With Gwyn Jones' surprise departure from Bartle Bogle Hegarty - the only employer that he has ever known - industry chat has turned to whether the special covenant that Publicis Groupe promised when it fully bought out the shop still stands.
The 2012 deal assured us that the special dispensation would be granted to this most special of agencies – at the time, Maurice Lévy promised BBH "autonomy inside" that "would preserve the specific culture, working methods and characteristics… today, tomorrow and in the long term". For those who thought Lévy was simply serving up the hollow words of a corporate shark, Nigel Bogle also stepped in to reassure the doubting Thomases that BBH’s creatively led culture would be preserved in a financially led world. If true, it seemed a remarkably brilliant deal.
But now, two years later, Jones – who was famously known as the "Prince of Wales" as a nod to his nationality and role as the heir-apparent to the agency’s founders – has decided to walk, leaving the naysayers feeling vindicated. "Publicis couldn’t help but meddle, could they?" they point out. Further rumours – which have been vehemently denied – that there was some sort of dispute over Publicis deciding to interfere with bonuses only added grist to the mill for the sort of people who delight in saying "I told you so". So much for Lévy’s promises of the long term – it hadn’t even survived into the middle term.
So much for Lévy’s promises of the long term – the BBH deal hadn’t even survived into the middle term
But are they right? Well, not necessarily (and I hope not). Jones’ decision to leave after 27 years in one place – no bad innings by any standards – and the fact that he is quitting the industry seem to show this is not a mere flounce. Moreover, he resigned at the end of his lock-in period some three months ago (maybe accounting for his rather glassy-eyed expression when doing the PR rounds with Justin Bieber’s manager in Cannes).
Whether Publicis has started to exert its ownership power over BBH, I’m not so sure, but, either way, the end of the lock-in is likely to lead to more departures (Sirs John and Nigel are already reducing their commitments). By the end of the year, BBH is likely to look very different from what it does now.
Nonetheless, there’s still a lesson here – if the unique BBH culture is to be preserved, then Publicis should be more aware than ever that it tinkers with it at its peril.
Elsewhere, another corporate body, Lake Capital, has found that perhaps its own intentions of acquiring Engine might be thwarted by shareholder action. A revolt by ex-employees over a differential cash offer for their shares threatens to derail the £100 million deal. For its part, Engine insiders say they have sufficient support to get the deal through – but if the numbers don’t stack up, then there could be red faces all round.
This article was first published on