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TBWA France

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TBWA\France is one of the key outposts in TBWA's worldwide network, with a global reputation for creative excellence. Paris was in fact the birthplace of the TBWA network in 1970, and the agency was greatly strengthened by its merger with French group BDDP at the end of the 1990s. The BDDP brand remained part of the group until 2016 and two of that agency's original founders continued until recently to play a leading role in TBWA's global business.

Clients

Click here for a TBWA\Paris client listing from Adbrands Account Assignments

Competitors

See ranking of Leading French Agencies

Brands & Activities

TBWA\France is one of France's top three marketing services groups, incorporating a number of different agencies, offering a wide variety of marketing services. The lead agency is TBWA\Paris, handling international network clients. It has a reputation as a creative powerhouse, balancing mass-market commercial clients such as McDonald's, Nissan and Dior with high-profile and hard-hitting charitable work for Amnesty International and French HIV foundation AIDES. There are a number of subsidiary brands, which provide a more streamlined integrated approach for local brands, both large and small. The agency's digital division, previously operating as TBWA\365, was absorbed in 2012 into the newly created the group's Digital Arts Network. It now operates as DAN Paris. Stablemate TBWA\G1 Paris tends to concentrate on work for key client Nissan, although it also handles a couple of other accounts. Other units include regional shops TBWA Compact (formerly Als & Cachou) in Toulouse and Bordeaux, and TBWA\Nouvelle Vague in Nantes. A collection of other marketing services shops, including integrated agency Jump, TBWA\Map and TBWA\Consulting were merged in early 2010 to create a new through-the-line agency under the name Being, with offices in Paris, Lille and Lyon. There is also a local outpost of global integrated network Integer. Luxury Arts was established in 2012 as a dedicated agency for luxury brands, rivalling similar units at BETC and Publicis.

These main agencies are supported by a collection of other below-the-line specialists. Corporate business is handled by TBWA Corporate (formerly BDDP Corporate). Healthcare unit TBWA\Adelphi is the local arm of the network's WorldHealth division. In 2006, the group acquired Harrison & Wolf, an independent business communications and advertising agency set up in 1999 by one of BDDP's co-founders Jean-Claude Boulet. The new company retains separate branding, working alongside TBWA\Corporate. TBWA\Else was set up in 2007 as an inhouse production facility for the group. Another new unit, TBWA\Disrupt Crisis, was established in 2008 to specialise in crisis management consultancy.

The BBDP brand survived for several years in the form of BBDP Unlimited, an integrated group whose two best-known units were the creative agency BDDP et Fils, which handled several conflict international accounts, and publishing agency Textuel. At the end of 2015, those two separate agencies were merged under the idiosyncratic new name of Ici Barbes. The agency bought itself out from TBWA in 2018 to become entirely independent.

Other satellites include event manager Auditoire, design agency Brand Company, fundraiser Excel and corporate communications and digital production house E-Graphics (for digital). More recent additions to the fold include fashion show organiser La Mode En Images, telemarketer Qualicontact and content production group Question d'Edition.

For 2014, Strategies reported revenues of €91m for TBWA Paris, €62m for Auditoire, €47m for TBWA Prod, €33m for TBWA\G1, €26m for Being, €22m for Textuel La Mine, €19m for TBWA Corporate and €16m for BDDP et Fils.

Background

What is now TBWA France was formed at the end of the 1990s from the merger of the existing TBWA outpost in Paris with independent group BDDP. In fact, both companies came from the same roots at Y&R. Jean-Claude Boulet replaced Bill Tragos as president of Y&R France after he and several colleagues resigned in the early 1970s to start TBWA. Later, Boulet rose to the position of regional director for Europe. However the combination of France's economic troubles during the 1980s and the dominance of local agencies Havas and Publicis encouraged Boulet also to set up his own business, in partnership with Y&R vice-president Jean-Marie Dru.

Y&R was already the owner of a minority stake in local agency SNIP 4, run by Jean-Jacques Petit and Dru's then-wife Marie-Catherine Dupuy. She comes from one of the French advertising industry's most important families. Her grandfather Roger-Louis Dupuy founded RL Dupuy, one of France's first advertising agencies, in 1926. She started working there in the 1970s and met and later married another staff member, Jean-Marie Dru. Jean-Claude Boulet also worked at RL Dupuy; he and Dru left in 1980 when it was acquired by US agency Compton to become Dupuy Compton. Marie-Catherine Dupuy left the company shortly afterwards when Compton was in turn acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi. (Dru and Depuy subsequently divorced though they continued to work together). In 1984 Boulet, Dru, Dupuy and Petit bought out Y&R's shares in SNIP 4 as well as the American company's six regional agencies in France, and combined the business under the new name of BDDP.

The partners set out to expand their network rapidly, acquiring small agencies in France, Belgium and Italy. Talks of a partnership with Chiat/Day of the US came to nothing in 1986, but the agency was involved in takeover talks with several medium-sized British agencies in 1987 and 1988, culminating in the purchase of a controlling stake in London-based Waldron Allen Henry & Thompson. Less than a year later, in early 1989, BDDP set out to capture a bigger target. That March, following several months of unproductive talks regarding a friendly merger, Boulet launched a £103m hostile takeover bid for publicly quoted British agency group Boase Massimi Pollitt, around three times bigger than BDDP by revenues.

The deal was almost immediately controversial, not least as a result of several anti-French outbursts from BMP's flamboyant chairman Martin Boase (who initially suggested that Boulet should "frog off" and later likened BDDP's network to Gruyere cheese because it was "full of holes"). Boase and his management team were supported by BMP clients, but not by institutional investors, several of whom favoured the French offer, especially when BDDP raised its offer to just under £120m. The situation was complicated still further when TBWA International (then still an independent company) also inserted itself into the row, acquiring its own holding in BMP through the markets. Eventually however, the British agency was rescued by Omnicom, which tabled an even higher offer for BMP which was quickly accepted by Martin Boase and the BMP board.

Outmanoeuvred on BMP, BDDP now turned its attention elsewhere, establishing a presence in Asia through a 20% stake in Singapore-based Batey Ads, and acquiring one of Omnicom's Dutch subsidiaries. In the UK, it also purchased PR group Broad Street, and funded the launch of Bainsfair Sharkey Trott, a new start-up run by Paul Bainsfair and John Sharkey (both ex Saatchi & Saatchi) and former GGT creative director Dave Trott. But BDDP's most significant new frontier was the US. Wells Rich Greene had been one of the most admired American agencies of the 1970s and 1980s. Founded by former JWT exec Mary Wells in 1966, it had a string of successful campaigns under its belt, not least of which was the world-famous 'I Love New York' brand, as well as work for clients including Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris and IBM.

In two transactions in 1990 and 1992 BDDP acquired Wells Rich Greene for $160m, when the agency was at the peak of its strength, posting billings of $929m. It was a huge coup for the French agency. However, the triumph proved short-lived. BDDP had neglected to tie agency figurehead Mary Wells Lawrence to an employment contract. She resigned from the business soon afterwards, and in the years that followed, a string of clients moved their accounts. Disaster followed disaster, and by 1994, economic recession had pushed up interest rates, making BDDP's debt burden of almost $180m intolerable. That year financier Walter Butler, a former Goldman Sachs banker, rounded up a consortium of investors and creditors who bailed out around half of BDDP's debt, with the warning that the new backers would be looking for an exit route within three years.

However, the market failed to improve. By 1996, BDDP's own billings in France were weakening, and the agency was still struggling with debts of around $45m. It began to put out feelers for a buyer. WPP and Grey both opened talks with the French group, but in the end it was British agency GGT, less than half BDDP's size, which seized the opportunity to jump into the big league, buying the French network in 1997 for $174m and taking over the group's debt. It was just then that the Wells BDDP time bomb finally exploded. A series of management clashes over the next six months between Wells, GGT and BDDP led to the resignation of agency's entire Procter & Gamble team. This was the last straw for the consumer goods giant, already unhappy with the service it was getting. P&G pulled its $125m account at the beginning of 1998. In less than one year Wells' billings had halved.

Now GGT too was in big trouble, way out of its depth financially. It was immediately apparent that survival as an independent was out of the question. Instead GGT BDDP found a rescuer in Omnicom, which paid $234m to add the struggling Anglo-French network to its portfolio. Even then, Wells' troubles didn't end, as a series of other clients pulled their accounts. In May 1998, GGT finally announced the closure of agency, at the same time that the BDDP-GGT network was absorbed into the enlarged TBWA International, which Omnicom had acquired in 1990..

In fact that merger was a long-awaited shot in the arm for TBWA's original office in France. During the 1970s and early 1980s, under the leadership of founder Paolo Ajroldi, TBWA Paris was widely regarded as one of the country's best creative agencies. Its star had begun to fade however by the end of the 1980s, and the extended illness and untimely death of Ajroldi in 1990 contributed to the lack of stability. Pierre de Plas was recruited from Eurocom to rebuild TBWA Paris, and he installed a completely new management team. However improvements were slow to materialise, and de Plas resigned three years later. As a result, BDDP's flagship office was merged with the local TBWA outpost, initially under the management of Jean-Michel Dru and Marie-Catherine Dupuy. For the first three years the main agency operated under the name BDDP@TBWA. BDDP et Fils was spun out of the main BDDP agency prior to the TBWA merger to handle conflict accounts. The BBDP name was dropped from the main agency in early 2001.

Last full revision 11th October 2016

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