Collett Dickenson Pearce is one of the most celebrated names in British advertising history, and a trailblazer of the London industry from the mid-1960s onwards. Charles Saatchi, Frank Lowe, filmmakers Alan Parker, David Putnam and Ridley Scott all learned their craft there before moving on to other things, and the commercials they produced for clients such as Hovis, Cinzano, Benson & Hedges and Olympus are still among the most memorable of the era. Widely regarded as the country's most creative and prestigious agency for most of two decades, CDP subsequently suffered a number of setbacks, leading eventually to its acquisition by the Japanese giant Dentsu. In 2001, the struggling agency's continuing decline was temporarily halted by its merger into fast-growing creative boutique Travis Sully to form the awkwardly named cdptravissully. However, the erosion of billings continued. The business was eventually reborn in 2012 as the local arm of Dentsu's US agency McGarryBowen.
Collett Dickenson Pearce was founded on the inauspicious date of April 1st 1960 by John Pearce, previously joint managing director of the Colman Prentis & Varley (CPV) agency, and Ronnie Dickenson, a senior executive at early commercial television company ATV. Pearce had come to the advertising industry late, after a distinguished military career during World War II. In the early 1950s, he worked in publishing as general manager of Hulton Press, whose titles included the Picture Press and the Eagle comic for boys. Dickenson also worked at Hulton, but both men were eventually tempted away by the exciting new world opening up with the growth of of commercial television during the 1950s. By the end of that decade, they had decided to pool their resources and launch an agency of their own, and joined forces with John Collett, who already owned a small creative agency, Pictorial Publicity. The new three-way partnership was named Collett Dickenson Pearce and set out to produce advertising that was inspirational and effective, and above all creative.
Creativity, at the time, was not high among the attributes of any of London's leading agencies, whose work tended generally towards the dull and blunt. Pearce brought over his creative director from CPV, Colin Millward, and encouraged him to follow his instincts. Pearce and Millward were great admirers of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the New York agency which had revolutionized American advertising by introducing humour and hip references to popular culture. DDB had also been the first agency to pair copywriters and art directors into teams, instead of keeping them in separate departments, and Millward adopted this strategy also. In fact, only two years after the creation of CDP, Doyle Dane Bernbach came knocking with the offer of a buyout. However, the British admen's admiration only went so far and they declined the offer to become DDB's London office in favour of establishing a reputation of their own. This they did by spending lavishly to attract the best or most promising creatives in town, often at twice the salaries they could get elsewhere. The agency soon became regarded as London's university of creative advertising, and a string of soon-to-be luminaries passed through its doors during the 1960s. Charles Saatchi, Frank Lowe, filmmakers Alan Parker, David Putnam and Ridley Scott were among the many who spent their formative years within the agency. As a result Millward was not only the real driving force behind CDP's subsequent success, but is widely credited as having been the "father" of high-quality British advertising.
Initially CDP collected a portfolio of clients characterized by Pearce as "fags, fashion and booze", aspirational brands suited to the witty and image-led approach adopted by CDP. But gradually the agency began to win more valuable bed-rock accounts, including Ford cars and Birds Eye frozen foods. Among the many brands to benefit from CDP's golden touch in the 1960s and 1970s were Olympus cameras, Benson & Hedges cigarettes and Hamlet cigars. Key to the success of these clients in particular was the new and then revolutionary colour supplement which had been introduced in 1961 by the Sunday Times newspaper. Millward identified the magazine as the perfect vehicle for many of CDP's glossier clients and produced a string of lavish advertisements to appear in it, featuring work from photographers such as David Bailey, Helmut Newton and Terence Donovan. The magazine responded by hiring many of the same photographers to contribute to its editorial pages, and the resulting boom in advertising persuaded other Sunday newspapers to launch equally glossy supplements of their own.
Towards the end of the decade, with the growth of commercial television, the agency also set about establishing itself as the force to be reckoned with on TV as well. Until now, CDP was known mainly for its press ads, but it applied exactly the same creativity and imagination to moving images as well. During the 1960s and 1970s. The company won acclaim and numerous creative awards for advertising for Hovis bread, Hamlet ("Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet. The mild cigar."), Fiat ("handbuilt by robots"), Chunky dog food (with politician Clement Freud and his dog Henry), Heineken ("refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach") and Cinzano (with Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter). Many of these clients were overseen by star account director Frank Lowe, who became the agency's managing director in 1972.
At the same time, the agency began to dip its toes into the international market, tying up for a while with France's newly established Feldman Calleux et Associes (later to be the core of now defunct mini-network FCA!BMZ) as well as other agencies in Italy and Holland. In 1969, Colin Millward took up an international role, appointing John Salmon as creative director of the London office. Although the early 1970s proved an especially golden period, the sparkle began to fade after Millward retired in 1977. Salmon also stepped away from the sharp end of the business, becoming chairman. Another severe blow was the departure of Frank Lowe and Geoff Howard-Spink who quit in 1981 to set up their own agency, Lowe Howard-Spink, taking a number of key accounts with them. The same year, second-string CDP Aspect also broke away (later, as Laing Henry, becoming part of Cordiant).
A few years earlier, CDP had sold a 75% shareholding to bankers Hambros to fund further expansion, but this arrangement did little to build ties in the rapidly consolidating industry. In 1983, CDP's directors bought back the shares and then sold a 40% stake to Young & Rubicam in order to develop its international network, but that relationship didn't appear to prosper either and the shares were reacquired once more five years later. In 1984 independent agency Lindsey Dale & Starkey became part of the group after it merged with Pictorial Publicity, the original core of the business, to become Travis Dale & Partners under managing director Peter Travis. In 1990, the agency was targeted by Japanese giant Dentsu, keen to get its hands on the UK business of their domestic client Toyota (an account won by CDP after Fiat shifted its business in the mid-1980s). But only a few months after the Japanese company paid around £60m for a 45% stake, Toyota moved its account to Saatchi's, leaving CDP's new owners more than a little frustrated.
The agency also found its loose network of European affiliates beginning to unravel. It had cemented the CDP Europe network in the mid 1980s, taking stakes in Spanish agency Grupo Barro, Italy's Canard, France's Alice and agreeing a partnership with Germany's Springer & Jacoby, as well as agencies in other territories. However CDP Europe's Spanish and German partners both pulled out of the deal in 1991, claiming the British agency had failed to maintain its own part of the agreement to develop pan-European clients.
A series of other client accounts also moved, and Dentsu took steps to stop the rot, upping its stake to 65% and recruiting new MD Ben Langdon to reverse the trend. CDP's client portfolio stabilized over the next few years, and a series of account wins climaxed with the capture of Honda in 1996. In 1993 the agency set up a separate media arm, CDP Media, as a joint venture with CIA UK, then part of Tempus. Meanwhile, Dentsu had taken the opportunity to buy full control of Travis Dale & Partners, and rebranded it as Travis Sennett Sully Ross in 1996. In 1998, the group acquired local agency Harari Page as well, and folded that business into Travis Sennett as well to form Travis Sully, which gradually earned a strong reputation as a hard-working integrated marketing services shop under Peter Travis and creative director Gill Sully.
At the same time, a new set of problems emerged at CDP, as fresh management upheavals followed the departure of Ben Langdon in 1998 to McCann-Erickson. A series of creative directors came and went, and the agency was finally dealt another body blow in 2001 when Honda took the decision to move its creative account away to Wieden & Kennedy. A few months later, in the face of a declining advertising market, Dentsu responded by attempting to revitalize the agency by merging it into Travis Sully to create cdp-travissully. This led to a further round of staff upheavals, before the position stabilized again in 2004. However the steady loss of clients continued, and yet another restructuring in 2006 led to departure of Gill Sully and the appointment of a new CEO. See McGarryBowen London for subsequent history.
Last full revision 31st October 2017
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