Close-Up: Newsmaker - Chalk lends strategic weight to boymeetsgirl proposition, Friday, 23 July 2004 12:00AM

The new strategy head can bolster the agency's weak areas, Claire Billings says.

There are those who will have asked "Chris who?" on hearing the news that Chris Chalk has been appointed as the head of strategy at boymeetsgirl S&J - a relative unknown joining an equally anonymous agency.

In answer to the question, Chalk was a well-respected planner here but crossed the Atlantic seven years ago to try his luck in the US. When we meet, Chalk has only been in the UK for one week. He is currently staying in a hotel in Surrey and, as well as settling into his new job, must also find somewhere to live.

His appointment as the new partner at the fledgling agency is perhaps a surprising move. Chalk has spent the past seven years honing his craft in the US, working first at TBWA\Chiat\Day and for the past five years at the Goodby Silverstein & Partners hub of creative excellence.

And throughout his 19-year career, his name has been associated with seminal work. At Lowe Howard-Spink, under the guidance of John Lowery, he was the deputy planning director alongside Laurence Green, now at Fallon, and worked on the much-celebrated Smirnoff "through the bottle" campaign. Between them, Green and Chalk set up and ran the agency's 25-strong planning department.

Before that, at GGT he worked on the equally lauded Ariston and Holsten Pils ads. Here he met the boymeetsgirl creative director and co-founder, Kate Stanners.

His subsequent US career has been a continuation of the theme. At Chiat\Day in Los Angeles, he established a planning department, while at Goodby's San Francisco office, as a partner and the planning director, he created the Hewlett-Packard Invent corporate branding. The agency also won some impressive pitches, notably Goodyear in 2001 and General Motors' Saturn in 2002.

All of which might lead you to muse on quite why he should be interested in joining boymeetsgirl.

The agency, a partnership between the St Luke's founder Andy Law and the creative director Stanners, and David Pemsel, the former head of the TV production company Shine, was set up in January with backing from Interpublic Group and Springer & Jacoby.

After a series of acquisitions to build its multidiscipline offering, the agency now boasts a 90-strong team. Admittedly, it is difficult to imagine what they all do, particularly the 40 creatives, given the slender list of significant clients. DaimlerChrysler is the gem, then there's Total petrol stations, Disney's DVD and video business and not much else.

The agency claims billings of almost £60 million.

It is easier to see why boymeetsgirl should want Chalk. In him, they have found an experienced planner, whose strengths are in building strong departments and winning new business - areas where the agency has some real work to do.

According to the chief executive, Pemsel, the head of strategy role was in the plan right from the beginning. "It has always been our intention to find that person, and we'd have done it sooner if we had found him."

So now the partners have all diluted their equity to allow Chalk to buy into the company.

For Chalk, though, the allure is slightly less obvious. He quit his job at Goodby last summer because he wanted to return to the UK and have his children educated here. Since then, a number of big-league planning jobs have come up for grabs in the UK market, notably at Grey Worldwide, McCann Erickson and Publicis, all of which he held talks about.

But Chalk, quiet and unassuming and renowned for being unflappable and hugely inventive, is not necessarily the most natural fit with the bigger networks.

"I'd have been more surprised to see him turn up at one of the more established networks," Green says.

Chalk agrees with his former colleague's view, saying that the desire to do something different was a factor in his decisision to accept boymeetsgirl's offer."It would have been too easy to do the same thing again," he says.

He also dismisses suggestions that it is difficult joining a management team seven months after the agency's launch, and says he has been involved with its development since January and backs its philosophy and the fact that it is in charge of its own destiny.

"Everyone's trying to build holistic relationships with clients. The way a holding company solves this is to pull all its agencies from one group with different P&Ls together to work across one account. Here, there is one creative director who can execute the idea across all disciplines," he says.

IPG and Springer & Jacoby will now be hoping that the completed management line-up will see boymeetsgirl begin to deliver on some of those promises.

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