Campaign UK billings numbers show Abbott Mead is still miles and miles in front of the rest

The mighty engine that is AMV/BBDO has once again topped Campaign’s Nielsen-supplied billings figures (can’t give you the full list, you’ll have to buy a copy), on £388m way ahead of McCanns at number two on £275m and RKCR/Y&R a few hundred thousand behind.

So what’s AMV’s secret? One it has a good owner in Omnicom, two it has an experienced and capable management (including a high proportion of women), three it has a track record of treating its people well and, four, it’s brilliant at managing its clients.

AMV’s clients never do anything very exciting. They know that if they start messing around they’ll lose a very valuable asset.

It wasn’t always thus. When Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers started their hotshop back in the 1970s it really wasn’t going anywhere fast until they lured in David Abbott, formerly of French Gold Abbott, to be the creative director and a partner.

Abbott wasn’t best pleased to discover that the agency’s foundations were a touch flaky and that he needed to use all his skills to get the Volvo account in double quick.

Anyway they got over it and proceeded to build a reputation as the middle class consumers’ (and clients of course) agency of choice in the 1980s, adding the likes of Sainsbury’s and Yellow Pages’ JR Hartley to Volvo.

And they won the Economist which allowed them to produce a whole raft of cutesy (but relevant) press ads and posters to keep awards juries interested.

Mead, who’d been a rather wild character in his youth (sporting silver boots in the David Bowie era) suddenly emerged as an industry statesman, declining to make people redundant in the recession of the early 1990s and casting a benevolent eye on the pathetic efforts of his rivals from his customary table by the window at Langan’s Brasserie.

Adrian Vickers, the third partner, kept a low profile and carried on handling his accounts.

And despite being bought by Omnicom and merged into BBDO it’s been much the same ever since, despite the departure of Abbott, who’s now a much praised novelist.

But this is a classic lesson in how to form and run an agency. And, in terms of the Campaign list, they’re miles in front now as they have been for the last 20 years.

Without much prospect of anybody else challenging their status.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.