After a barren spell with no launches of note, new direct marketing
agencies are coming along ’like a convoy of buses’, Jon Voelkel, the
planning director at Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, claims.
He’s right, of course, and what’s also surprising is that most of them
have the backing of above-the-line agencies.
That’s a real indicator of changing attitudes.
None of the other newcomers, however, has created such an immediate stir
as January’s launch of Jones Mason Barton Antenen. For several
First, it’s a joint venture between two sister companies in the Omnicom
group: BMP DDB, one of the most respected and award-bedecked of UK ad
agencies, selected yet again as Campaign’s agency of the year; and the
brash and breezy Claydon Heeley, one of the country’s fastest growing
Second, it brings together four leading talents from four major
agencies. The most startling name on the list is Nigel Jones, a one-time
junior chess prodigy and a BMP graduate trainee who rose to be head of
planning in an agency famous for its planning skills.
It’s claimed that he’s the most senior ad industry figure ever to have
defected to direct marketing.
Sitting alongside him are Edward Mason, until now Claydon Heeley’s
managing director, Simon Antenen, a senior copywriter at Limbo (now BBH
Unlimited), and Steve Barton, a board director of OgilvyOne.
As if those two factors weren’t intriguing enough, the new agency has
also put its neck on the line with the bold assertion that it’s looking
for top five status within five years. Who cares whether it actually
achieves that level in that time-scale? The claim is adland speak for
’we’re very ambitious and in a great hurry’.
This is all the headline, press release stuff. You’ve then got the fact
that BMP, for all its success as a creator of highly effective
advertising, has failed a number of times, and in different ways, to
secure a direct marketing partner. As Oscar Wilde might have said, to
get it wrong once is a misfortune but to fail four times smacks of
Here’s the quick, potted history. Buying Davidson Pearce in 1987 brought
with it Davidson Pearce Direct, which became BMP Young Clark Craig.
However, that was bundled up by Omnicom into the Rapp Collins
Partnership and then WWAV Rapp Collins.
BMP then took a stake in the infant Evans Hunt Scott, but sold out when
the latter hit financial difficulties. Perhaps it should have had the
courage to buy the business, which was what Eurocom (now Havas
Jonathan Clark - the Clark in Young Clark Craig - set up CMB in 1995,
backed by both WWAV and BMP. But when BMP set up an in-house direct
marketing division with Stuart Archibald, Roddy Kerr and Arthur
Parshotam in 1997, CMB concluded that its own partnership with BMP was
going nowhere and went about buying back BMP’s 25 per cent stake. This
might have been fair enough if Kerr and Parshotam, followed by
Archibald, hadn’t left.
Whispers in the pub suggest that BMP’s parent, Omnicom, is very keen to
see that the agency gets it right this time. BMP’s chairman, James Best,
says: ’Bringing in Stuart Archibald’s team opened our eyes to the scale
of the opportunity. But I think we were guilty of holding them back.
They did not really have the opportunity to go for their own business -
it was an in-house department rather than an agency in its own right,
and that was too restrictive.’
Why bother, one might ask? But Best acknowledges the market reality.
Clients are spending more money below the line, and it is becoming
increasingly important to be able to offer a full range of services.
Intriguingly, BMP asked Andrew Melsom of Agency Insight what it should
do (he is more frequently asked by clients to help them find appropriate
’We discussed a number of options,’ he says. ’A further in-house
department wasn’t one of them.
’They could have formed a partnership with an existing Omnicom direct
marketing agency or they could have bought an independent. What they
have chosen to do is commit one of their favourite sons, Nigel Jones, to
a new venture - as has Claydon Heeley with Edward Mason.
’I am in no doubt they have got it right, whereas before they got it
wrong. There is definitely room in my view for a below-the-line or
through-the-line offering with brains.’
Certainly, Jones Mason has its own story to tell. Claydon Heeley’s
founding director, Jon Claydon, says there is a definite opening for an
agency that combines advertising’s understanding of the brand and
consumer with direct marketing’s ability to target and produce a
The agency has opened its doors with 21 on its payroll, and an
expectation that this will be 50 or 60 by the end of the year. It’s got
a slice of the multi-million pound Compaq business won by BMP and
Claydon Heeley to get its teeth into, and it is already pitching for
But this is the ’big bang’ theory of creating an agency, rather than the
’small whimper’ approach favoured by some others. To have such ambitious
targets implies a great deal of commercial freedom. While the new agency
is unlikely to find itself regularly pitching alongside BMP, it could
easily find itself pitching against its other parent, Claydon Heeley. ’I
look forward to that immensely,’ Claydon says.
The question is, is it realistic to think of getting to the top in a
mere five years? The recent history of the direct marketing industry
suggests it is far from impossible. You don’t have to look far to find
other ’big bang’ agencies that have achieved quick success.
They include Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray - formed in 1991 and now
comparable in size with OgilvyOne - and Lowe Direct, launched in 1996.
One could add Craik Jones, another start-up from the class of ’91, which
is similar in size to Lowes. ’We never set out to be big in size, just
in reputation,’ Voelkel says.
All three, in their early days, shared a number of features with Jones
Mason’s position now. They all had a vision of where they were heading.
’We were driven; we wanted to be the biggest and best,’ Elly Woolston,
deputy chairman of Barraclough Hall, declares.
They had financial stability. Craik Jones had an anonymous backer who
put up half the capital; Barraclough Hall won the support of Abbott Mead
Vickers BBDO soon after launch and is now owned by it.
And similarly with Lowe Direct, offshoot of the Lowe Group. ’We had a
very clear idea of what we wanted to do, which was to become big and
important quickly,’ Tony Watson, the founding partner, insists. ’But you
also need either to have a lot of your own money, or an understanding
person or group to fund the first period. There’s no point in having a
fine mission statement if the reality is that you’ll accept any scrap of
work to keep the cash rolling in.’
The other common point is that all three agencies launched with teams of
established big hitters. The distinction between them and the new
BMP/Claydon Heeley venture is that their teams had all worked together
before. Barraclough Hall came as a unit out of DDM Advertising, Craik
Jones from OgilvyOne, and Lowe Direct from GGT Direct.
In contrast, the star-studded line-up at Jones Mason has been drawn from
four different agencies. Could this lack of an existing culture be a
weakness? Jones thinks not: ’There is already a culture developing.
Coming up with lateral solutions is part of what we are doing
So far, Steve Barton has been unable to join his new colleagues because
of contractual constraints. But, as one of his Ogilvy colleagues notes:
’He had to bridge the different cultures between OgilvyOne and Canary
Wharf when his role was to integrate the IBM business. You may find he’s
the egg that binds the mixture together.’
BMP CLIENTS AND THEIR BELOW-THE-LINE AGENCIES
Volkswagen - Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray
Barclaycard - Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray
Alliance & Leicester - Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray
British Gas - WWAV Rapp Collins, Evans Hunt Scott
Vodafone - Evans Hunt Scott
Guardian Direct - Rapier
National Savings - Evans Hunt Scott
ONdigital - Lowe Direct
WILL IT WORK?
’To do something in direct marketing only made sense if it had something
of BMP in it. There is a family bloodline there, via Nigel’
James Best, BMP DDB
’Competition is healthy. I wish them well and I think they can succeed
if they get their offer and vision right’
Elly Woolston, Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray
’It looks like a team of opposites but that may not be bad. Having five
very different people worked well for us’
Jon Voelkel, Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel
’Simon Antenen is good, one of a new stream of creative minds looking at
things differently in direct marketing’
John Hegarty, Bartle Bogle Hegarty.