Thursday, January 7, 2010

The BD'M culture club



Culture Club
By David Gee


“Do you want to start an agency?” said Fallon vet Stuart D’Rozario to his former and current colleague, Bob Barrie, over cocktails late one afternoon several years ago. The reply, “Can I tell you in the morning?” As you might imagine since you are reading this story, the answer did indeed come back in the affirmative and thus began a new agency called Barrie D’Rozario. Astute readers, however, will no doubt note there is a Murphy missing from the BDM triumvirate.


“We agreed that we needed a third partner on the strategy side,” continues D’Rozario, “and I told Bob I had once met this cool ad guy, David Murphy, several years earlier and that he might be a fit. At that time, Murphy was president of the combined offices of Young Rubicam and Wunderman in Southern California. I looked him up and found he had moved on and was running the 300-person Saatchi & Saatchi LA office. So we both said to ourselves, ‘Good luck with that.’ called David anyway and said, ‘Do you remember me? We met five years ago. How would you like to leave your job, and run away and join the circus?’ One thing led to another, and four or five months after the phone call it all came together.”

On April 1, 2007, Barrie D’Rozario did, indeed, become Barrie D’Rozario Murphy.

“The draw and the lure is having the opportunity to partner with other people who have a similar vision of what the culture should be like,” says Murphy answering his own question—and mine. “The world doesn’t need another ad agency, but when you have people who understand the role of culture, the right culture, the right people will be attracted to that and the right clients will value that. We have the same passion, the same interests and it’s very collaborative.”

“That said, we are very different people with different perspectives,” interjects Barrie. “I’m the guy who has spent my entire career in Minneapolis; five years at a couple of retail shops and then 24 at Fallon. Stuart, on the other hand, has worked in Seattle, Hong Kong, Boston and Bombay, and David was born in Pakistan and has worked all over the world as well.”

Having given up successful jobs in other places, the three now work together in a clean, crisp, open space on the second floor of the Wyman Building, to create and collaborate and run an “agency with no walls.” And, as per their own verbiage, they do just that:

No walls between BD'M and the clients …

“We think of it as one team,” says Murphy. “We don’t think of it as us and them. Clients say to us all the time, ‘don’t give me the org chart, just give me a handful of people that are going to make us successful.’”

No walls between BD'M and other partners working for clients …

“We’re obviously independent, and that has its blessings,” says Barrie. “We can collaborate with virtually anyone in the world without undue influence to use a certain company or person simply because they’re ‘in the network.’ The model has become that clients don’t have just one agency anyway, they tend to work with a lot of agencies. Whether we are the lead brand agency, like we are with United, or a supplemental support agency, like we are with Best Buy, we play well and collaborate with others. A lot of agencies are real competitive and constantly jostle for position, but we found our work is better and the mood is better if we approach it as ‘we’re all in this together.’”

No walls between people of different disciplines in the agency…

“My pet peeve has long been the creative department,” says D’Rozario, a former creative director at Fallon. “Everyone thinks it’s ‘hallowed ground,’ this special place. The one thing we will never have at BDM is a creative dept. It’s all just smushed together.”

Of course, there are only a couple of dozen people “smushed together” at BDM, as opposed to the several hundred people at places where the three principals have worked previously. What about the head count? The infrastructure? The heads of the big agencies in New York, Chicago and L.A. will obviously always say size matters. Does it still in the ad agency world? I asked David Murphy.

“When I was running the Y&R shop in LA, I developed this game that I used with people in response to the question, ‘What’s the agency going to do about this or that?’ I’d say there’s no such thing as ‘the agency.’ Because for Callaway Golf, one of our clients, there were seven people. That was the agency to the client. For Sony it was 22 people. So it really comes down to small teams. There are never 200 or 300 people working on one client’s business. The team we have working for BD'M on United’s account is no different than the number of people who would be working on it at a bigger agency. One thing that is different, however, is that bureaucracy and compartmental silos do not encumber our team. We have the same brain power, the same resources, but they are more directly applied to the client and their jobs.”

So you can make the argument size doesn’t matter, but awards always do. And the BD'M crew scored a big one this past fall when they came out on top in the small agency category for the American Association of Advertising Agencies O’Toole Award for Creative Excellence. And they took out a full-page ad in the New York Times (see sidebar) to tell the world about it.

“We got phone calls and emails for days, including from people who aren’t even in advertising!” says Barrie excitedly. “They were sitting in a coffee shop and calling saying how much they loved this ad because it spoke for the little guy.”

“We had a lot of fun with it, but it was actually kind of a risk,” adds Murphy. “The industry is starved to have a point of view and it was really kind of cheeky.”

“I actually wrote the ad sitting at the kitchen table,” says D’Rozario. “It has helped bring us some business, and we enjoyed it, but then you move on. The biggest thing about awards is that clients are hiring us to make them more successful and it gives them confidence that we are successful ourselves.”

And as the ad says, the agency’s principals do want BD'M to grow. However, they are quick to add—in unison—they want responsible, healthy, organic growth so the agency doesn’t get too big, too fast, and implode on itself as they have seen others do. And that involves not only paying attention to revenue and head count and clients, but also the culture.

“One thing I have learned here at BD'M is it really is all about the culture,” Murphy closes. “Everyone has the same processes, the same flow charts, etc, but it’s the culture that makes things happen.”

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