BBH sets seal on storming close to 2011 with £36m Virgin Media win

It’s the time of the year when hacks and others start musing about agency of the year gongs and, in the UK at least, it seems pretty obvious that the winner is going to be Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

It has not only produced some outstanding work – for Audi, Yeo Valley, Barnardo’s, Johnnie Walker and British Airways (although opinion is still divided on the latter) – but won just about every big pitch going, culminating with today’s award of the whopper £36m Virgin Media account (pictured) from DDB London.

This comes on top of Waitrose, the Guardian, Wonderbra, Sol and, no doubt, others besides.

It’s quite a turnaround for BBH which, by its own stellar standards, has been in the doldrums in the last couple of years, failing to trouble the scorers in the big awards and losing some business including Vodafone. It has also had to deal with personnel ructions and the loss of Cadillac at its New York outpost.

It’s a fine line between success and failure in adland of course, as DDB London is no doubt reflecting, ruefully. The agency has continued to produce some fine work, for Volkswagen particularly, but is in the process of trying to re-invent itself as an ‘integrated’ agency. Virgin, with its heavy demands for al sorts of marketing communications as well as ads, was rather crucial to this. DDB at least made it down to the last two, seeing off formidable competition from Adam & Eve and Mother along the way.

BBH New York may have unwittingly played a key role in destabilising Virgin at DDB, luring away its popular planning boss Sarah Watson in May. DDB has recently restructured its planning department but that’s the last thing you want to be doing with a massive and crucial pitch going on.

Losing highly-regarded creative director Justin Tindall to Leo Burnett in October 2010 didn’t help either. Owner Omnicom might have to get its cheque book out to restore some confidence to what should be one of its flagship agencies.

As for BBH the only cloud on the horizon is that it keeps winning clients with rather serious marketing issues. Wonderbra has to find a new life after Trevor Beattie and ‘Hello boys’ and that was years ago, the Guardian has no money and a declining number of readers and Virgin Media lags Sky by miles in the UK TV market. Essentially it appears to be running the business for cash, declining to add any new channels to its TV package, not a very compelling pitch to the public.

Here’s one of DDB’s featuring actor Marc Warren.

Not what you’d call warm is it?

BBH wisely signed up veteran creative Ken Hoggins to knock out some more Waitrose ads, which he’s already doing to some effect. There could a few more high profile arrivals at its Kingly Street HQ before long.

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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.