PERSPECTIVE: Hammersley has enough nous to reinvigorate DDB

Back in 1968 BMP didn't make much of a song and dance of opening its doors.

It didn't come out with the usual patter, we're the first agency ever to do this, we've broken the mould. It never felt comfortable with the trumpet-blowing that characterises the agency landscape. Its gene was always the thoughtful fusion of intelligence with creativity.

Almost 35 years later and BMP's (sorry, DDB London's) latest hiring as chairman and chief executive seems to fit the mould, while adding a much-needed ability to put the boot in where necessary. Paul Hammersley, as reported on this week's front page, is returning to London after a two-year sojourn at Lowe in New York and many months there spent trying to launch a new agency.

He has made no secret that his intention on leaving Lowe in New York after losing out in a power struggle for control of that office following its merger with Bozell was to launch a new agency there. Although, reportedly, he had partners and backers lined up, no major client was forthcoming.

New York's loss is certainly London's gain and his hiring is in many ways a coup for DDB.

His brief is to breath new life into what was once the blueprint for a successful and innovative agency. Over the past two decades BMP displayed a magic ability to set the world alight repeatedly. It has won Campaign's Agency of the Year four times, no less, more than any other agency. It built one of the strongest cultures in UK advertising. Its template was based on the innovation of account planning, to which it has displayed an unwavering commitment, allied to strong management and creative excellence.

Over the years these factors contributed to BMP attracting a quite disproportionate share of talent, and - for better or worse - that talent stayed for a long time.

In recent years DDB has lost its way as its shrinking size and resulting Campaign Top 300 scores bear testament. In 1998 it scored a 9; in 1999, 9; in 2000, 7; in 2001, 6; in 2002, 5; in 2003, 5. Its 2004 Top 300 score, published this week, is yet another 5. The agency has gone from nine for "outstanding" to a rather measly and oft-repeated five for "adequate".

In that time the local market has got more competitive and BMP, in its desire to remain a "classic" agency, has failed to keep up and pooh-poohed new ideas. Of course, being known as a seminal agency means that when you're not being seminal, people notice.

Hammersley clearly has a job to do. He has broad agency experience at Saatchi & Saatchi, Lowe in the US and Lowe in the UK where he bedded down the merger of Lowe Howard-Spink with Ammirati Puris Lintas.

That the man who let Griff Rhys Jones out in his underpants to front a universally derided campaign on behalf of Vauxhall is going to an agency with 30 years of successful work for Volkswagen will not be lost on DDB staffers. That aberration aside, Hammersley's experience certainly tallies with the popular notions of what it takes to turn around an agency.

Not stuck in the old school, he has style as well as substance. Good with clients and a tough manager internally, he has the charisma and drive to get the job done his way. His straightforward style will inevitably clash with the ever so cerebral and ever so polite world of BMP so I would expect some departures. But, as ever, slaughtering a few sacred cows and getting your own people around you is exactly what is needed in any agency revitalisation. Good luck to him.


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