Matt Charlton: why new Ogilvy CEO Charlie Rudd faces a challenge taking BBH culture with him

On reporting Charlie Rudd’s new appointment as CEO of Ogilvy and Mather this morning MAA also pointed out there has been quite a trend of BBHers struggling when they leave BBH and get the top job somewhere else. Hmm, that rung quite a loud bell for me personally as someone who experienced the “BBH Bounce” when I left for TBWA in 2007, only to leave a year later. Here are my learnings and observations. What is also true is all BBH people go on do well somewhere because they tend be talented and very well trained. Which I suppose does raise the question if we/they are talented and very well trained why doesn’t it work first time around as often as it should? – Matt Charlton.


Nobody ever actually tells you the truth about what they expect from you as CEO. Lot’s of blah about culture and creative work etc. Forget it. It is all about growth. You can do lots of other things brilliantly but it’s worth zip if you don’t create growth. You can only create stability by delivering growth.

So job one is you need to know how to grow the business. That means new business. If you win stuff and the business grows your shareholders like you and if you don’t they boot you out. If the business is currently sick you will get a bit more time but, in the end, it all comes down to the same thing. This is the single biggest risk for established BBHers because they don’t know how to win new business outside BBH.

That’s because John (Bartle), John (Hegarty) and Nigel (Bogle) did such an incredible job building the towering reputation of the agency that the phone always rings. Sure that may be less so now but, fundamentally, all such BBH people have worked for a company where the phone always rings.

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Simon Sherwood’s legendary job was turning clients down everyday, in the heyday. But when you leave BBH that magic phone doesn’t go with you, no matter how great you are.

And outside BBH winning new business is a tough, ugly, hard scrappy game of forcing your way into conversations, laughing at people’s jokes that may not be that funny and lighting fires constantly anywhere you think may have an outside chance of business. You may have a great head of new business but it ultimately sits on your CEO shoulders.

You don’t know how to do this when you leave BBH. Why would you? You’ve had a magic phone.

Independence vs Network

This has changed since the Publicis deal to buy all of BBH was completed, so new Ogilvy & Mather boss Charlie Rudd will be better placed to handle a different world than many of his predecessors.

But we all grew up fiercely independent and protected. John Hegarty has a most wonderful quote: “do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you.” I discovered in many networks that those that do interesting things get snuffed out pretty quickly and those that play a longer and more conservative game – just looking like they are doing all the things their bosses associate with success – prosper, even if it is making no fundamental difference.

In the end John’s is still a better way to live your life but you need to be ready for some turbulence.

BBH people are so committed and strong on the creative and strategic work that they under-estimate the one card that trumps both of these. Money.

You have to make as much of it as possible and be seen to care about it more than anything else. Chances are, based on the small number of independent agencies, you think you are working for a big ad agency but you are actually working for a global accountancy company who happen to produce advertising.

BBH is a very closed network so you tend to seek counsel from people who have the same experience and, hence, strengths and weaknesses as you do. Black sheep only hang out with black sheep. So, outside the fold, it’s difficult.

0a2ed4dMatthew Charlton is CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He is a former global business director of BBH.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    This is so true. Great read.

  2. Avatar

    Great piece, Matt. Very well observed…and best of luck to Charlie.

  3. Avatar

    Good piece. I think that the Magic Phone problem may also be one of the reasons that some hot US agencies have found it tough in the UK market. US hotshop sets up in London, phone doesn’t ring. Head office, which does have a Magic Phone, can’t understand why London office isn’t winning business.