David Abbott – an appreciation

David Abbott, one of the founders of Abbott Mead Vickers (now AMV/BBDO) has died aged 75. A brilliant writer (in retirement a considerable novelist) he was a gentleman whose high standards informed the agency he founded and inspired many of the people who met him and worked for him.

Paul Simons offers this appreciation.

david_abbottDavid Abbott. I could not claim to know David Abbott beyond the very occasional ‘hello’ and nod. I last saw him in a posh paint shop with his wife a little while ago and we stopped for a natter. He was, as always, very well dressed and looking the perfect English gentleman.

In an industry not well known for generous behaviour to one’s peers AMV always appeared to be the exception. I have two vivid examples that reflected the character of David Abbott and his influence on his agency.

In the very early days of Simons Palmer I had a call from Michael Baulk who was AMV’s CEO. Michael invited me out for lunch at a restaurant we couldn’t dream of entering at the time, let alone paying for. Michael was very generous in his comments about our fledgling agency, we talked about influences and I mentioned Bill Bernbach. Some weeks later AMV delivered the famous Bill Bernbach book written by Bob Levenson. Michael had someone buy it in New York and have it shipped back to London.

I still have the letter from Michael inside the front cover dated 14th December 1990 where he had written “Here is the copy of Bill Bernbach’s book that I promised. The book talks all about Bill’s best stuff. Enjoy.”

Further down the road when our place had hit the fast track we were faced with a re-pitch for the BT business, our largest client by a country mile. We lost to AMV. The day the result was announced to the competing agencies a letter was delivered from David Abbott to me, in his own handwriting. He said “We are obviously delighted to win the BT pitch but I regret it is at your expense. All we have done is take your creative idea and add a presenter”. Bob Hoskins and “It’s good to talk” was their winning idea. Sadly that letter has been lost over time.

One of the many lessons I have observed with AMV has been their stability at the top of the business. After Abbott, Mead and Vickers the next leader was Michael Baulk who must have been at the helm for a decade or so. He then handed the baton across to Cilla Snowball who has been the overall boss since. So from the date AMV was created in the late 1970’s there have only been three sets of management – AMV, Baulk and Snowball. What an incredible achievement, particularly as AMV has remained the biggest ad agency in the UK for a very long time.

If I had to single out one campaign at the hands of David Abbott it would have to be The Economist. Their poster campaign in the ‘90’s was a master class in how to use posters to their best effect as a powerful branding medium. Many great example executions however “I never read The Economist. Management trainee aged 42” was a cracker.
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It is very sad to learn of David Abbott’s passing as he was not an old man by any means. When we saw him in the paint shop he was enthusing about the new house they had bought and the plans they had for redecoration. He remains an icon in the advertising world, a gentleman and a scholar. Not a bad writer either on a good day!

My sympathies go to his wife.

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About Paul Simons

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Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.

2 comments

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    Paul… Very nice piece. I do my tribute on AdScam today. He was a gentleman in a business that has been taken over by charlatans.
    Cheers/George

  2. Avatar

    Thanks George, same to you too. It is difficult to avoid sounding like ‘the good old days’ however I do agree with your point about the changing character of the industry. The rise and rise of the bean counters has been a necessity for very large organisations but it has also had two clear impacts; first creating a risk averse environment and second highlighting a ‘greed is good’ mentality. Both are counter to creative initiative which was the stock in trade of the advertising world. Many reasons why this trend has gathered pace over the last 20 years or so, too many to bang on about now – limbering up to a considered piece on the subject!
    Cheers, Paul.