Emily Tan
Jul 5, 2012

UPDATED: Exclusive interview with Nigel Bogle on Publicis' BBH acquisition

GLOBAL - Publicis Groupe has acquired the Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) network from founders Nigel Bogle and Sir John Hegarty and their partners, but the agency famous for its black sheep icon and "When the world zigs, zag" mentality will retain its independent streak even as it becomes a wholly owned subsidiary, Bogle told Campaign Asia-Pacific this afternoon.

Nigel Bogle
Nigel Bogle

Publicis already held 49 per cent of BBH shares. The holding company also announced that it has acquired 100 per cent ownership in NEOGAMA/BBH in Brazil—34 per cent from BBH and 66 per cent from that agency's founder, Alexandre Gama and his partners.

The Board of  the  BBH holding company will consist of three members of the Publicis Groupe Management Board – Maurice Lévy, Jean-Yves Naouri and  Jean-Michel Etienne – as well as Steve King, global chief executive officer, ZenithOptimedia, Nigel Bogle, Sir John Hegarty and Simon Sherwood.

This board will delegate full responsibility and authority for the day-to-day management and operation to a BBH global management team led by Gwyn Jones.

On the India implications of the news, Subhash Kamath, managing partner, BBH India, said, "There won't be any structural changes in India. BBH India will continue to report to BBH Global." 

In an exclusive phone interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, founding partner Nigel Bogle acknowledged that many agencies have failed to retain their individuality when the first generation handed it over to the next, but emphasised that this would not be the case with BBH. 

"We have spent 30 years building this company and it's really important to me that BBH keeps getting better," he said. 

Several key factors will ensure this, Bogle continued. The network's "home-grown management" will ensure seamless promotion from within, guaranteeing the agency a leadership that "carries and exemplifies the business and who know the BBH brand inside and out, who have built the brand with us". 

Bogle and founding creative partner Sir John Hegarty will remain active on client business but will transfer executive responsibility to a new management team.

Hegarty has appointed Alexandre Gama to succeed him as worldwide chief creative officer (WCCO). Simon Sherwood, previously group chief executive officer, takes over as group chairman. Gwyn Jones becomes group chief executive officer and Neil Munn, CEO of BBH’s brand ventures company Zag, takes on the group chief operating officer role in addition to his current role. 

Bogle and Hegarty also agreed to the acquisition because they wanted to attain "financial realisation, not just for me and John, but for the 50 or so shareholders around the world who have served the company for decades". 

"It wasn't about getting the most money either—if so we could have just held an auction!" Bogle said. "It was about doing a deal that was right for the future. We've had a long relationship with Publicis, and they were the right choice."

In light of this, Bogle and Hegarty have negotiated a binding agreement that will grant the agency an exceptional amount of autonomy. "We've spent time with Maurice Lévy [chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe], and he fully understands that the lighter the hand on our shoulder, the better we'll be," Bogle said. 

In the statement announcing the acquisition, Lévy took pains to provide assurance that the agency will be given control of its own destiny.

"We have decided, together with Nigel, John and Alexandre, to engineer an integration that will preserve and protect their specific culture, their working methods, and the characteristics of the agencies through an approach of 'autonomy inside' the Groupe," Lévy said. "Thus all the ingredients that have enabled the success of BBH and NEOGAMA/BBH will be protected, today, tomorrow and in the long term. BBH’s management will continue to be independent and the network will develop in its own way, in its own style, while benefiting from the support of Publicis Groupe’s resources to accelerate its growth both geographically and via the expansion of its capabilities into more diverse areas. I’m very proud that the founders and teams of BBH and NEOGAMA/BBH have chosen to join us.” 

Lévy's statement, commented Bogle, indicates the degree of respect he has for BBH's values and brand. "I don't think any agency has negotiated what we have."

An additional motivation for the acquisition on the part of BBH is the need for increased financial resource and firepower to grow the business in terms of geography, continued Bogle. "When Publicis was a minority shareholder, they saw no point in investing in us as they could't consolidate our numbers into their bottom line." 
The concept of BBH needing to be a micro network in terms of size is misleading, he added. "We want to be the world's leading creative network and there are parts of the world we're not in that we need to be. Africa for example, our clients are doing more and more business there, we need to be there. At some point when things settle down there are geographic targets that we need to pursue."
For Publicis, what they get out of this deal is, well, BBH. "It's interesting that none of the big agency holding companies have succeeded in building successful micro networks themselves," mused Bogle. "We do offer a different approach to handling business, and this is an important opportunity for Publicis to add us to their armoury."
Bogle said he and Hegarty both feel good about the deal and will be sticking around. "John and I aren't about to head for the hills," he said. "We both want to stay involved in the business, values and work."
Campaign India

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