BBH pins hope on new model for British Airways

Moore, Fennell, Paterson and Hall (l-r): the joint venture, which will share revenue and costs, could handle other BBH clients
Moore, Fennell, Paterson and Hall (l-r): the joint venture, which will share revenue and costs, could handle other BBH clients

Will Bartle Bogle Hegarty's bespoke set-up for the British Airways account fare better than similar units, John Tylee asks.

If pragmatism had not prevailed at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the agency might now be looking at a hole in its client portfolio left by British Airways rather than retaining its lead creative status while winning extra responsibilities from the airline.

Indeed, there was a time when Ben Fennell, BBH’s chief executive, feared the brief for BA’s consolidated account was so wide-ranging that BBH would not be able to meet it and that its nine-year tenure of the business might be over.

"When I heard the full scope of BA’s brief and that it was intending to have just one rather than two creative agencies, I realised that we were not going to be able to do this on our own," he admits.

The scale of the OgilvyOne operation – which had put together a consortium of specialists under The 12th Floor umbrella to handle all of BA’s CRM work – only underlined Fennell’s concerns.

The answer came in the form of Simon Hall and Warren Moore, the one-time Proximity London chief executive and creative director respectively.

The outcome is a joint venture that will complement BBH’s role as BA’s lead creative agency by taking over the airline’s direct and loyalty marketing programmes.

All parties insist that the arrangement is more than just expedient but will result in a broadening of the agency’s offering – and not just to BA.

Bespoke operation

"Dream teams" have suffered mixed fortunes in recent years because of the perpetual risk that one partner will seek to dominate another.

While Fifty6 – the agency established by Virgin Media’s two media specialists, Manning Gottlieb OMD and Goodstuff Communications – is seen as a success, others have fared less well.

WPP’s tenure of Samsung’s global account ended after less than a year in October 2005 amid reports that its Team Samsung was bedevilled by destructive internal rivalries. Team Volvo, set up in 2010 with staff from Euro RSCG 4D, Arnold and SapientNitro, was disbanded in 2012 after just two years.

One big factor in BBH’s favour is that all the principals know each other well. Hall and Moore worked closely with Ewan Paterson, one of BBH’s most senior creatives, when the pair launched CHI & Partners’ direct marketing arm in 2004 and Paterson was CHI’s executive creative director. Paterson and Moore will be the creative directors on BA’s account.

Abi Comber, BA’s marketing director, is adamant that there will be no internal tensions. "The new model avoids ‘land-grabbing’," she says. "We’ll all be on the same team."

"Often, it’s the creative leadership that can cause problems in arrangements like this," Fennell acknowledges. "But Ewan and Warren have already worked together successfully."

Indeed, BBH and SevenSeconds, the consultancy founded by Hall and Moore, have worked together on a shared client: Waitrose.

In fact, the relationship might have been formalised a couple of years ago when BBH was looking to harness its digital and CRM expertise via an acquisition or joint venture.

It came to nothing – "The timing wasn’t right and the client opportunity wasn’t there," Fennell says – but, should this new joint venture be successful, the aim will be to integrate it within BBH and to extend its offering to other clients of the agency.

Fennell believes the existing synergy will allow all parties to avoid the pitfalls that have doomed some other bespoke operations. "This will be a partnership of equals," he promises. "There will be one P&L and we’ll share revenue and costs. This is going to be more than just a joint venture. It will be a transitory process."

Jeff Dodds, previously Virgin Media’s chief marketing officer and a former BBH client, says: "There are risks involved, not least for BA, which has never done anything like this before. However, if this proposal had been put to me as a client, I’d feel assured I was getting a creative agency and a CRM specialist that were ‘best of breed’."

Fennell believes it worked in BBH’s favour to bring BA into its thinking early. "We had Simon and Warren alongside us at our first tissue meeting with BA in October," he says. "That was key."

Comber liked what she heard: "We were very impressed with BBH’s presentation and that they brought in experts in the field of digital and one-to-one marketing to offer the best of both worlds. BBH met our brief the best."

Nevertheless, BA executives wanted undertakings that its agency operation would be housed under one roof (it will be), that the financial arrangements between the parties were right, that the joint venture would evolve into something more permanent and that the leadership of its account would be clear.

"Simon and I will run the show," Fennell assured them. Comber believes that what BA has done may be an industry game-changer. She says: "Although we have experience in working with The 12th Floor, we are still one of the first to try this approach. Agencies may need to change their business models to accommodate these changes."


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