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Bartle Bogle Hegarty (or BBH) has long ranked as one of the world's most admired creative agencies, with a reputation for stylish, elegant and original advertising. In the 1990s, determined to maintain its independence, the company sold a large minority stake to global network Leo Burnett (later inherited by Publicis Groupe), and used those funds to establish its own international presence in key markets including New York, Singapore and Shanghai. However none of these other outposts has come close to matching the prominence of the main London office, which continues to be one of the country's most admired, despite the occasional rough patch, for example in 2009 and 2010. Making up for that lost time, the new business team delivered a string of account wins in 2011, earning the accolade as Campaign's Agency of the Year for two consecutive years. In 2012, Publicis acquired the outstanding 51% stake in the agency from founders John Hegarty and Nigel Bogle to take full control. Quality remains generally high, but BBH's profile has faded a little since their departure.
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BBH set the model for the multi-hub micro-network, one which other agencies both large and small subsequently fell over one another to emulate, but few managed to match BBH in all-round excellence. (In recent years Wieden & Kennedy has arguably surpassed BBH in both global footprint and creative brilliance). The first years of the 2000s were among Bartle Bogle Hegarty's best to-date. Blending unrivalled creativity with a compact but ultra-efficient global network, the agency waltzed off with several of the world's most fought-over accounts. As a result, the agency kept its head down for much of 2006 and 2007, intent on digesting its enlarged portfolio rather than fighting new pitches. Performance since then has been generally satisfactory, but billings slowly declined between 2008 and 2010. More worrying was the lack of significant growth at the group's international outposts.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty likes to do things differently, an approach it sums up with the slogan "When the world zigs, zag" and its brand image of a single black sheep surrounded by a flock of white. It has an international reputation for high profile, glossy and attention-grabbing creative work, but backs this up with top-notch skills in planning, account management and other areas ranging from music production to branded content. The style was first set by the company's ads for Levi's way back in the 1980s, and BBH has steadily developed an increasingly polished all-round service. Ad Age estimated total global revenues for BBH of $211m in 2015.
Following the sale of an initial 49% shareholding to what was then Leo Burnett, the agency also nurtured an international presence. It has a small (by local standards) US footprint, for which Advertising Age estimated revenues of $37m in 2015. There are offices in New York and Los Angeles. That agency has struggled for several years to win a seat at the top table of US agencies. It appeared to have at last secured membership to the New York agency elite at the end of 2009 by winning GM's prestigious Cadillac account, only to have the business cruelly taken away after only six months in June 2010 following a change in GM's management team. The loss of Sprite in 2012 was another serious blow, prompting a dramatic reduction in staffing levels.
In Brazil, the network was represented for sevberal years by Neogama BBH, which quickly became one of that country's top agencies following the capture of local banking giant Bradesco. However the later loss of that and other accounts caused Neogama to separate from the network in 2015 as a standalone unit. There are also offices in Singapore, China and most recently India, launched in 2009. A Tokyo office closed in 2008 following a decision to centralise Asian operations in Singapore. A Stockholm office opened in 2016 with the rebranding of local mobile agency Monterosa, acquired four years earlier.
However the beating heart of the global network remains the flagship UK agency. This enjoyed an astonishing run of success between 2003 and 2006, picking up a steady stream of high profile, high value accounts. In 2005, these included an ever larger chunk of Unilever's business (mostly at the expense of Lowe and JWT) and the ultra-prestigious British Airways account. As a result BBH was named Agency Of The Year for the third consecutive year in 2005 by trade bible Campaign, as well as by Marketing. (It is the only London agency ever to have won that accolade from Campaign seven times, in 1986, 1993, 2003-2005, 2011 and 2012).
In 2007, the London office's billings rose by 13% to £259m, elevating it to its highest ever ranking as the UK's #4 agency. It kept that ranking for 2008 despite a decline in billings, but slumped to the #9 position for 2009. The £70m drop in billings that year, mainly the result of clients cutting back rather than major account losses, was the biggest suffered by any London agency. There was a further fall in billings in 2010 to £164m, and the #14 rank, the lowest position since 2003.
The loss of Vodafone in 2011 as part of a worldwide consolidation into WPP was a blow, but BBH's new business team compensated with a strong line-up of important new accounts during the year including global Dulux paint, UK accounts for Virgin Media, Waitrose, The Guardian newspaper and Weetabix, and the Italian bank Unicredit. That run of success earned BBH the title of Agency of the Year from Campaign for the first time since 2005. The following year was marked by a run of strong creative work, not least the celebrated "Three Little Pigs" ad for The Guardian newspaper. It was also the UK's most awarded agency at the Cannes Lions festival - and the only one to win a Grand Prix (for creative effectiveness on behalf of Lynx/Axe) - and the #2 worldwide. That earned BBH twin Agency of the Year accolades from both Campaign and Marketing. Higher spending by clients lifted billings for 2012, propelling BBH to the #3 spot among the Top 30 Agencies, its highest-ever ranking. It has slipped back since then, falling to #7 for 2014, with billings of £221m.
The capture of Tesco in early 2015 reversed some of that decline, though BBH's work on the account took several months to materialise. Nielsen estimated billings of £241m for the year. Other key accounts in the UK include Virgin Media, KFC, Barclays and Audi. However, the consolidation of all Publicis Groupe creative agencies under a single national Publicis Communications banner appears to have an impact on morale in the UK. Though no explicit link was made with the restructuring, the agency suffered an unprecedented number of senior management departures in the first half of 2016.
BBH offers a number of specialised marketing services through subsidiary units. Much of its clients' communications planning is still handled inhouse, although media buying is outsourced. After two years of will-they-won't-they deliberation, BBH and Leo Burnett agreed to merge their respective UK media arms in 2000 as joint venture Starcom Motive, subsequently absorbed in 2003 into Starcom Mediavest. However BBH has a number of satellite service agencies. For several years the group held a minority stake in Dare Digital, an interactive agency founded by former agency managing director Mark Collier. However, BBH began assembling its own inhouse interactive team in 2006, and was rewarded the following year with the capture of Unilever's pan-Euro Axe\Lynx digital account. As a result, the shares in Dare were sold to Cossette in 2007. BBH now claims to generate around half of all its clients' digital requirements inhouse. In 2014, a joint venture was established with digital consultancy Seven Seconds - also based in BBH's London office - to handle CRM duties for long-time client British Airways. BBH Sport is an inhouse sports marketing and sponsorship consultancy. BBH Live is an inhouse social media and content unit.
BBH has long been admired for its astute use of popular music in ads. Several pieces used in BBH ads have gone on to become hit singles, and the agency developed that side of its business further in 2003 with two new units. Black Sheep Music sources or acquire copyrights for music used in BBH advertising, thereby reducing costs and potentially creating revenue for clients. Black Sheep Studios was established in 2015 as an inhouse production resource.
A rather more unorthodox spin-off business is Zag, launched in 2006 and described as a brand invention agency, specialising in the development of consumer products, usually licensed to third parties in return for a share of sales revenue. Its first two inventions were unveiled in 2008, a personal alarm for women which emits a woman's scream instead of a siren, named Ila Dusk, and the Pick Me range of supermarket ready-meals. In 2009, it was responsible for launching the website Mrs-O.org, which tracks the fashion habits of First Lady Michelle Obama. The Ila business was spun off as a separate company in 2010 and floated on London's AIM stock market under the name Ila Security. It was renamed Litebulb Group in 2011.
The 49% stake in BBH originally acquired by Burnett was inherited by Publicis Groupe in 2002. Over the next ten years, rumours surfaced from time to time that BBH's management might welcome the opportunity to buy back full independence at some point in the future. However, no deal was done and instead Publicis Groupe remained a 49% shareholder in BBH Communications, a subsidiary of the main BBH umbrella company BBH Holdings Ltd. In July 2012, in an unexpected development, founders John Hegarty and Nigel Bogle agreed to sell their remaining shares, allowing Publicis to take 100% control of the group. The outstanding shares in Neogama BBH were acquired at the same time.
BBH Partners, the subsidiary company which broadly speaking represents the main agency in London, reported a sharp increase in revenue for 2015, reflecting the capture of the Tesco account. Turnover jumped by 42% to £168.2m; gross profit was up 10% to £58.9m, and profit rose 28% to £14.6m. Almost 84% of turnover was generated in the UK, and 13% in Europe.
Following the 2012 buyout by Publicis, founders Nigel Bogle and Sir John Hegarty stepped back from day-to-day control of BBH. (Third founder John Bartle had already retired from the agency at the end of 1999). Bogle and Hegarty continue to work on a part-time basis. Simon Sherwood, previously group CEO, latterly chairman, announced his own retirement from the end of 2014 and was succeeded as non-executive chairman by Bogle (who was also knighted in 2013). Gwyn Jones initially moved up from COO to group CEO, but he too resigned in summer 2014 to pursue a career outside advertising. Neil Munn is now group CEO. Alexandre Gama was named as worldwide chief creative officer in place of Hegarty, but stepped down from that role at the beginning of 2016, to be replaced by Pelle Sjoenell, previously ECD at BBH LA.
UK CEO Ben Fennell left BBH at the end of 2018 (after 25 years) to start his own business. Three previous deputy ECDs - Rosie Arnold, David Kolbusz and Caroline Pay - exited the agency in 2016 along with senior managers Mel Exon, Jonathan Bottomley and Jason Gonsalves. Their successor Nick Gill stepped down in 2017.
John Hegarty was knighted in June 2007. In his spare time, he also dabbles in the wine business. He acquired Minervois vineyard Domaine de Chamans in 2002, and markets his product under the Hegarty Chamans label. As a result of John Bogle's knighthood in 2013, BBH is the only advertising agency to have two of its founders recognised in this way by the Queen.
The agency was founded in 1982 by John Bartle, Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty, formerly the three senior managers of TBWA's London office. Levi's was a key early account, and Hegarty's highly influential creative approach to the jeans brand turned him into the advertising industry's youth marketing guru during the decade. Levi's ads reached iconic status by the end of the 1980s, creating stars of the models featured in them and hit singles out of the tracks chosen as backing music. Perhaps the most admired was the celebrated Launderette ad in which model Nick Kamen stripped down to his boxer shorts in order to wash his 501s. The ad managed three feats: not only did it cause sales of Levi's to sky-rocket, but it also propelled its backing track (Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine) back to the top of the music charts and even established boxer shorts as a definitive fashion item. Numerous other style-oriented accounts followed in Levi's wake and the agency expanded rapidly, while still remaining true to its determined independent stance. Other early clients were Audi and Whitbread (now Interbrew), still clients more than 20 years later.
In 1995, BBH spun off its media services department as Motive Communications. Although a Singapore office was established at around the same time, the rapid globalisation of the advertising industry had increasingly threatened BBH's profile with clients. About half of the agency's business was already international, despite the lack of a global network. In fact, in 1996 BBH was the first agency ever to win the Queen's Award for Export. But the company finally succumbed to temptation in 1997 by selling just under half its equity to the equally independent-minded (but very much bigger) Leo Burnett, for a price rumoured to be somewhere in the region of $50m. BBH kept its independence but gained access to the US agency's global network.
The agency opened a New York office during 1998, and won its first piece of business there with the global Reebok Classic account, worth around $25m. This was followed by Cointreau. Back in the UK, direct marketing division Limbo, set up a year earlier, was folded back into the main agency to form total communications arm BBH Unlimited. In 1999, responding to the transfer of Levi's marketing department from Singapore to Japan, the agency opened a Tokyo office as well.
However BBH suffered some turbulence following the retirement at the end of 1999 of figurehead John Bartle. With creative supremo John Hegarty away supervising the New York office, the agency was dogged by a series of management upsets. Of these, the most dramatic was the group resignation in 2000 of five senior executives, including executive creative director Bruce Crouch, to launch their own agency under the name Soul (later absorbed by Nitro). And although BBH continued to win a series of important accounts, creative work became patchy. Steps were taken to strengthen the London office in 2001, not least with John Hegarty's return to the UK.
BBH took its first steps into Brazil in 2002, acquiring a significant minority stake in local shop Neogama from Leo Burnett, which had backed its start-up in 1999. The move was reported to be encouraged by Unilever, now a major BBH client, and a major advertiser in Brazil. The agency has continued to collect an ever-larger collection of Unilever business since then, as well as several other blue-chip accounts. In 2006, however, it resigned the Sony Ericsson account after it discovered that the handset manufacturer had been working secretly with Omnicom-owned design agency Wolff Olins.
Last full revision 17th August 2017
* Archive page for historical reference only. This profile is no longer being actively updated. See active page here *
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