Maybe it’s tempting fate to say so, but Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO -
Agency of the Year for an unprecedented second successive time - seems
to have brilliantly belied the ill-luck that’s supposed to accompany the
Time was when a superstitious chairman bracketed his agency’s winning of
the title with the curse of Hello! magazine and would shake off his
celebratory hangover only to worry when his biggest client would fire
him or the building would burn down.
The curse of Campaign? Don’t believe it. Abbott Mead completed its most
successful year in 1996. Through a combination of consistency and
single-mindedness it will probably not be denied number one billing
status for much longer. Moreover, the powerful claims of this year’s
chief pretenders to its crown make the triumph more remarkable.
St Luke’s, this year’s runner-up, has successfully translated innovative
working methods into its advertising. Of the contenders shortlisted for
Campaign of the Year, four were from the agency that emerged following a
management buyout from Chiat Day only 15 months ago.
Having retained all its clients since then, with an 80 per cent
pitch-conversion rate and pounds 14 million worth of new business, St
Luke’s has the look of a young agency in a hurry. Innovative work on
Boots No 7, BBC Radio 1, Ikea and Eurostar suggests it has the creative
potency to match its ambition.
In third place, M&C Saatchi was well able to advance its case on the
back of pounds 70 million worth of new business headed by Pedigree
Petfoods, Foster’s and the Sainsbury’s Bank, plus the international
Packard Bell business. Meanwhile Whiskas, the Conservative Party and
Silk Cut went some way to improving the agency’s creative
In a strong year we feel we should also commend Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper,
fashioned into a real force on the London advertising scene by Brett
Gosper and Mark Wnek; and Lowe Howard-Spink, perhaps overlooked because
of its consistent excellence, but which this year added an improved
new-business performance to its achievement in launching the Western
media brand. Also: Publicis, for its new-business record; Saatchi and
Saatchi for its continued resilience; and Young and Rubicam for its
comeback from the brink of disaster.
However, the consistent excellence of Abbott Mead’s work for difficult
major clients swung the decision. An impressive record pounds 42.5
million worth of new business was mirrored in an outstanding financial
performance with group profits of pounds 10.4 million on a pounds 287
million turnover. The agency also won more top creative awards than ever
There’s no secret to its success. Abbott Mead is simply a grown-up
agency that does a lot of things very well. The range of its creative
output is testimony to a department broad enough to accommodate seasoned
talent and young blood. Its plans to ensure management continuity
stretch well into the next millennium.
At the same time, a shrewd and consistent acquisition policy has led to
the emergence of a formidable communications group extended last year by
the formation of a media dependant, New PHD, the takeover of the
corporate and finance PR specialist, Fishburn Hedges, with the prospect
of a move into strategic consultancy to follow.
The results are seductive to new and existing clients. It’s certainly no
coincidence that Abbott Mead’s 1996 new-business record is a good mix of
fresh accounts - including the Prudential, W. H. Smith, Dulux and
Wrangler - and extra assignments from existing clients, among them BT,
which showed its confidence in the agency with three new pieces of
business totalling pounds 9 million.
BT is the prime example of the agency’s skill at assimilating big and
demanding clients and leading them down creative paths they previously
feared to tread. ’It’s good to talk’ may have split industry opinion,
particularly after it carried off the Grand Prix at the IPA
Effectiveness Awards, but the sheer volume of such ubiquitous
advertising should not detract from Abbott Mead’s success at handling
such a complex piece of business. It produced 67 commercials between
January and September last year for the client.
And who would ever have believed that such a huge company as Mars could
have been gently shaken out of its conservatism to accept Star Wars’
Darth Vader to front a Tunes commercial?
Such clients now add an even greater diversity to an agency showreel
which can embrace the always well-crafted Sainsbury’s, popular
favourites such as Pizza Hut and now the W. H. Smith work, along with
the industry-admired campaigns for Volvo and the Economist. Meanwhile,
its ’kill your speed’ commercial for the Department of Transport
featuring video footage of children killed in road accidents is one of
the most moving and effective public information films ever made.
In its creative department, as elsewhere, Abbott Mead has shown how a
combination of continuity and carefully grafted new talent is the key to
success - not least at the top where Peter Souter is being quietly
groomed to succeed David Abbott as the keeper of the creative flame and
Peter Mead takes Abbott’s place as group chairman in a seamless transfer
Equally significant is the fact that while half the agency’s staffers
have been on board for less than three years, a high proportion have
clocked up 15 years or more. Its reputation as a humane and generous
employer makes it the agency where everyone wants to work. It’s what
Abbott Mead puts back into the business that makes it such a worthy
Recent winners: Abbott Mead (1995); HHCL (1994); Bartle Bogle Hegarty
(1993); BMP DDB Needham (1992).