AMV BBDO in London is like a big, stately galleon that sails on in an untroubled way. But, unlike some of its seafaring forebears, Henry V111’s Mary Rose for example, doesn’t sink.
Which is quite unusual because it’s been top dog (OK, top sea dog) on the London agency scene for about 20 years now.
And like all good, stable companies it prefers to promote from inside and has just done so again, elevating managing director Ian Pearman to CEO with predecessor Farah Ramzan Golant moving up (or sideways, hard to tell) to executive chairman. The formidable Cilla Snowball remains group chairman.
Pearman, who joined the agency as a graduate trainee from Cambridge in 1996 is presumably 35 or 36 although AMV’s website doesn’t give ages (probably the result of having women in charge). And like all AMVers he’ll have been schooled in an agency environment that remains calm and classy and values good creative work although it is usually careful not to frighten the horses.
In part this is the agency’s heritage. Founder creative director David Abbott (now a novelist) was famous for his mastery of long copy and creative stewardship of archetypical middle class brands, Sainsbury’s, Volvo and the Economist.
This rather suburban reputation used to annoy Abbott no end but actually it’s probably still the reason why, allied to good account management, AMV manages to stay on top. It’s deemed to be the safest home for big accounts and it very rarely loses them.
So the agency handles Aviva, BT, Diageo (including Guinness), Gillette and Mars among others plus buckets of UK government COI business, until the recent cost-driven cull that is. But that’s AMV for you, it takes a political earthquake for it to suffer a reverse.
Another reason for this stability is the ownership of the agency by BBDO, part of Omnicom. BBDO had been a minority shareholder in the quoted AMV for ten years or so until it bought the rest for $600m in 1998. So both parties knew each other and BBDO, which had hitherto failed to establish its own operation in London, knew a good deal when it came along and has been careful not to rock the boat (here we go again) since.
But in a way that doesn’t matter much. Modern-day Mad Men (and women) they certainly are not.