moment that an enlightened careers officer suggested it to him

at school, Crouch wanted to be a copywriter. A picture of a shoot on a

sun-drenched beach helped, of course, and his mind was made up. For

Crouch, it’s difficult to remember exactly which school it was, though:

he started off in Fulham, but his salesman dad took the family to

Norwich and Peterborough before they eventually settled in


Although he got good O-levels, Crouch left school at 16 and got a job in

the dark room of a local agency. For the only time in his life, Crouch

did not get the promotion he wanted, so he left to join BDH as a junior

writer. He got married and fathered a child at 20, but this didn’t stop

him turning down a job at Collett Dickenson Pearce in London to fly off

to Bateys in Singapore for 18 months.

When the family returned to London, Crouch walked straight into a job at

DDB thanks to an encouraging visit to Singapore from David Abbott and a

batch of awards on his mantelpiece. At DDB, he was teamed up with Warren

Brown, who remains his best friend to this day and, although Brown is in

Australia now, the two still talk to each other a couple of times a


’We got on well straight away - we were bad boys.’ Brown was single at

the time and evidently did his best to lead his partner astray, but

still they were made group heads at the age of 21, although Crouch

puzzles: ’I don’t know why. We were bright young things and we won a

couple of D&AD Silvers on Swan Vesta but we were trouble.’

After five years at DDB, FCO beckoned and Crouch joined as deputy

creative director. ’It was a funky hotshop and I had a great time

there,’ he remembers, ’ but it lost its identity when it was taken over

by WCRS and I couldn’t wait to get out.’

And so to BBH and, eventually, the executive creative directorship of

one of London’s best agencies. Crouch also underwent something of an

epiphany under the tutelage of Hegarty. ’I was in it for the fun before

I came here - I liked being in advertising more than I liked doing the

work. I had a load of fun and I’m pleased I did it, but here I saw that

you can have fun through work.’

Hegarty has given plenty of other talented creatives the chance to shine

over the years and there has been a long tussle for the leadership of

the BBH creative department. In June 1996, there were four potential

candidates vying to succeed Hegarty after Bruce Crouch and Graham Watson

were promoted to become creative directors alongside Dennis Lewis and

Steve Hooper.

Then in October 1997 the senior creative set-up was radically

overhauled. Pat Doherty was lured from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO to

become joint creative director with Crouch. Watson and Hooper both

stepped down and paired up as a creative team, while Lewis quit and went

to live in France from where he set up a London-based company,


Which left only Doherty and Crouch - but all the time, Crouch remained

the chosen one. It’s not that Crouch has a perfect record - no-one would

after 20 years in the business. His campaign for NatWest, the ’Canning

family’ saga, didn’t last as long as was hoped, but for the most part,

Crouch has produced gems rather than turkeys and has the D&AD pencils,

Cannes lions and Campaign press and poster awards to prove it - even

though the walls of his office are bare.

So why is it that Crouch was the one to make it to the very top? ’Bruce

loves it more than anyone else,’ Mike Wells, a creative at WCRS,


’He is very confident and together, and he’s done lots of lovely work.

He is also honest and fun - he doesn’t get too serious and he doesn’t

let the job get on top of him.’

Crouch has also proved he has the creative ability to earn respect in

his department. His work on Murphy’s and Boddingtons, and more recently,

Wallis and Dockers, have proved his credentials.

Hegarty’s own explanation for Crouch’s success is straightforward: ’Of

all of them, Bruce most grew into the job. He has excellent creative

judgment. He also has a vision about where a brand is going and he is

able to communicate that.’

Although Hegarty is confident that Crouch will ’carry the torch’, he is

quick to insist that he is not putting it down just yet.

Crouch is not going to stamp his own personality on the creative floor

as soon as Hegarty’s back is turned, although his presence is already

felt. He recently poached Nick Gill and Shawn Webster from Wieden &

Kennedy, and set up a ’non-exploitative’ placement system which, he

says, provides genuine job prospects. After our chat he is off to finish

his week’s work by offering a job to an all-girl placement team.

So what is he like as a creative director? It seems unlikely that a

tough agency like BBH would hire someone too nice for the role, and

although Crouch seems even-tempered, there is obviously an edge to him.

He claims only to be ’polite’ at work: ’I’m not nasty because I don’t

see the point. My job is to cajole, enthuse and guide but if I’m let

down, I get upset.’

As a dad, he is a bit more of a sweetie. When his footballing son was

injured and couldn’t do his paper round, Crouch was up at 5.30am to fill

in for him before his daily 8am start at the agency. The family lives in

Ealing and both his son, 17, and his daughter, 12, have been educated at

local comprehensive schools because he doesn’t go for the ’elitist’

option. Of course, the family has a nice lifestyle, but, Crouch says:

’It’s not ostentatious - we won’t be doing a Hello! spread.’

Crouch is teaching his children the same values that have helped him get

to the top. He concludes: ’BBH is a meritocracy. It’s very

straightforward - if you’re dedicated and you do well you get on.’


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