David Abbott might be forgiven a smug smile. In the year after his
retirement from the agency whose creative culture he fashioned in his
own elegant image, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is fashioning his
replacement from two people.
Abbott, of course, is irreplaceable and nobody pretends that the
agency’s partnering of his heir, Peter Souter, with Tony Cox will
reproduce Abbott’s creative Camelot, even though Cox’s pedigree runs
Abbott’s pretty close.
What the arrival of the BMP DDB executive creative director in
Marylebone Road will do is to align Souter with the sort of master
creative AMV believes he can be.
Since Abbott’s withdrawal, the AMV creative department’s usual abundance
of grey hair, and a source of much of its strength, has thinned out.
Abbott’s caucus of experienced old hands has gone. Souter has no Alfredo
Marcantonio or John Kelley - or even Abbott himself - to help him. Ron
Brown, Abbott’s former creative partner, is heading for retirement. Cox
is the grey hair restorer.
Cox also sees his appointment as part of the solution to wider
management issues facing the agency. He says: ’Andrew (Robertson,
managing director) and Peter are doing a brilliant job but it’s an
onerous task running the biggest agency in Europe and I’m flattered
they’ve asked me to help lighten the load. They have been clever at
recognising a potential gap and filling it quickly.’
Rumour-mongers see the hidden hand of AMV’s Omnicom parent in all
Clearly Souter, the sorcerer’s apprentice, has found the hat and gown
too big, it is argued, and Cox will give the place its missing
The cultural synergy between AMV and BMP - both grown-up agencies with
outstanding creative reputations - tends to reinforce such an
At the same time, much is made of the old Doyle Dane Bernbach values
which Abbott and Cox, both of whom have been DDB creative directors, are
said to share.
Which is why AMV has been ensuring Cox’s signing is represented as
Souter’s personal triumph. No, there is no question of any meddling by
Omnicom. On the contrary, Cox was sounded out well before the US group
took full control of the AMV group at the end of last year.
Yes, Souter’s command of the creative department remains total and Cox
will report to him. In fact, it was Souter’s idea to hire Cox and his
capture should not be interpreted as a loss of confidence.
Certainly, there doesn’t seem great cause for alarm - after all, AMV was
named most successful agency at last week’s British Television
Advertising Awards. What is more, Souter’s shrewd signings have kept the
agency alongside BMP and Bartle Bogle Hegarty - whose larder he has
regularly raided - in the creative stakes.
Kelley, who now works at Ogilvy & Mather, says: ’Peter is
self-deprecating and wouldn’t be afraid to admit if he needed help.’
Another former AMV senior creative says Souter is in the top job for the
duration. ’Peter is unassailable,’ he declares. ’He has been blessed by
Abbott fairly and squarely. Tony is there to add some maturity and
Although AMV confounded the doom merchants last month by retaining about
three-quarters of its BT business, its 20-year tenure of the Sainsbury’s
account looks increasingly problematic.
Sainsbury’s admitted last month that AMV’s ’value to shout about’
campaign had not worked. Putting Cox in creative command of the
Sainsbury’s account may be AMV’s best chance of thwarting M&C Saatchi’s
attempt to take the business by stealth.
It’s a role for which Cox is eminently qualified. Refreshingly ego-free,
he is regarded as much more a ’man of the people’ than Abbott. He
compares running a creative department to playing host at a party -
making sure that all the guests are topped up with enough food and drink
and seeing that nobody is left on their own.
Chris Powell, BMP’s chairman, cites Cox’s particular skill at spotting
and nurturing young talent that is about to flower. ’It’s a much more
productive route than flashing a big chequebook in front of talent
that’s not only expensive but often proves disappointing.’
Craig Fabian, a former BMP senior executive who worked extensively with
AMV as Volvo’s marketing director, says: ’I rate Peter very highly but
Tony will give AMV added depth. He always gives the impression that no
creative problem is insurmountable. In fact, his problem-solving borders
on the aggressive and he’ll always go the extra mile to create a point
What puzzles some, though, is not so much that AMV wanted to hire Cox,
but why he wanted to leave BMP and a department that was united under
his charge when BMP and DDB Needham merged in the spring of 1989.
Cox explains: ’Fourteen years is a long time. You need to find a way of
renewing yourself and getting your juices flowing. You need novelty and
fight or you just end up coasting. I want one last go. I feel I’ve got a
good three or four years left in me and I don’t want to be an elder
AMV believes that Cox, at 56, is ready for the final challenge of his
career in an agency of similar culture where he can help Souter - 20
years his junior - evolve into a creative director of real stature.
Michael Baulk, AMV’s chief executive, says: ’Tony is different from
David and Peter who are craftsmen first and editors second. Tony hasn’t
only done smashing work; he knows how to manage teams.’
That’s true enough. Cox’s department has been responsible for many of
British advertising’s precious gems in recent years, including
Barclaycard, John Smith’s, Walkers crisps and Volkswagen.
But in the process, the strain has taken its toll. Cox went into
semi-retirement at the end of last year by becoming executive creative
director and wooing Larry Barker back from WCRS to take day-to-day
charge of the department.
It’s all a far cry from the days when Cox was supplementing his income
as a schoolteacher in Edinburgh by writing health education brochures
and was persuaded to try advertising by watching Jim Downie and Neil
Patterson at work for Hall Advertising.
So will Cox’s career culminate in a final blaze of glory at AMV? ’It can
only work if the demarcation lines are clearly set out,’ a former AMV
board director answers. ’Souter has a huge ego and everybody will have
to be clear about their respective roles.’
Souter has no doubts. ’I’ve done this for the right reasons,’ he
’I’m currently spread so thinly that I’m bound to make mistakes. Maybe
now I can take a holiday!’