Omnicom's BBDO may be the industry's small-screen showman, the Super Bowl shop with big-time clients like Visa, Pepsi and Masterfoods. What it is not known for is strategic planning, and it has been forced to play catch-up to those who are: TBWA\Chiat\Day, for example, which introduced planning to the U.S. almost 20 years ago.
Strategy "wouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind regarding BBDO because they're so strong creatively," said one review consultant. "But the extremism in which agencies lean towards one or the other discipline is narrowing."
Last May, BBDO hired Martyn Straw, former president of Omnicom's Interbrand in the U.S. and former planner at Lowe, Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi in New York and Leo Burnett in London. Now Straw is making personnel moves and launching initiatives to get the shop up to speed strategically.
Straw has hired Tim Malefyt, a cultural anthropologist and agency executive, as director of cultural discoveries, and Tracy Lovatt, most recently president of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup's Momentum in New York, as director of communications planning. Malefyt, 42, reports to Sheron Davis, the former planning and research director who has been promoted to director of marketing services. Lovatt, 40, and Davis, 49, report to Straw.
Instead of using traditional interview methods, Straw said the mission of Malefyt, who worked at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in Detroit (now Chemistri), is to gain more detailed insights by observing consumer behavior. Lovatt brings to BBDO a background in communications planning for clients such as American Express and Marriott.
Straw said the shop implemented some of its new strategic resources in repositioning General Electric from a maker of household appliances to a company that makes breakthroughs in social and human progress through its work in aviation, medical imaging and plastics.
BBDO's planning team has developed a system, similar to what many other agencies have, called "psychological patenting," which seeks to define for clients the emotional space a brand should own in consumers' minds, rather than simply lay out a product's attributes. For example, instead of showing what GE makes, the work shows how the client advances human progress.
In January, the 24-year-old tagline "We bring good things to life" was replaced with "Imagination at work." One spot shows recreated footage of the Wright brothers' first attempt at flight. A voiceover says GE likes to think it was there "in spirit" because of strides it has made in designing aircraft engines. Another ad shows a lonely clerk in a warehouse filled with files of papers. A medic asks him to locate someone's medical records from 1984, including an abdominal scan. He zips around, finding the records, which the medic then relays to an emergency medical team. Another spot shows robots dozing in an automobile factory because their job—painting cars—has become obsolete thanks to GE's innovations in scratch-resistant plastics.
Judy Hu, GE's general manager of corporate advertising, said she wanted "a succinct creative articulation that could serve as a strategic platform for GE." She noted that "BBDO is known for fabulous creative. What was wonderful for me to witness was how well they understood the research and executed the creative."
Asked how he would respond to those who say BBDO is late to the party, Straw said with a smile, "Better late than never."