Boase Massimi Pollitt - generally known by its initials of BMP - was one of the UK's most admired advertising agencies for almost two decades during the 1970s and 1980s, noted not only for its creativity but also its pioneering role in the development of a new type of marketing strategy that became known as account planning. Invented by BMP, it was subsequently adopted by virtually every other leading agency. Success comes with a price, though, and BMP became a takeover target in the cash-rich later 1980s. It survived a raid by French agency BDDP by negotiating a partnership with US group Omnicom, becoming the local arm of the DDB network. The 2000s, however, saw the beginning of a slow and steady decline. This was halted in 2012 with what has proved to be a spectacularly successful merger with up-and-coming creative hothouse Adam & Eve. The combined Adam&Eve DDB has been arguably London's most admired and most successful agency of the 2010s.
Doyle Dane Bernbach first established a London office in 1964. By the early 1960s, the New York agency was already widely admired as one of the world's most outstanding creative agencies, and the UK was the obvious first choice for a move into other markets. In fact Bill Bernbach and Ned Doyle had first looked at establishing a presence in London in 1962 at the bequest of a key US client, textiles company Chemstrad, but their offer to buy what had then been the recently launched Collett Dickenson Pearce was turned down. It was, arguably, a missed opportunity. By 1964, CDP had grown to become the UK's most admired agency, and London was entering its heyday as the world's "swinging" capital.
Instead, DDB launched its London office from scratch, but there was no shortage of eager young recruits keen to learn from the renowned Bill Bernbach, even though this tutelage was largely indirect. Bernbach himself stayed in New York, appointing John Withers to lead the London team. The new agency was quick to make a big impression, picking up a string of awards in its first few years. However it was unable to match the standards now being set by rival CDP. Among other issues, Doyle Dane Bernbach kept a tight rein on expenditure (unlike CDP, which spent lavishly to attract the country's best creatives). In addition, all creative work produced in London had to be sent back to the US for approval before being submitted to clients in London. This often proved immensely frustrating for the creative team, since idiosyncratic British humour was routinely cut out of ads when they were vetted by New York. By the late 1960s several creative staff had taken the opportunity to collect their training from DDB's London office before jumping ship to other agencies, usually CDP. Among the defectors were John Salmon (who moved to CDP in 1967 at twice his DDB salary to run the creative department) and David Abbott (who went on to launch Abbott Mead Vickers). Another competitor went by the name Boase Massimi Pollitt.
This new shop was founded in 1968 by a breakaway team from Pritchard Wood, an established London agency which had ended up as part of the Interpublic Group, sitting in the shadow of the much larger McCann-Erickson. By the mid-1960s, after several years of rapid expansion, Interpublic was close to collapse and it had begun moves to sell its second-string London agency to management. When negotiations stalled over price, three of Pritchard's most senior executives, Martin Boase, Gabe Massimi and Stanley Pollitt, jumped ship and set up their own agency instead. (What remained of Pritchard later became the UK arm of Campbell-Ewald before merging with Lowe Howard-Spink in 1983). The partners felt they had the blueprint for a new kind of advertising agency. "We say agencies that produced very interesting work with absolutely no sound foundation and other agencies that produced work that was soundly based but extremely dreary," says Martin Boase (quoted in Get Smashed). "We thought there was a road between the two whereby we could make brilliantly creative advertising that was based on extremely sound strategy."
The first priority for Boase, Massimi and Pollitt was to steal the Cadbury account they had been working on at their old agency, and they succeeded in winning the food marketer's chocolate biscuits and later its Smash instant mashed potatoes. The "Smash Martians" campaign, conceived by another Pritchard Wood defector, copywriter John Webster, proved to be a huge hit, and set the new agency firmly on its feet. Soon afterwards American-born creative director Gabe Massimi decided to sell up and return to the US, leaving Webster in control of the agency's creative department. During the 1970s and 1980s, creative director John Webster and his team presided over a golden period of classic ads, including the PG Tips chimps series, soft drink Cresta ("It's frothy, man!"), Sugar Puffs (with the Honey Monster), Pepsi ("Lipsmackinthirstquenchin..."), Courage Best ("It's what your right arm's for."), Foster's (with Paul Hogan), and many others.
All of this creative work was underpinned by a pioneering new form of advertising strategy, which became known as account planning. Created by founding partner Stanley Pollitt, this was a more integrated form of marketing which harnessed creative execution to rigorous consumer research. In each case, BMP's planners set out to define exactly what sort of ad would work best in selling a specific product to its target audience. Whereas most creatives hated the idea of testing their ideas with ordinary consumers, Webster thrived on this approach, and the result was an extraordinarily successful run of witty and populist campaigns, which still feature among the country's best-loved ads of all time.
In 1976, BMP also gained an international network as a result of the sale of a 50% stake to French marketing group Havas. However, things did not go so smoothly behind the scenes. Stanley Pollitt, who had created the concept of account planning, died suddenly in 1979 at the age of just 49. A year later, as the relationship with Havas became increasingly troubled, a group of senior BMP managers walked out to set up their own rival agency, Gold Greenlees Trott, taking with them several accounts. In 1983, BMP reacquired the Havas shares and went public, and also acquired smaller London agency Marketing Solutions. In 1986 BMP added an American arm with the purchase of US agency Ammirati & Puris (sold to Interpublic five years later), followed by the UK's Davidson Pearce (a spin-off from Ogilvy & Mather) in 1988. The following year, French agency BDDP mounted a £105m hostile bid for the agency. BMP mounted an equally aggressive defence - Martin Boase was widely quoted as having told the French agency to "Frog off" - eventually recruiting Omnicom as white knight. The US group trumped BDDP's bid with an agreed offer of £125m.
Now came the question of where to locate the newly acquired BMP. Doyle Dane Bernbach's London office had expanded successfully during the 1970s, not least through the acquisition of competitor Gallagher Smail, which managed a collection of leading FMCG clients including Heinz, Ryvita and Beechams. Later, Bill Bernbach's son John Bernbach was named as local chairman, but the agency was plagued by the departure of a series of senior managers. Following the creation of Omnicom, Doyle Dane Bernbach London absorbed the local office of Needham Harper, known as Reeves Robertshaw Needham, but it still lacked scale compared to other local agencies. The arrival within Omnicom of BMP was timely indeed, and the two agencies were merged as BMP DDB Needham.
The agency diversified successfully over the next few years, launching through-the-line agency BMP4 in 1991, media independent BMP Optimum in 1997, and new media agencies BMP InterAction (now Tribal DDB) and Billco Multimedia in 1998. That year was a high point, as the agency celebrated its 30th anniversary with some strong account wins, as well as being named Campaign's Agency of the Year. After that, though, the agency's performance began to falter.
Despite strong work for many of its clients, several big creative accounts, including Compaq, Vodafone and ITV Digital, moved to rival agencies in 2000 and 2001. So too did a number of key creative directors. As a result critics began to suggest that the agency's day may have passed. BMP restructured its creative department in 2002 and strengthened its team in a bid to re-establish its dominance. At the same time, long-serving senior managers Chris Powell, Ross Barr and Chris Cowpe, stepped down from the business, handing over to a new generation. Stability was restored for a while under Paul Hammersley, until he resigned in December 2005 to join Sir Frank Lowe's Red Brick Road start-up. John Webster, still part-timing in DDB's creative department at the age of 71, died in 2006.
The old BMP was dragged into the 21st century during 2004, with a change of name to DDB London, and a full refresh of its long-serving but ageing management team. The update was well overdue: the agency's new business performance had been average at best in recent years. Ranked #2 by billings in the UK in 2000 by Nielsen Media Research, the agency slipped rapidly down the chart over the course of the next few years. Although BMP continued to deliver highly regarded work for a few key clients such as Volkswagen, the agency was also hit by a few serious account losses, including British Gas after more than 12 years, and Barclaycard. This led to a shake-up towards the end of 2003, highlighted by the dropping of the BMP tag. Paul Hammersley was parachuted in as CEO from Lowe New York in 2004 to boost performance.
Among Hammersley's new initiatives was a bolstering of the agency's planning department in a bid to revive its legendary reputation for media planning. The shake-up appeared to have worked. DDB London climbed five places in the 2004 agency rankings to #9, with billings estimated at £209m, and by another two places in 2005. But Hammersley jumped ship at the end of that year (to join Frank Lowe's Red Brick Road), followed by a string of other senior executives, and it took almost a year before the arrival of a full-time replacement. As a result, performance was more than a little disappointing, marked by a new set of account losses and a slump in billings. Despite this, the agency picked up numerous awards towards the end of 2006. It ranked second among the world's most awarded shops in the Gunn Report rankings, and collected eight no less than IPA Effectiveness awards including Agency of the Year, although most of the prizes were for ads, mainly for VW, produced in 2005.
Stephen Woodford was recruited from WCRS/Engine in the summer of 2006 to fill Hammersley's empty chair, but was unable to take up that role until the beginning of 2007 for contractual reasons. He was able to stem the account losses, but significant new wins have been slow to materialise other than at network level. Despite its falling billings, the agency's creative skill was reaffirmed in 2009, when DDB London emerged as the world's most awarded shop in the Gunn Report rankings. It is the only agency to have received that accolade three times. Its Parallel Lines series of specially commissioned films for Philips was among the world's most awarded in 2010, and it was one of the runners-up for Campaign's Agency of the Year because of the Virgin Media win. The latter gain helped it to charge up the UK agency rankings for 2011, jumping from #22 to #12, with estimated billings of £182m. Other key clients were Volkswagen, Unilever and Hasbro. However the loss of both Philips and Virgin Media at the end of the year prompted Omnicom management to look for a more lasting solution to DDB's problems. That led to the merger in 2012 with Adam & Eve.
Stephen Woodford was one of few DDB managers to survive the merger, becoming chairman, but almost all other senior roles were assigned to A&E's team, led by CEO James Murphy, chief creative officer Ben Priest and planning partners David Golding and Jon Forsyth.
Several of the old DDB London team including Jon Goulding (previously chief operations officer) and Nick Fox (chief client officer) launched their own start-up in 2012 under the name Atomic London. Chief strategy officer Lucy Jameson joined Grey for several years until summer 2016. DDB London's former executive creative director Jeremy Craigen remained in the London network office as worldwide creative director for the Volkswagen account, until his resignation in early 2015. He had by then spent 25 years at DDB's London agency. He eventually joined Innocean.
Last full revision 16th November 2016
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