Do you want media?” asks the receptionist, adding “Take the lift to the third floor.” No, Media Week hasn’t decided to revisit the era of the full-service agency. Instead, we’ve arrived at the offices of BMP OMD, an agency that’s got a foot in the past, the present and the future of the media industry.
The past, because it retains such close links with the creative agencies within the marketing services megalith that is Omnicom.
The present, because having grown by 20% last year to take the number three spot in terms of UK billings at £418.5 million according to ACNielsen MMS; BMP OMD is doing very nicely, thank you.
And the future because from May 1, BMP OMD will become OMD UK, the UK representative of Optimum Media Direction. The change marks the final evolution for a media shop that started out as BMP DDB’s media department.
Heading up the operation is chief executive Paul Taylor, softly spoken, fast-talking, a master of the subtle sell and for 16 years a key figure in the agency’s transformation.
“Without being rude to people I worked for, media when I joined was a poor third to the creative department and the account planning department,” he reflects.
A graduate of media’s Oxbridge, Benton and Bowles, Taylor says the rebranding represents the culmination of a long-held ambition.
Long held ambition
“We’ve been through the BMP DDB media department to being BMP Optimum to BMP OMD to OMD UK. There’s a logic to it but there’s also clarity in the market, which is essential,” he says. “Networks are curious things, especially when there are creative agencies as dominant as DDB and BBDO, so it’s taken some time, if you like, for the family to recognise the need for a proper lead media network.”
The changes will mean OMD International – the old co-ordination shop for Omnicom’s three UK agencies, BMP OMD, MGM and New PHD – will now be rolled into the BMP OMD operation.
Taylor is keen to boost the resources available for this unit to ensure OMD London is more than a match for its Paris counterpart.
“We’ve already identified a couple of key roles, international new business will be one, strategic leadership another,” he comments.
But while the top line agency may be changing its name, subsidiary brands such as BMP Solutions In Media and BMP interAction will retain the BMP name.
“[The BMP brand] has played to our strengths over time, which is, in simple words, of consumer focus. This is the BMP way of ensuring that the advertising product is very much for consumers rather than for corporations,” he says.
“We effectively live with our creative partners. That gives a different feel to clients to what it is we do. We speak the language of an agency,” he says. “There are obvious parallels for what that means for our product, which are entirely absent when you’re in a trading-style department away from an agency.”
The BMP OMD atmosphere also attracts a different kind of media operator, he says. “I think some other media companies evolved and attracted people who could quite easily have gone into the City, into the dealing room. In a sense they joined a media company because it’s the same thing.”
Taylor originally started on the management training scheme at IMI but quit to become a TV buyer because he felt his future was mapped out in too much detail. “It was proscriptive to the point of being smothering,” he says.
Colleagues talk of Taylor as a man of huge integrity, who delivers on his promises.
“I would consider him a rock of Gibraltar,” says Christine Walker, who was Taylor’s group head at Benton and Bowles. “He’s someone who demonstrates his skills through his actions.”
C5 sales director Nick Milligan says unlike some TV buyers, Taylor doesn’t go in for screaming and shouting. “I’ve never heard Paul raise his voice in all the years we’ve traded together. He simply doesn’t have to,” he says. “He is a man of enormous integrity and he’s in a class of his own.”
Taylor may be the quiet man of media but he’s prepared to cause a storm when he feels that his agency has not been treated with respect.
He publicly rounded on Thomson and Alliance & Leicester for their defections in August 1998 and January respectively. But now he’s more sanguine about the reason why these two outfits have parted company with BMP OMD.
Thomson is in a low-margin business, he observes, and obviously has to pay keen attention to “supplier costs”, while Alliance & Leicester is “very challenged as a retail bank”.
Their departures also put down a marker for the way that BMP OMD expects to be treated by clients. “If you like, [our clients] are people more readily able to accept that media has a bigger role to play than it used to, which was very much a planning buying operation,” he says. “It can be so much more than that. It’s a whole option to be involved in strategy, to be involved in communication, to be involved in direct and to be involved in sponsorship and what have you.”
It’s this mix of high-end thinking and strategic advice that forms the heart of the BMP offering. He confesses there was a period in the mid to late-Nineties when BMP OMD lost its way a little as a series of successful consolidation pitches boosted the buying department at the expense of planning.
“When the opportunity came to recruit head of communication strategy, Mark Palmer, that was most certainly the time to inject more respect into our planning operation. We had the ability, we just needed to bring it more to the fore,” he recalls.
“This allowed us to make sure it was understood we were there, not just as buyers or planners, but as strategists and as people who understood the media product better then anyone else.”
It seems appropriate that as the day we met was also the first day of Crufts, Taylor should describes his twin aims for the agency as being “big enough to count and best of breed”.
As head of BMP OMD, Taylor has already picked up a raft of rosettes and he’ll be expecting OMD UK to be a regular on the podium.
This article was first published on Media Week