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Publicis Groupe Takes Full Control of Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Can BBH retain its historic independence?
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It’s a new era at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Publicis Groupe has taken full control of the agency after founders Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty sold the remaining 51 percent of BBH shares to Publicis Groupe.

In a separate transaction, the Paris-based holding company said it is acquiring Brazilian creative hot shop NEOGAMA/BBH, buying the 34 percent owned by BBH and 66 percent from agency founder Alexandre Gama and his partners. In recent months, BBH and Publicis Groupe reportedly competed to obtain a controlling stake in the Sao Paulo-based agency, which works on BBH global clients like Johnnie Walker and Unilever.

BBH, founded in London 30 years ago, has maintained its creative pedigree while building a micro-network of six offices. The agency’s London office produced one of this year’s most-highly regarded TV spots, a compelling retelling of The Three Little Pigs to illustrate the new world of journalism that agency client The Guardian now operates in.

Bogle, 65, and Hegarty, 67, also announced a new management team at the agency. NEOGAMA/BBH’s Gama will succeed Hegarty as worldwide chief creative officer. BBH group chief executive Simon Sherwood, who joined the agency in 1982 as its first account manager, now becomes group chairman. Gwyn Jones, the first graduate trainee hired by the agency in 1987, is the new group chief executive. Neil Munn, CEO of BBH’s brand ventures company Zag, adds the role of group chief operating officer to his current responsibilities. Although handing over the reigns of executive management, the agency said the two BBH founders will remain involved with clients.

Publicis Groupe agencies work for Procter & Gamble while BBH handles brands at P&G competitor Unilever. But BBH insiders say the agency will continue to operate independently within the group, lessening the potential for conflicts. Historically BBH has taken pride in that independence. In fact, interplay with Publicis Groupe shops, such as in new-business pitches, was rare at best. How that will change moving forward is an open question.

Nigel Bogle, in a statement included in the deal’s announcement, underscored a continuing commitment to BBH's independence.

“The decision was very clear. We were looking for an opportunity that would ensure our agency maintained a high degree of autonomy and could continue to abide by the values characterized by the (BBH logo) black sheep. The key point for us was the preservation of our operational independence in managing the BBH brand, which has produced almost uninterrupted growth for thirty years.”

Nonetheless, BBH’s holding company board will now include senior Publicis Groupe executives including CEO Maurice Lévy.

Publicis Groupe acquired its initial 49 percent BBH stake in 2008 as part of the holding company’s $3 billion acquisition of Bcom3, the parent of agencies like Leo Burnett and an early backer of BBH.    

Publicis’ Lévy described the acquisition as an effort to institutionalize the agency beyond its founders.

“All the ingredients that have enabled the success of BBH and NEOGAMA/BBH will be protected today, tomorrow and in the long term. BBH’s management will continue to be independent and the network will develop in its own way, in its own style, while benefiting from the support of Publicis Groupe’s resources to accelerate its growth both geographically and via the expansion of its capabilities into more diverse areas.”