Alistair Osborne profiles Michael Bungey, master of the USP. He is currently leading a mass breakout from Saatchi advertising group Cordiant.
Michael Bungey, creator of the Martini girl, is a happy man. From December, he will be free of Charles and Maurice (now Lord) Saatchi - the advertising duo who for 11 years have had such an influence on his life. Bungey is the new chief executive of the Bates advertising group which, in December, breaks from its parent Cordiant and gains a separate listing on the Stock Exchange.
When the Saatchis bought Bates to run alongside their own Saatchi and Saatchi agency, they tried to build a group around two direct competitors.
Worse, they thrust a poison pill down Bates' throat. Procter & Gamble - the consumer products giant that was S&S's trophy client - forbade it or any agency associated with it from picking up work from P&G's competitors.
That blocked Bates from 10% of the world advertising market.
'Thereafter we were always in the position of being number two to S&S,' says Bungey. The worst thing was he had no freedom to manage. 'If you wanted to invest for a client, you had to ask head office and there was always a queue.'
Working for the Saatchis was tricky, but no less challenging than their departure. They took their star $400-million Mars confectionery account along with them. 'We showed a hell of a lot of character,' says Bungey.
'We won $500 million of new business within a year.'
It is that character which Bungey has the job of harnessing now Bates is truly independent. 'Independence is heaven-sent for a people business, where the key is being able to motivate staff,' says Bungey, who plans to install incentive schemes throughout Bates. He believes one of his chief management skills is 'always being open to ideas from any quarter'.
Bungey is also pleased with the composition of his six-man board, which is made up of a Frenchman, a Canadian, a German, an Australian, an American and, in Bungey, an Englishman.
'Michael Bungey is very focused on client needs,' says Dick Spelman, director of distribution at the Halifax, who has known him for 10 years.
'He's a consummate businessman as well as an ad man'. Spelman goes on to say: 'Bates has been successful despite a very difficult corporate environment. It could easily have submerged in its own corporate politics.
The fact that it didn't is largely due to Michael Bungey.' For the Halifax, Bates devised the People campaign, a three-year promotion which, says Bungey, 'demonstrates Bates' focus on the unique selling proposition'.
This immortal phrase was coined by Bates' founder Rosser Reeves and is being revivified as part of Bungey's relaunch of his firm. His favourite USP is Castrol's 'liquid engineering' - a theme which has run for 20 years and, as he says, 'stood the test of time'. His own Martini girl, he admits, 'is probably too sexist today'.
Free of the Procter & Gamble shackles, Bates is already winning business previously closed to it. Two months ago it picked up Cussons soap. But he is not getting carried away. Being independent means Bates is more accessible to predators. Press rumours suggest that several had to be rebuffed even before Bungey got Cordiant's exit visa. 'Sure, there will be people looking at us,' says Bungey. 'We're particularly well placed in Asia.'
After Cordiant's lengthy share-price under-performance, Bungey knows that the best way to fight off buyers is to perform for shareholders.
Alistair Osborne is a staff journalist at Investors Chronicle.