Every now and again, we get the chance to stop and draw breath, to reflect a little. Today is BBH’s 30th birthday and, to mark the moment, Nigel Bogle wrote to everyone who works here. It’s a personal perspective on the story of BBH, sure, but in reading it, it struck us this might be something of value beyond these four walls. A celebration of – and provocation to – our industry, not just this agency.
Today BBH is 30 years old. Happy birthday to one and all.
As this day approached I found myself reflecting on what the last 30 years has taught us about running an advertising agency. We have learned a lot, obviously. Thirty years is a long time. A lot about the importance of attracting and developing the best people, creating the right environment, having clear beliefs and values. But for me, above all else we have learned one simple thing:
It’s all about the work. Or, as John puts it: ‘All roads lead to the work.’
I know this is a blindingly obvious thing to say. An advertising agency’s reason to be is to produce work. But the fact remains that when we singlemindedly put the quality of our work above anything else, then everything else falls into place. And when we say it’s all about the work, we are talking about the relentless pursuit of creative excellence. Game changing creativity that has the power to change the fortunes of brands and businesses. Ideas that break out of the confines of their category and enter popular culture.
That is not easy to do. It not only requires talent, it requires trust. It is harder in some categories than in others. It requires an environment that inspires trust in the clients who entrust their brand communication to us. That is a responsibility every one of us shares, not just those directly involved in the creation of our product. It is why I have said many times that all of us are involved in the work. The way a client is greeted on entering the building, the efficiency with which we handle their financial affairs, even the quality of a cup of coffee, these things all help to create the environment where we can be the best we can be and our clients will trust us to take the calculated risks we need to take.
Over the last 30 years we have been more consistent than many of our competitors both here in London and across our network. But on closer inspection you will see that we have had our ups and downs. The quality of our creative work has not always been top drawer by the high standards we judge ourselves against. And, reflecting upon the reasons for that, more often that not it has been because we got distracted. By obsessing about new ways of working, shipping in armies of consultants, (one of my bigger mistakes) too much introspection, coping with growth, dotcom madness, whatever. All well intentioned, but in their pursuit we took our eye off the ball that matters most and our product quality dropped. And then our confidence drops too and that is not good because the thing that you put in the fuel tank of an agency is confidence. And as the doubt creeps in you can start to question your belief.
BBH was built upon a set of beliefs, many of which others did not believe in. 20 plus years of no creative pitching, a policy the Financial Times called “suicidal.” The belief that we could build a strong global network that competed with the big boys, with a tiny number of offices. A holding company chief said “not in my lifetime” when I told him years ago that was our vision. He’s still alive.
We have chosen to zag while the world zigs. We have nailed our colours to our first belief, “The Power of Creativity and the Primacy of the Idea”. It is not easy being BBH. We have chosen a demanding path. A path that relies on confidence and self belief. And we have learned from those ups and downs that nothing reconfirms belief and builds confidence better than doing great work. Hence the lesson we have learned above all others. It’s all about the work.
Consider BBH London’s work for The Guardian. (And I could reference many other fine examples of BBH work over the years). A brilliant piece of communication, rooted in a fundamental truth about the brand, created by a team of talented people working with a visionary client. It has spread like wildfire and the concept of open journalism is being talked about from here to Australia. It has become news in its own right and entered popular culture. It is game changing.
But with all that come other good things. People want to know who created the film. People want to share it. Most people love it. Some hate it. That’s okay. Many of our clients admire it. It increases the interest people have in working at BBH anywhere in the world. It puts a spring in our step. It makes us proud. It makes us confident. It reaffirms our belief in ourselves. It makes the phone ring with calls from prospects wanting to meet us. And, perhaps most importantly, it inspires us to try even harder in all we do to reach for that level of excellence. So many other things fall into place when all we do is focus on the work.
Thirty years. One simple lesson. Running an advertising agency is a very simple business that on occasions we can make complicated. As long as we remember all roads lead to the work then the next 30 years can be even better than the first 30.
There is one other very important lesson that John, John and I learned before we started BBH. You cannot create a great agency or do great work without great people, working well together. We have been privileged over the last thirty years to have brilliant people join us all over the world and in many cases build their careers with us. Everything we have achieved as a business is down to all of them and all of you. Thank you to every single one of you for making BBH the very special company it is today.
All the best.