Bates UK : advertising & marketing profile

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Bates UK, the London office of global advertising network Bates Worldwide, was merged into JWT London at the end of 2003. Previously, the agency had billed itself as the UK's biggest integrated marketing agency, offering a complete range of services from creative advertising to direct marketing and sales promotion. After recovering from a series of high-profile management rows during the late 1990s, Bates began to show the benefits of its new stability with some strong account wins in 2001. But by 2003, serious problems at the US agency led to a knock-on effect in London. Reeling from account losses, the Bates network was acquired by WPP and was dismantled at the end of 2003.

Bates UK was the culmination of a series of mergers and acquisitions which peppered the turbulent rise and fall of the former Saatchi advertising empire. The main components of the agency were Hobson Bates and Dorland Advertising, two of the UK's leading agencies by the late 1960s. John Hobson & Partners was launched in 1955, a breakaway from Colman Prentis & Varley, and gained a powerful reputation in London circles for founder John Hobson's erudite and intellectual approach to advertising theory. John Metcalf joined the company as managing director in 1958, at which point the agency became Hobson & Metcalf, and two years later in 1960 it was acquired by US agency Ted Bates, becoming Hobson Bates & Partners until it adopted the Ted Bates name during the late 1970s.

Dorland had an even longer pedigree. Although widely regarded as British agency, Dorland was actually originally a US import. John M Dorland opened a one-man advertising agency in Atlantic City in 1886. He hired ambitious 16 year-old Walter Edge as his assistant in 1889, but himself died a year later. Edge borrowed $500 and bought the business from Dorland's heirs, spending the next 20 years expanding the agency throughout the US. By 1910 Dorland Advertising was billing over $10m, then a substantial sum. In 1905 Edge opened an office in London, under the management of George Kettle. However by now he had developed a taste of politics. In 1917, after he was elected to the US Senate, Edge pulled out of advertising and sold the London office to Kettle, who kept the Dorland name. The agency's US operations were gradually sold off or closed, leaving the London agency as its last remaining outpost by the 1950s.

By the 1960s, Dorland was firmly established as one of the UK's foremost advertising agencies. Its celebrated campaigns during that decade included the Old Spice surfer riding spectacular waves to the sound of Carmina Burana, and Castrol's "liquid engineering" series. The company went public in the early 1960s, and acquired another of London's leading agencies, WS Crawford, in 1965. In 1969 the group established an informal working relationship with New York counterpart Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, with each company handling local work for the other when required. DFS later established its own footprint in London, acquiring a small creative agency by the name of Michael Bungey & Partners in 1978. (Its proprietor, Michael Bungey, eventually rose to the position of chairman of Bates' parent company Cordiant).

By this time, however, Dorland had encountered troubles of its own. In 1971 the group became the target of a hostile takeover by Barclay Securities, an investment group (with no connection whatsoever to Barclays Bank) run by corporate raider and asset stripper John Bentley. Having seized control of the business, Bentley kept hold of Crawfords' and Dorland's property assets and sold on the advertising business to entrepreneur Eric Garrott who parachuted in former Hobson Bates partner John Metcalf as chairman. However, performance gradually declined over the remainder of that decade, and by the late 1970s, Garrott was keen to sell the business once again.

At the same time, the ambitious Saatchi brothers were looking for a way to expand their empire and add new business to their portfolio without triggering conflicts with existing clients. A twin-agency strategy, first pioneered by McCann in the 1960s with its acquisition of second-string unit Marschalk, seemed the ideal solution and in 1981 the Saatchis acquired Dorland to serve as supporting brand behind Saatchi & Saatchi. Soon afterwards, they launched a new assault on the US market where they had already established a low-key presence through Compton Advertising. In 1984, they acquired Bungey & Partners from DFS as well as independent Sharps Advertising, and then bought out the US agency as well two years later, merging all four companies as DFS Dorland Worldwide. Later the same year, they captured an even bigger fish, acquiring legendary powerhouse Ted Bates as well. In 1987, in another mammoth restructuring of their empire, the Saatchis merged Ted Bates UK and DFS Dorland with another acquisition, New York creative hothouse Backer & Spielvogel, to form Backer Spielvogel Bates Dorland, while also spinning out the Bates, Dorland and Saatchi media departments to create Zenith. BSB Dorland formally became Bates Dorland in 1994.

Corporate machinations continued through the rest of the decade. Following the ousting of the Saatchi brothers in 1995, the parent group changed its name to Cordiant, but the empire was subsequently split, with Bates and Saatchi established as separate independent agencies. A new set of management rows erupted in 1999 when steps were taken to consolidate Bates' various below-the-line operations in the UK. At the time the main direct marketing subsidiary of the London agency operated under the name Bates Communications. However in 1998, the main agency had acquired a second DM shop, Blue Skies. Early in 1999, Bates chairman Graham Hinton announced a restructuring of the UK business. Bates Dorland was renamed Bates UK, and was combined with its various marketing subsidiaries to form a single integrated agency. However staff at Bates Communications took exception to their enforced merger with Blue Skies, and a stream of senior resignations followed from both companies, including Hinton himself. In the end, the two below-the-line companies were consolidated under the 141 Communications banner.

Incoming CEO Toby Hoare spent the next couple of years trying to untangle these internal conflicts while also re-establishing Bates' creative credentials. Strong accounts wins such as Sky TV in 2001 helped immeasurably. However while the agency held firm during 2002, the following year began disastrously when the business lost two of its biggest accounts, Royal Mail and Woolworths (the latter after 17 years). The group responded by positioning itself as an integrated advertising agency, absorbing below-the-line specialist 141 Worldwide and interactive agency CCG:XM under the umbrella name of Bates Group, and offering a full portfolio of marketing services beyond traditional advertising. But it was not enough to save ailing Cordiant, which was acquired by WPP. Following completion of the takeover in August 2003, WPP began the process of carving Bates up. The UK agency finally closed its doors at the end of 2003, with most of its accounts and remaining employees shifted across to JWT London.

Last full revision 3rd October 2017


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