CAMPAIGN DIRECT: How IMP notched up three decades in promotional marketing - Ken Gofton reports on how the marketing agency, IMP, has survived the trials of the below-the-line sector

Is it the same for agencies as it is for people? When the ’Big Three-O’ looms, does it mean ’stop thinking laddish, start thinking responsible’?

Is it the same for agencies as it is for people? When the ’Big

Three-O’ looms, does it mean ’stop thinking laddish, start thinking

responsible’?



Or is being 30 like being 29, only wiser? The 150 or so staff at

International Marketing Promotions, the promotional marketing arm of

DMB&B, might well be asking these questions. IMP has just reached its

30th birthday and in the world of below-the-line, that equates with

venerable old age.



Certainly there are few around today that can match IMP for

longevity.



The direct marketing agency, Brann, pipped it by a year, and Young &

Rubicam’s Wunderman Cato Johnson launched at much the same time. But

Promotional Campaigns didn’t come along until 1971.



’And we are still the market leader,’ says John Farrell, the individual

who, more than any other, is associated with IMP’s success through the

years. This is the man who joined the agency in 1980 as an account

handler on pounds 4,250 a year, and rocked adland when he was made the

chairman of DMB&B in London in 1995.



His words ’market leader’ are chosen with care. Ten years ago, IMP was

acknowledged to be the UK’s biggest sales promotion agency. Even so, its

dominance was somewhat exaggerated.



In 1995, IMP’s turnover dropped pounds 15 million and staff numbers fell

by 10 per cent. This was blamed on the trend towards payment by fees

rather than commission and coincided with Texaco refining its loyalty

programme.



As a result, the picture is less clear cut today. For a start, it

depends which agencies are being compared. IMP absorbed its sister

agency, DMB&B Direct, in 1993 and, like many whose roots were in sales

promotion, now sees itself as fully integrated. According to IMP’s chief

executive, John Quarrey, direct marketing is the fastest growing side of

the business, and a major priority. Rank IMP against pure direct

marketing agencies and it comes in just below WWAV Rapp Collins and

Brann.



Compare it with agencies with a similar heritage to its own, on the

other hand, and it is still probably the biggest on turnover.



So ’biggest’ is now more a matter of dispute. Farrell and Quarrey would

claim market leadership in the way the agency has helped change the

culture of the below-the-line industry. IMP pioneered the use of

advertising-style planning and creative teams, the move from ad hoc

projects to fee-based relationships and the development of an

international network.



It has also flowered creatively in the 90s. Under Farrell, there was a

conscious decision to invest more heavily in the creative product. One

result of that was the appointment of Andy Blackford, formerly with

Saatchi & Saatchi’s below-the-line agency, Equator, and a founder of

Impact (now FCA!), as group creative director in 1993.



’I was hired to do a job, which was to give them creative credibility,’

Blackford says. ’Before I arrived,they had taken on DMB&B Direct but the

merger had hardly happened, except in name.



’I had to integrate the two sides, which wasn’t too difficult. Quite

literally, I got them to do a cultural swap. I got the sales promotion

people to do a Children’s Society mailer and the direct marketers to do

a McVitie’s offer. They all grumbled, but some fresh perspectives

emerged - and after that the problem was solved.’



What also happened under Blackford was that the agency began winning

lots of prizes, notably at the Direct Marketing Association, Sales

Promotion Consultants Association and Institute of Sales Promotion

awards.



Before that, IMP hadn’t taken awards seriously. Quarrey says: ’The

reason we didn’t win was because we didn’t enter. We weren’t fussed

about them and I don’t think our clients were. I don’t think

below-the-line award schemes were that good in the 80s. Andy persuaded

us that winning awards was a signal to the outside world that we took

creativity seriously. We entered and started winning because the product

was good.’



And there have been some classics. Chris Satterthwaite, the former IMP

chief executive who departed with a number of senior colleagues to HHCL

in 1993, singles out the Texaco road safety campaign, ’Children should

be seen and not hurt’ - an early example of what’s now dubbed

cause-related marketing.



For Farrell, now the president of DMB&B for North America, the all-time

favourite is the campaign to raise pounds 50 million for Great Ormond

Street Hospital. ’This was immensely rewarding for me, both personally

and professionally, and involved a whole series of activities. I

maintain my involvement with the hospital because I would never want to

disengage.’



And art directors, because they have been the target audience, will be

familiar with another award-winner on a smaller scale: the quirky

campaign for Tony Stone Images.



This is a far cry from IMP’s origins in the 60s - an era in which most

ad agencies provided sales promotion as a free service to

advertisers.



In what was then a novel move, Masius Wynne-Williams (the predecessor of

DMB&B) incorporated IMP as a subsidiary in 1968, partly as a way of

luring back Geoff Marshall who had been the agency’s merchandising

specialist.



’Geoff was the first employee, I was the second and Sandy Scott, now the

chairman of Interfocus, was the third,’ Brian Francis, a sales promotion

veteran, recalls.



The embryonic agency flourished, then faltered. It set up its own

fulfilment house, but a postal strike in the early 70s almost bankrupted

it. ’We had to cut back from more than 100 staff to 15,’ Francis

says.



By 1977, he’d risen to be IMP’s managing director, only to lead an

audacious breakaway five years later. Among those who went with him to

found Francis Killingbeck Bain were the creative director, Chris

Killingbeck, and the youthful John Farrell. But only briefly.



’To launch the new agency, we cut back on our cars to Golf GTIs,’

Francis says. ’Within six weeks, IMP had tempted John back with more

money and a Porsche.’



The rest, as they say, is history.



IMP CHRONOLOGY



1967: Unofficial launch. First managing director: Geoff Marshall; first

employees: Brian Francis, Sandy Scott



1968: Incorporated as a limited company, a subsidiary of Masius

Wynne-Williams. Early clients: Colgate Palmolive, Libby, Kleenex



1971-2: Postal strike causes near disaster as fulfilment operation is

closed and staff reduced from more than 100 to 15



1977: Brian Francis appointed as managing director



1981: Agency moves from Kingston to Sherwood Street, London. John

Farrell starts out as an account executive



1982: Brian Francis leads breakaway to form Francis Killingbeck Bain



Mid 80s: John Farrell and Lance Smith appointed as joint managing

directors and later joint chief executives



1986: Planning department launched with Reg West



1987: Launches data- planning section with Mark Piper. IMP’s

second-string agency, Marketing Drive, completes a management buyout



1992: Lance Smith transfers to DMB&B as chief operating officer



1993: IMP merges with DMB&B Direct. Andy Blackford begins a two-year

stint as creative director and appoints Dave Harris as head of art, his

eventual successor



1994: ’A slight wobble’, in the words of current chief executive, John

Quarrey, as the chief executive, Chris Satterthwaite, leads an exodus to

HHCL



1995: Farrell, by now the European president of IMP, is appointed as

chairman of DMB&B Group in London. All of the group’s agencies move into

offices at 123 Buckingham Palace Road



1996: John Quarrey is made chief executive, and sees his priorities as

expanding the agency’s direct marketing and international capabilities

and attracting the best people



1997: Farrell leaves for New York to be president of DMB&B, North

America.



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