CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: DECISION MAKER - LIONEL HUNT. Australia’s top adman makes comeback for Lowes start-up. Lowes pulled off a creative coup in enticing Lionel Hunt out of his retirement, Mark Woods reports

There’s no doubt Frank Lowe surprised the Australian ad industry by luring Lionel Hunt out of retirement to open Lowe Hunt & Partners in Sydney. Hunt, Australia’s most awarded adman, had been out of the industry for just four months after quitting the Australian hotshop he co-founded 26 years ago - the Campaign Palace.

There’s no doubt Frank Lowe surprised the Australian ad industry by

luring Lionel Hunt out of retirement to open Lowe Hunt & Partners in

Sydney. Hunt, Australia’s most awarded adman, had been out of the

industry for just four months after quitting the Australian hotshop he

co-founded 26 years ago - the Campaign Palace.



The harnessing of Hunt’s creative prowess, combined with Lowe’s

intention to open an agency to service key international clients in

Australia, has sent tremors through Aussie adland. Hunt, however,

dismisses such fears: ’I don’t see anything for other agencies to be

frightened of. But if they’re not producing brilliantly effective work,

then they should be terrified.’



He has already gotten down to business, poaching Graham Watson, the head

of art at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, to be his creative partner. Watson, who

previously worked at both TBWA and CDP, co-founded BBH in 1982 and has

amassed a clutch of awards throughout his career.



’In Australia, there’s a severe shortage of top creative talent,

especially world-class art directors, so I was forced to go to London to

get one,’ Hunt says. ’I always viewed London as the centre of the

advertising world, creatively speaking.’



He adds that the start-up will ’introduce’ itself to Lowe Group clients

like Braun and Coca-Cola when it opens this month. It is understood

Smirnoff has already signed up.



In person, the affable and occasionally self-effacing 53-year-old is

hardly imposing. But he exudes a confident aura that’s nourished by

success: ’In Australia I’ve felt somewhat like a big fish in a small

pond.’ There’s a passionate, almost puritanical, zeal when he espouses

his philosophy of the creative side of advertising: ’I am critical of

agencies that don’t do great work as I don’t think they have any reason

for being.’



The Lowe-Hunt union might not have happened but for a series of events

spanning several years. Hunt might never have ceded the throne at his

celebrated Palace had he not begun to long for the freedom he enjoyed

before he sold the agency to Bates in 1996. His creativity could be but

a memory in Australia if he had accepted invitations to work overseas,

including offers to establish Palaces in London and New York.



Hunt speaks warmly of Lowes’ reputation: ’Lowes is one of the few

agencies that has a commitment to creative. Some pay lip service, but

almost every international network I’ve been involved with is so

obsessed with the bottom line and turnover that creative advertising is

almost incidental.’



Lowes’ willingness to take a minority stake in Lowe Hunt & Partners

clinched the deal for Hunt: ’One of the reasons I didn’t start those

Palaces overseas was that the local partners wouldn’t have had control

because the majority would have been owned by Bates. I think it’s

probably impossible to start a great agency if you don’t have control,

at least at the beginning.’



Hunt’s aspirations for the agency are clear-cut. Target billings for the

first year will be Adollars 30 million in the first year, rising to a

Adollars 100 million share of Sydney’s Adollars 3 billion ad pie. He

wants ’large serious clients’ like airlines and banks who do not treat

advertising like a commodity.



And Hunt won’t be any more flexible on price than he was at the Palace,

which charged a premium for its service.



Such firm views on the relationship between agency and client and fees

is the stuff of Palace folklore. Admirers point to 26 years of

consistent creative excellence benefiting loyal clients. But a few

critics claim the Palace’s ’take it or leave it’ approach to creative

work caused some accounts to walk.



Hunt says: ’It is true that if clients would not accept our

recommendations ,we would encourage them to go elsewhere. Of course,

advertising is about results but you don’t serve your clients well with

dull ads. We were 27-year-old idealists who started the Palace to give

ourselves jobs and we knew everything. Over the years, my attitude has

mellowed and that apparent arrogance won’t be evident at Lowes.’



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