Three years ago, it felt like Campaign rang Butterfield Day Devito
Hockney every week about rumours about deals. Back then, in the wake of
serious loss of business from Honda and BT, other clients reviewing and
discord among the partners, it appeared to need a rescue package.
So, meeting an exhausted but relaxed Nigel Long to learn about Partners
BDDH’s surprise deal with Snyder Communications was reassuringly
positive. The eminently decent Long has, along with Leslie Butterfield
and the other partners, turned an unhappy and lilting ship around. BDDH
was one of the few independent agencies left worth buying.
Winning Mercedes, Emirates, the Co-op’s retail arm and the Guardian are
the more public achievements along with retaining several clients in
re-pitches. Upping the creative standard under John Dean and Simon Green
is another - even if some work still lacks the ’wow!’ factor. The
Guardian is particularly disappointing.
Yet the behind-the-scenes achievements are greater. Butterfield Day was
an agency that was going nowhere - other than into the lucrative arms of
a desperate American multinational.
Sorting out the new partnership arrangement to leave Derek Day happily
writing for the creative directors, rejuvenating the staff, making the
most of Butterfield’s skills and setting up ventures like Partners
Andrews Aldridge and the MSc media strategy company constitutes a major
This success led to a happier conundrum; the one common to all
successful, local agencies in the late 90s marketplace. How do you avoid
being squeezed between the international goliaths and the local
hotshops? It was very pres-sing for BDDH because Elan - its association
of supposedly like-minded European agencies - hasn’t really
The Snyder deal appears a classic cerebral BDDH solution. ’We have
forfeited jam today for jam tomorrow,’ was Long’s comment on the share
swap. Well, it is worth noting that the value of an investment may go
down as well as up.
In the short- to mid-term, that’s unlikely. The 33-year-old (bastard!)
Dan Snyder is currently on a roll. Even so, his meteoric rise to a
dollars 550 million income empire within nine years may send shivers
down the spine of anyone compos mentis enough to recall the 80s.
But Wall Street is kinder to media stocks than the City, largely because
Omnicom and the Interpublic Group have delivered consistent returns on
investment. The trick is to keep making deals. Say you’re going to
acquire, then do it.
Snyder is not in the 100-plus deals a year league of John Wren and Phil
Geier - yet. But he is fascinating for growing a global business from
the direct and healthcare sectors up. They’re the two areas (along with
new media) on which the big three groups (including WPP) are focusing
much of their attentions - not least because of the in-roads that can be
made with so many new blue-chip clients.
Snyder is still too unknown a quantity to make any definitive judgments
about. But he is a coming force, and we will hear a lot more about him
in the UK. The Partners BDDH deal appears to be refreshingly intriguing.