Will there ever be a fourth wave? - Start-ups blazed a creative trail through the 70s and 80s as long-established agencies looked nervously over their shoulder at the new wave. Will we see the like again? John Tylee investigates

The tide has gone out a long way since the first of the new-wave agencies surfed in and Robin Wight set their self-confident tone with his declaration that winning new business for his fledgling WCRS was ’like mugging old ladies’.

The tide has gone out a long way since the first of the new-wave

agencies surfed in and Robin Wight set their self-confident tone with

his declaration that winning new business for his fledgling WCRS was

’like mugging old ladies’.

Almost two decades on, the waves have turned to ripples. While WCRS and

its contemporaries are on solid ground with reputations assured, few of

the newer arrivals, for all their hustle, show much sign of evolving

into advertising institutions alongside Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO or Lowe


Will the trickle eventually become a drought? Anecdotal evidence

suggests so. John Bartle, joint chief executive of Bartle Bogle Hegarty,

a firmly established first waver, comments: ’Fewer start-ups in each

generation are making it.’

The received wisdom - only partly true - is that the first new wave of

the late 70s and early 80s was an expression of frustration by big

clients and ambitious agency senior staffers desperate to break free of

old-school British management or orders imposed by remote control from

the US.

Their inspirations were creative trail-blazers such as Collett Dickenson

Pearce. ’The agency was doing work that took your breath away,’ recalls

Peter Mead, then working at Doyle Dane Bernbach before going on to help

found AMV.

Undoubtedly, big agencies of the time were highly vulnerable to

fresh-thinking predators. Long-established shops not only had aging

boards but were institutionalised and complacent, having grown fat on 15

per cent commission levels and international clients that were well

bedded in.

The coincidental emergence during the 70s of media independents,

pioneered by Chris Ingram and John Ayling, made going it alone easier

because start-ups were spared the huge cost of establishing media

departments of their own.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s a neat but simplistic explanation

that symbolises some of the black-and-white thinking about what

precipitates ’waves’ and the ability of the newer arrivals to replicate

what went before them.

First, the theory pre-supposes that there is such a thing as a wave

pattern whereas many believe that agency start-ups defy timing and


Martin Boase, who might be said to have fathered the first wave in 1968

when he led the breakout from Pritchard Wood into Boase Massimi

Pollitt - now BMP DDB - remains convinced there’s never a right time to

do a start-up. ’Agency launches aren’t influenced by the economic

climate but by more subtle and idiosyncratic things which are difficult

to define.’

Bill Muirhead, the first account man at Saatchi and Saatchi, founded in

1970, also believes new agencies can be the manifestation of a variety

of eccentricities.

They range from fearless youthful impetuosity to the sexual and musical

revolutions that overturned so much conventional thinking in the late

60s and early 70s, he says.

Winston Fletcher, the Delaney Fletcher Bozell chairman and one of the

UK’s most experienced admen, is even more emphatic: ’To talk of waves is

to talk nonsense.’

Also debatable is how much start-up activity in the late 70s was spurred

by restless clients. John Hooper, now director general of the

Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, was then a marketing

executive at Procter and Gamble. He says: ’I would like to think that

the first-wave agencies were created out of a belief that clients were

searching for something new and different. But I don’t think it


Equally wrong is the tacit acceptance that setting up in the 70s was

amazingly easy. Those who did are quick to dispute that it was like

pinching sweets from babies. ’It was just as competitive, just as

tough,’ Boase insists.

Bartle, one of three ex-TBWA senior managers who formed BBH in 1982,

agrees. ’We were leaping into the dark. We had no business, we’d vowed

that we wouldn’t do creative pitches and our houses were on the


A lot of people forget that.’

Certainly, the era that gave birth to the first wavers wasn’t a time of

unqualified success. Who now remembers Brignull Le Bas or numerous other

casualties of the time? Or the fact that even AMV had various

unremarkable previous incarnations before David Abbott arrived to

provide its creative kick-start.

We must also remember that agencies from whatever wave need time to take

root and mature and that newer agencies - with a few notable

exceptions - have not grabbed the headlines as their precursors did.

The agencies that followed the first wave believe their growth has been

no less significant for not being so public. Leslie Butterfield,

chairman of the ten-year-old BDDH, which has just won the pounds 9

million Mercedes-Benz account in the UK, claims that the AMV of 1987,

when he was planning director, was less settled and mature than BDDH is


Nevertheless, starting up 20 years ago was easier in several respects.

Globalisation coupled with merger mania among clients had yet to happen,

which meant there was more business around.

In addition, advertisers were less nervous about going with start-ups

because, in many cases, they could make a seamless switch to agency

principals who were already highly experienced on their accounts. Not

many newcomers have been able to match the flying start of BBH, which

landed Audi cars, Whitbread and Levi’s within 12 weeks of its


BBH and its peers had the added advantage of being able to enter the

game at minimal cost. Today, the price of entry has been driven higher

by the heavy investment needed in new technology. Even M&C Saatchi,

which opened in 1995 with multi-million accounts to speed it on its way,

recorded a pounds 642,000 loss in its first year because of start-up


But the most important point of difference between the second and third

wavers and their predecessors is that the newer arrivals have had less

to kick against. The agency establishment isn’t the soft target of 20

years ago. Martin Sorrell’s pressure on J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy

and Mather to perform reflects the widespread changes which have made

the international networks leaner, fitter and more competitive.

In becoming so, they have learned to nurture their best talent, locking

it into attractive contracts and lessening the resolve of senior

managers to strike out on their own.

’The problem facing start-ups today is that there are top ten agencies

that are less than 20 years old,’ Mead comments. ’That means clients can

have a big agency without the moribund thinking that comes with 50 years

of history.’

That’s not to say start-ups are a thing of the past. The entrepreneurial

and greed-tinged nature of the business means there will always be

somebody willing to chance their arm. Particularly when stories abound

of the amount allegedly trousered by Paul Simons from the pounds 15

million sale of Simons Palmer Clemmow Johnson to TBWA.

However, it’s debatable if many of the highly focused graduates now

entering the industry will prefer to make their names beyond the agency

establishment rather than within it.

That prospect is already being borne out by the absence of young guns

among the most recent start-ups. Robert Bean, busy building Bean Andrews

Norways Cramphorn out of the ashes of Bean MC, says: ’We’re all well

into our 30s and 40s here and we’re not alone because wisdom and

experience is increasingly demanded by clients.’

The demise of Bean MC is indicative of the difficulties faced by new

wavers in being able to offer clients anything truly original. ’The gaps

in the market are narrow and getting narrower,’ Bartle says. Other old

hands are disdainful of later arrivals who have cut their cloth to suit

the prevailing fashion. ’I suspect their beliefs are not as fundamental

as ours were,’ Boase declares.

Few will be tempted to put their ideas - new or recycled - into practice

while economic recovery remains tentative and the prospects of making

money slim. ’Setting up an agency will always be tight-wire walking,’

Fletcher observes. ’You’ll always be at the mercy of mean clients.’

Start-ups also face unprecedented new competition from direct marketing

specialists moving above the line.

Management consultancies, who are increasingly moving into the area of

branding, have added to the competition.

Meanwhile, the number and timing of agency launches may depend on the

growth in profitability of the industry in general as well as its

popularity with the City. Ron Leagas, one of the Saatchi brothers’

earliest appointees and veteran of two subsequent start-ups, says: ’If

the City renews its interest in the sector the market may well loosen


At the same time, there is a strong belief that, as internationalism

grows, new agencies will have to follow the lead of clients and rapidly

forge strategic alliances if they are to service business


Derek Ralston, the managing director of Barker and Ralston, which has

just climbed into bed with McCann-Erickson, cites the example of AMV

which, he argues, could never have achieved such prominence without

BBDO’s help.

Whether or not AMV and its surviving contemporaries remain as

impregnable as they seem depends on how successfully their founding

cultures are passed on to the second generation management. ’BBH mustn’t

age along with its founders,’ Bartle explains.

So, will there be a new wave? Possibly. But don’t hold your breath. Bob

Willott, a partner in the accountancy firm, Willott Kingston Smith,

predicts it may be up to ten years away. And only then if the cultural

baton is dropped as the first-wave founders quit the race.

If that happens, and the first wavers retreat into creative blandness in

the face of client conservatism, the tide will surely turn.


1968 Boase Massimi Pollitt

1970 Saatchi and Saatchi

1977 Abbott Mead Vickers

1979 Wight Collins Rutherford Scott

1980 Leagas Delaney

1980 Gold Greenlees Trott

1981 Lowe Howard-Spink

1982 Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Saatchi and Saatchi launched with pounds 1 million of billings intent on

being the most creative agency and chasing new business like a fox in a

chicken run

Unhappiness with existing agency set-ups brought the founding partners

of Gold Greenlees Trott together.

Dave Trott’s formidable creative reputation provided its edge

Leagas Delaney was the brainchild of Tim Delaney, BBDO’s managing and

creative director, and Ron Leagas, Saatchi and Saatchi’s managing


BBH was born out of the frustration of three senior TBWA men at being

denied the chance to control the agency. They refused to do creative

pitches - and have yet to do any


1987 Leagas Shafron Davis

1987 Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury 1987 Butterfield Day Devito          


1988 Simons Palmer Denton

Clemmow and Johnson

1989 Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters

Chairman Paul Simons insisted Simons Palmer had no ’pat’ philosophies

and did not consider itself part of the ’so-called third wave’

Gary Duckworth committed Duckworth Finn to a ’back to basics’ policy,

claiming the industry had been distracted by global mergers


1990 Cowan Kemsley Taylor

1990 Mitchell Patterson

Aldred Mitchell

1990 Barker and Ralston

1990 Bainsfair Sharkey Trott

1991 Banks Hoggins O’Shea

1993 Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe

1993 Butler Lutos Sutton Wilkinson

Mitchell Patterson launched into the teeth of a recession which belied

the prediction of Andrew Mitchell that the start-up would ’hit the

tarmac running’.

Banks Hoggins, led by John Banks, opened with a promise to give service

and advertising that would work rather than just win awards.


CAM # 21:02:97

Business Press: The benefits of licensing an overseas title -

Launching US-based computing and IT titles into the UK market has become

widespread practice. But it’s not as easy as it looks. Meg Carter

examines how publishers in Britain have reconciled local differences and

learned to work with overseas partners





Photograph (Omitted)

Importing a successful overseas magazine brand - already an

established practice in the consumer magazines market - has now caught

the attention of UK business publishers. The latest is Emap Computing

which, in partnership with the American publisher, CMP Media, launches

the US title, Information Week, in Britain on 19 March.

But despite the obvious advantages of launching a product already tried

and tested elsewhere, success is by no means guaranteed.

There are many pros to launching an existing title into a new market,

says Karen Williams, the marketing manager for PC Advisor at the IT

publishing specialist, IDG. ’You get an established name and reputation

with advertisers; the editorial proposition can be more easily explained

as it’s a known quantity; and you can learn from the mistakes of the

parent title’s owners.’

And it makes particular sense for sectors of business where markets have

gone global, adds Tony Harris, managing director of Emap Computing. This

applies particularly to computing, thanks to the spread of Internet use.

But it also applies to a number of other business areas - such as

medical and management issues.

’The vast majority of (computer and IT) vendors are US-based. UK readers

are already familiar with the US brands, which helps when you’re trying

to create a new product for a local market,’ he says. This reduces the

launch risk and limits development costs as a degree of research is

already available.

But there are many potential pitfalls. The most obvious source of

magazine imports for the UK market is the US. As a rule, English

language titles are easier to adapt for text-heavy magazine formats.

Even so, as Harris says: ’There is a danger in over-playing the ease

with which US editorial translates in the UK. In computer technology,

especially, we are at a different stage of development in the UK.’

That’s why Emap has a 50:50 partnership with CMP to launch Information

Week in the UK. The pair are aiming for a controlled circulation of

100,000 IT professionals. There will be a mix of product reviews,

technology news and strategy. Rather than simply duplicating the US

product, both companies were eager to adapt content for the UK.

’We could have introduced the title in the US through licensing or

acquisition, but we decided a joint venture was the best route,’ Harris

explains. ’That’s because, as a UK publisher, I’m not in the business of

building up someone else’s brand with the possibility that they might

take it away at a later date.’

Other problems are local and cultural differences. ’The reader market in

the new country might not equate,’ says Williams. ’And the same can

apply to the potential advertiser base.’

Then there’s the issue of branding. In the UK, the IDG-licensed,

US-based PC World is known as PC Advisor because ’PC World’ is already

being used by Dixons, the retailer. ’Where an international edition

already exists, you might find that is stronger than the local version -

as has happened with the International Herald Tribune and Wall Street

Journal,’ Williams says.

The nature of the agreement between the originator and the importer of a

title can also cause complications. If a license is used, the licensee

rarely owns the title outright, and is therefore limited in how it can

develop the brand. That’s why Harris admits that he would opt for joint

ventures every time. With a true partnership, each side has an interest

in getting the product right for the particular market, he claims.

’There is equal funding, equal emotional commitment and equal risk. And

a greater incentive to make it work.’

Others disagree. At VNU Business Publications, which recently struck a

licensing deal with the US publisher, Mecklermedia, to publish three

Internet magazines in the UK and Europe - Internet World, Web Week and

Web Developer - the international business development director, Ian

Bedwell, favours licensing: ’To be successful, both parties must be

committed, share mutual needs and benefits, have a flexible approach and

reconcilable cultural differences.’

Partnerships can lead to friction, with the title’s parent eager to

protect its brand and the local partner eager to adapt it to fit the

local market.

But, Harris insists, disagreements can be minimised if both sides keep

their eyes open.

Despite potential difficulties, importing and exporting magazine titles

is becoming more popular. ’The key is the balance between staying

faithful to the brand and format of the product and being market-focused

with a clear understanding of local markets,’ Neil Stiles, the

publishing director of Reed Business Information, says. ’In all deals,

try to fall out early if you’re going to fall out at all - it’s always

so much worse if it happens further down the line.’

A recent case in point is the closure of the UK version of Wired less

than two years after its launch. The title, which described itself as

the publication for the next century, had been in financial trouble

since falling out with its UK launch partner, the Guardian Media Group,

in August 1995. It reported losses of around pounds 2 million for its UK

and Japan editions in 1996.

Success also depends on careful planning. Williams adds: ’The key lies

in taking a recipe and tailoring it to a local market.’ Harris also

advises UK publishers to spend time negotiating the partnership

contract. ’The last thing you want is to end up wrangling over who owns

the furniture.’

Get it right, and the rewards can be great. In the PC business magazine

market, four of the top five best-sellers - PC Magazine, Computer

Shopper, PC Direct and PC Advisor - are UK versions of US parent titles.


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