GGT advertising

Gold Greenlees Trott (UK)

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Once upon a time, plucky British agency GGT came close to turning itself into of the world's big agency groups. However, mountainous debt and the disastrous takeover of larger rival BDDP turned GGT into prey instead of predator. The group was rescued by Omnicom in 1998, and carved up. Most of BDDP and GGT was absorbed into the TBWA network. 

Selected GGT advertising

Gold Greenlees Trott opened its doors in June 1980. Its three founding partners were Mike Greenlees and Dave Trott, who had jumped ship the year before from Boase Massimi Polllitt (later DDB London), and Mike Gold, another ex-BMP staffer who had left a few years earlier. (Gold had already dabbled in the independent sector, forming French Gold Abbott. However that agency failed to gather steam, and collapsed when partner David Abbott left to set up Abbott Mead Vickers instead). As creative partner for the new shop, the brash and combative Trott opted not to hire from other agencies. Instead he recruited a team of largely untried graduates and trained them up virtually from scratch.

Against the odds, the fledgling Gold Greenlees Trott quickly gained a reputation for boisterous, often humorous ads, and was the winner of Campaign's Agency of the Year award in only its second year. Among its best-remembered ads during the decade were campaigns for Toshiba ("'Ello Tosh, gotta Toshiba?") and a series of black-and-white Hollywood pastiches for Holsten Pils (in the style of Steve Martin movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid) featuring comedian Griff Rhys Jones intercut with footage of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Marilyn Monroe, among others. 

The company floated just over a third of its shares on the London Stock Exchange in 1986, and used the resulting funds to launch a series of acquisitions, including UK-based sales promotions company Option One. Later, GGT began to look to the US market for further expansion. Its first purchase there, in 1988, was Atlanta agency Babbit & Reiman (later renamed Brighthouse). Martin/Williams in Minneapolis was snapped up for $12m in 1989, followed by Texas-based GSD&M for around $23m in 1990. The latter two agencies proved their value over the next few years, successfully turning themselves from small regional players into national agencies.

However the course of GGT's expansion sat unhappily with mercurial creative director Dave Trott, who fell out with his partners and was dismissed in 1991. After an unsuccessful attempt to remove his name from the GGT masthead, he went on to set up his own shop, Bainsfair Sharkey Trott (BST), with partners Paul Bainsfair and John Sharkey, supported by backing from French group BDDP. Other members of the GGT team had also departed, going on to launch independent shops such as Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Duckworth Finn Grubb Walters. Mike Gold left the group in 1994, leaving Mike Greenlees as the sole remaining founder.

In the meantime GGT had continued to expand. In 1993, it acquired a 50% shareholding in European mini-network GGK, but that relationship remained strained, and GGT sold most of its shares in 1996 to Lowe. The same year the group launched a £203m bid for France's BDDP. More than twice GGT's size, BDDP had embarked on its own expansion drive a few years earlier. In addition to Bainsfair Sharkey Trott in London, it had developed an extensive presence in continental Europe and a foothold in Asia, as well as control of renowned US agency Wells Rich Greene, before running into problems servicing the debts it had amassed in the process. 

The capture of BDDP tripled GGT Group's revenues to more than $300m, and gave the business a significant global footprint as well as control of two UK-based PR companies, Financial Dynamics and Lynne Franks. Following GGT's takeover of BDDP-owned BST, Dave Trott was dismissed for the second time in 1996, and later set up independent agency Walsh Trott Chick Smith. GGT and BST-BDDP in London subsequently merged. GGT's joint creative director Robert Savile left at the end of the year to set up Mother.

Despite its larger size, by mid-1997 it became apparent that GGT's restructuring costs would result in a loss for the year. The group's share price fell in response to that news, then nosedived in early 1998 when Wells BDDP in New York was sacked by its biggest client, Procter & Gamble. That account alone, worth $125m in billings, had represented a third of Wells BDDP's sales. Subsequently it was claimed that GGT had already begun negotiating a sale to Omnicom, but that no deal was possible because the US group represented Gillette, then a competitor to P&G. The loss of the P&G account and GGT's collapsing share price removed any restrictions on either side, and Omnicom snapped up the Anglo-French group for $234m.

Following takeover by Omnicom, the BDDP GGT network underwent significant restructuring. The UK operation and its associated marketing services companies were merged with TBWA's UK arm, while several of its US subsidiaries, such as Martin/Williams and GSD&M were left to operate as standalone agencies within the Omnicom portfolio. The GGT name was finally consigned to history in 2004 when London-based direct marketing agency TBWA\GGT Direct was absorbed into sister network Tequila.

Mike Greenlees remained at Omnicom, becoming president & CEO of TBWA Worldwide. He left the group in 2004 to become CEO of creative advertising database FastChannel Network until its takeover at the end of 2005. Greenlees returned to the front line in 1997 as chief executive of media monitoring company Thomson Intermedia, and later became chairman of Ebiquity. In 2015, he moved on to become chairman of branding agency Scoota. Mike Gold left the advertising industry altogether in 1994, although he was subsequently executive chairman of Wowgo, a short-lived web portal for teenage girls backed by Unilever. Dave Trott remained creative director of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, later absorbed into The Gate. He is also a writer and columnist for Campaign.

Last full revision 3rd October 2017


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