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Publicis Groupe buys all of Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Publicis Groupe has followed its deal to buy Neogama BBH in Brazil with the long-awaited (but still surprising) move to buy the 51 per cent of Bartle Bogle Hegarty held by founders Nigel Bogle and Sir John Hegarty and other BBH Partners.

Publicis Group inherited the stake in BBH when it bought BCom3 in 2002, one of whose partners Leo Burnett had backed BBH in the early days.

BBH was founded in 1982 (within a dew days of its main creative rival Wieden+Kennedy) and has built up the strongest of creative reputations over the intervening 30 years including celebrated work for Audi, British Airways, Axe/Lynx for Unilever and Google. It was the best-performing UK agency at this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity and its recent ‘three Little Pigs’ ad for the Guardian newspaper is reckoned by many to be the best British ad for decades.

So why has BBH sold out? The years no doubt have something to do with it (both Bogle and the ever-youthful Hegarty are well into their Sixties while third founder John Bartle retired years ago) as, of course, does money. The BBH ‘micro network’ earned €112m in 2011 so the 51 per cent that is now being sold will be worth many millions in whatever currency.

There’s also the issue of whether the small BBH network is capable of competing on a world scale with the big bucks deployed by its new owner, WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic. BBH is thought to have wanted to add 100 per cent of Neogama to its network but PG seems to have had other ideas, as my colleague Stuart Smith described yesterday.

But Bogle, Hegarty and their colleagues have earned their money through a rigorous commitment to decent advertising and equally decent business practices, not the easiest thing to pull off in the volatile world of advertising.

BBH wasn’t fully independent of course but behaved as though it was. It remains to be seen what effect 100 per cent PG ownership will have.

Here’s John Hegarty with Dan Wieden.

I thought at the time how amazingly relaxed he looked. Did he know something we didn’t?

Update

PG CEO Maurice Levy says BBH will continue as an independently-managed network. Neogama founder Alexandre Gama is taking over from Hegarty as worldwide CCO while BBH’s Simon Sherwood becomes group chairman, Gwyn Jones becomes CEO and Neil Munn COO. So Bogle and Hegarty are stepping down although they remain on the board of the BBH holding company and say they will keep their client involvement.

If nothing else, this shows the burgeoning importance of all matters Brazilian in advertising these days.

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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.
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