BBDO's insular culture traditionally has been characterized by the swagger associated with Hollywood. The agency's big-budget, splashy TV work, produced by the highest-salaried creatives in the business, regularly received toasts at the Cannes Advertising Festival. When Andrew Robertson became BBDO Worldwide CEO in May 2004, he didn't intend to end that party—he wanted to invite other agency partners to the table. His first full year on the job brought results. BBDO won a whopping $1.8 billion in new business in 2005; in total, global billings climbed 10 percent to $24 billion while revenue rose an estimated 13 percent to $1.8 billion.
But those numbers don't tell the full story: While BBDO had great new business in America, the year was also one of a larger cultural transformation as a network, earning the company accolades as Adweek's Global Agency of the Year. The company continued to uphold its reputation as a creative gold standard in traditional advertising, even as it pushed into new forms of marketing communications and collaborative ways of working as a network and as an operating company within Omnicom. That was evident as Robertson's forward-thinking new team contributed to Omnicom's win of Bank of America's $600 million integrated global account, proving that the agency could partner with sister companies. While BBDO can still boast an award-winning swagger, its companywide huddle has moved it decisively beyond TV and other traditional marketing.
"BBDO's reputation is that of an agency with big TV ideas, great campaigns, great Super Bowl commercials, but not the easiest agency to work with for integrated solutions," says Allen Rosenshine, BBDO chairman. "The proof that's changing is the kind of year we've had. Andrew, more than anyone else, is responsible for that change, for that new commitment. In the 18 months he's been CEO, I can't imagine him moving more definitively or faster in any number of areas. He's grabbed the reins and acted as the leader, and the organization knows it."
Omnicom CEO John Wren concurs: "It was an extremely successful year from the point of view of new business and what I believe to be vast improvements in their relationships with existing clients. They're serving clients better; they are not doing just TV ads anymore." He describes Robertson as "extremely smart [with] a very clear assessment as to the strengths and weaknesses of those who surround him, and he's on a mission to make sure BBDO is the leading agency network worldwide."
Robertson, one of the industry's youngest global CEOs at 45, has been quick to learn on his feet: The company's outstanding performance in 2005 not only recognizes his deft transition in his first full year as the company's new chief, it underscores his new management team's clarity of purpose and new vision. While the company won half the global pitches in which it participated, in North America, that batting average was even higher—nearly 90 percent. In a single three-week period late last summer, BBDO brought in close to $1 billion in billings from clients like Lowe's, Motorola and Bank of America. Last year, BBDO also won a place on Procter & Gamble's roster after that company acquired its client Gillette, a salute to BBDO's strategic smarts as well as its creative prowess.
"In the U.S., it's a great new business story, but globally, Andrew made significant leadership changes that are transforming the network," says Wren. Robertson brought in former Young & Rubicam/Europe chief William Eccleshare to head BBDO Europe, a job he assumes at the end of this month when his WPP contract ends. Chris Thomas, who ran BBDO below-the-line unit Proximity in London, became CEO of BBDO Asia, and Valerie Accary, previously managing director of international clients for BBDO Europe, was appointed president of BBDO Paris. At AMV BBDO, the company implemented succession changes, promoting Farah Ramzan Golant to CEO while Paul Brazier was upped to ECD at AMV BBDO, succeeding Peter Souter, who took over from founding creative head David Abbott eight years ago and is now deputy chairman.
Robertson is known as a decisive, quick-thinking executive eager to reinvent a company under Rosenshine's 32-year reign. In recent years, while still one of the most highly regarded agency networks, its strengths—producing 30-second TV commercials—have underscored its weaknesses branching out to other marketing communications.
Among Roberston's top priorities: building his team. BBDO CCO, chairman, North America David Lubars and New York president and CEO John Osborn began reshaping their operations during their first full year in the jobs as they streamlined reporting structures. Lubars, former ecd of Fallon, North America, helped Robertson recruit Fallon veteran Mark Goldstein in March to head up new business. Such changes in the U.S. mirror Robertson's ambitions for BBDO's larger network. "We're developing a new vision of what business we're in, what proposition we can stand for. It's a new articulation of [BBDO's long-standing philosophy] 'The work, the work, the work,'" Robertson explains. "Now it's about content that engages the consumer in whatever form."
Lubars, Robertson's most significant agent of change, replaced longtime BBDO exec Ted Sann, and his arrival signaled a new era. His influence was apparent last year in work like a Mountain Dew billboard in Times Square, where a traditional medium became an event as passersby were invited to have their picture taken as if they were part of the ad. Print, historically a strong suit at BBDO New York, included a magazine ad for Aquafina Sparkling that showed the bottle wrapped in actual bubble wrap, raising it off the page. For HBO's Sopranos series, body parts were seen hanging out of New York City taxis.
In its first work for eBay, BBDO's "it" campaign tells consumers, "Whatever it is, you can get it on eBay." The campaign was launched with a teaser spot and wild postings, then introduced in print, TV, b-to-b ads and packaging.
The work speaks to Lubars' fresh marketing sense and underscores a new way of working at BBDO.
"I have a history of being at boutiques. But they lacked depth," he says. "Like other big agencies, BBDO may have had an over-reliance on process, layers of management and more meetings than necessary. So I felt we could be faster, more nimble and responsive, while still maintaining all the depth of BBDO. What we're trying to create here is the best of both worlds, a place that acts like a global boutique."
In making that shift, BBDO isn't surrendering any of its traditional strengths. The global network was the second most-awarded company in the world in 2005, according to the Gunn Report, which tracks 34 TV awards competitions and 21 print shows. One of the network's gems, Almap BBDO, São Paulo, Brazil, was the most-awarded agency in the world for the second year in a row. BBDO could boast about award-winning execution and client results: The network's New York flagship won more gold Effies than any other agency.
Driving Robertson's changes is his goal to create within BBDO a culture of closer networking, a major shift in a global network known more for its siloed offices. That's happening across Omnicom disciplines such as advertising, direct and promotions, as well as across geography: Last year, BBDO North America, for instance, flattened its reporting structure with management at BBDO West reporting into New York, and cd's in the Detroit office reporting directly to Lubars.
At the same time, the company is fostering more teamwork among offices: BBDO New York and West share Masterfoods, Mitsubishi and DirecTV, for instance, while Schneider Electric is headed up by CLM BBDO, Paris, but taps other network offices.
"We've taken our philosophy of long hallways and open doors around the world, and we worked very well as a team," says Osborn.
Previously, BBDO's worldwide board consisted of members from large countries and regions. Now it's been expanded to include new client representatives, with the addition of execs like Jeff Mordos, who oversees Pepsi in the U.S.; Rob McKinley, the worldwide account director of Masterfoods; Simon Marlow, the director of multinational client services on Gillette; and Joe Garcia, the BBDO Detroit president, who leads the charge on DaimlerChrysler. That board has also been expanded to include different disciplines; Cilla Snowball, the chairman of AMV BBDO, for instance, also has oversight over Proximity.
"Andrew's a very strong multinational person," says BBDO Paris head Accary of Robertson. "BBDO's open to the world in a new way, without losing any of the shared creative standards that tied the network together before."
What BBDO may have lacked in collective strength as a network in the past, it made up for with individual market excellence, and last year was no exception: Twenty of BBDO's offices were selected as agencies of the year in their respective markets.
"Our greatest strength was—and is—the strength of our individual offices. Previously, it meant there was no urgent need to break down the barriers," says Robertson. "But I think we missed the opportunity to leverage the talent and experience of the network of 286 offices." To that end last year, the company created a global database of BBDO workers, their discipline and their brand experience, to better share client insights.
To make BBDO's global network more effective, last year Robertson launched three new processes aimed at unifying practices among offices. "Incite Work" is a strategic planning process that focuses on changing consumer behavior. (BBDO says that approach was key to its pitch to Bank of America.) "Global Work" serves as a model for managing international accounts with regional development. "Total Work" provides the means for managing integrated assignments and specifies how and when to bring in resources.
Evidence of Robertson's changes is the winning environment at BBDO, which helped produce the company's new-business performance in 2005, agency executives say. There is a new focus and discipline in the network's approach.
"Success in new business is directly tied to the quality of your decision-making—knowing what not to pitch is almost as important as knowing what to pitch," asserts Goldstein. "If you're out there pitching anything, you're wasting the energy of your people, and that's a hard thing to get back."
Just as important within the new BBDO is the way those people work with other Omnicom marketing partners. An example of that change can be found in BBDO's 40 percent share of the Bank of America account—an assignment that would have been unlikely just two years ago for an agency not known for its collaborative spirit.
It wasn't just wins like BofA. The network's new cooperative bent made the difference in other new business efforts like Lowe's $315 million account.
"BBDO distinguished themselves by reaching out to a number of Omnicom agencies that were already working with us and tapping into those sister agencies," says Pete Woods, vp, advertising, Lowe's. "They demonstrated a quick practical appreciation for what drives our business and the emotional bond that has been created over time between the people in our stores and our customers. They are holistic in their approach. They are truly interested in broad solutions that aren't defined by a media vehicle."
Adds Dave Schembri, evp, sales and marketing, Mitsubishi: "We needed to be different, and [BBDO] provided this strategy of presenting ourselves in a way that celebrated our Japanese heritage. Their strategy and execution was brilliant. What Andrew and David did was to utilize the entire resources of BBDO to help us re-establish our brand in the United States."
Schembri, who awarded his $200 million account to the agency in March, says August was a watershed month for sales: It marked the first time in two years the company increased sales over the year-earlier period.
The emphasis on a more integrated approach didn't just win over new marketers; it broadened existing client relationships. In June, Proximity Worldwide won a European retail assignment from Shell, a client at AMV BBDO London, while in October, the unit landed business from P&G, a relationship BBDO is keen to expand.
It was Robertson's alma mater, AMV BBDO, which provided one of the network's most dramatic examples of teamwork in 2005. Rallying together, the agency pulled off the virtually impossible, retaining more than $100 million in billings thrown into review. AMV BBDO successfully defended Sainsbury's, a client of 25 years, British Telegraph and Homebase.
The loss of any of those accounts would have cost the agency its place as the largest in the U.K., making for an uncomfortable start to the tenure of AMV BBDO CEO Farah Ramzan Golant and her new management group. Not only did she steer the agency past those obstacles, AMV BBDO did so without losing its focus.
"We put up a great offense and defense. We made a huge retention play [with the] aggressive acquisition of assignments from Masterfoods, RAC [Motoring Group], Switchco and Motorola," says Ramzan Golant.
Ramzan Golant was a protégé of Robertson while he was running AMV BBDO; now he is intent on developing a new generation of global leadership.
"I want to secure an unfair share of exceptional talent for BBDO, and we've been working on that around the world. We made some important hires [last] year, and now we need to find ways to leverage that talent across brands, countries and forms of communication," says Robertson.
The company is analyzing the characteristics of people who work well at BBDO to aid hiring and career development.
"We've been operating from more of a culture of humanity. We're putting our people first, talking more, communicating more," says BBDO New York head Osborn.
Robertson's partner in change, Lubars, concurs: "In the old days, BBDO had a reputation for arrogance. Now there's a kind of a humble confidence. People here are very grateful for the clients and business we have. For me and the rest of the management team, we have a healthy paranoia."