Karen Yates wonders if the new creative chief of CDP is as barking mad
Everyone in advertising has heard of Adrian Kemsley, right? He’s the one
who did ‘furry friends’. A wild boy. Lights his own farts at parties.
Pretty good at it, too.
Or was. The new Kemsley, we are told, is an altogether more sober
affair. Or more mature, anyway. No, the man who will join Collett
Dickenson Pearce as executive creative director, we hear, is not the
loose cannon of old - and he gave up scatalogical party tricks years
Convincing? Well, it has a nice logical feel to it. From his meteoric
rise at Saatchi and Saatchi, through his ‘bruising’ time at Cowan
Kemsley Taylor and subsequent recovery at Ammirati Puris Lintas, the
story could read something like this: Boy finds fame too early. Fame
goes to head. Boy and ego start up agency with friends. Sparks fly.
Wunderkind matures under healing influence of strong multinational
This is followed by the latest chapter, the one where a tamed but still
talented Kemsley takes back the reins he chucked away in his youth. ‘I
have mellowed a lot since the Saatchi days,’ he declares. ‘The realities
of running my own agency gave me a good smack in the face.’
However, stories of the Kemsley ego still follow him around like chicks
behind a hen. One recent example tells of how he unilaterally declared
himself head of art at the then Still Price Lintas while his creative
director was on holiday. He even went to the trouble of having new
business cards printed. Worse, perhaps, if you ask Kemsley whether the
tale is true, he screws his boyish good looks into a smile and shrugs as
if to say ‘Where’s the sin?’ In his view, art direction at the agency
needed new impetus and he was the best man for the job.
Still, Kemsley’s absolute confidence in his own ability may well stand
him in good stead in his new home. When he unpacks his pencils in Soho
Square next month, he will be the eighth creative director to do so at
CDP in six years. And his wagon will be firmly hitched to an agency with
a rich creative heritage, but not much personality. An agency that has
tried to pull itself out of obscurity several times over the years, and
With the ink barely dry on his contract, Kemsley has already sketched
out a revolutionary future for his department. This envisages sweeping
away the rigidity of the old creative team structure, allowing
individuals instead a free hand in developing their own advertising. In
this new way of working, a brief will be given to two individuals - not
necessarily from the same partnership - and both of these will be asked
to come up with ideas.
Whoever comes up with a winning scenario will get to carry the concept
through in the way he or she thinks best. This could be with their
traditional partner or, more controversially, with someone else. Even
outsiders, such as a director.
It’s a bold idea, and one that also, perhaps, offers an insight into
Kemsley. This is the single-minded, enthusiastic Kemsley, capable of
inspiring passionate loyalty in younger teams who work for him, but who
has little truck with consensus or compromise. The trait has often led
him into trouble with colleagues.
‘He’s barking mad, a complete nutter,’ one suit from the old days says.
‘If he disagrees with you, he can fly into a sulk that can last for
days.’ Others prefer only to hint at the personality clashes of his
past. Paul Cowan, for example, managing partner of CKT and one of its
original founders with Kemsley, fell out badly with his former partner,
but now says rather mildly: ‘He’s got very strong opinions about
advertising, which will probably be good for putting CDP on the creative
In full flow, Kemsley can be charming. His conversations are often
punctuated by hilarious impressions of other people, and he can be
disarmingly frank. For example, when talk turns to his most famous work,
‘dog, cat, mouse’, for the Solid Fuel Advisory Bureau, his eyes roll
‘That’s all I’m remembered for - like a bloody one-hit wonder!’ comes
the retort. Nevertheless, he admits that things ‘didn’t really start
happening’ for him at CKT, where - in those days - every ad could have
put his house on the line. Since then, he says, he has done good work at
Lintas. The sort of work that multinational clients like Flora and the
Economist demand, but that does not necessarily walk off with awards.
So, can Kemsley make a difference at CDP, or will his lone-achiever
tendency get up the noses of the rest of the management before his magic
can work? Can the man who has a photo of himself emblazoned on the back
of his business card stop playing the ‘me’ game and start welding a
In his favour is the fact that whatever Kemsley lacks on the team player
side, he has in spades on energy and motivation. And he still gets a
thrill from the cut and thrust of new business - a priority for CDP’s
Japanese owners as they go all out for critical mass in London.
Mark Lund, who used to work with Kemsley at Lintas and is now the
managing director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell, has particularly fond
memories of the boy wonder as a new-business ally. He has few of the
doubts assailing other former workmates and describes him as a
‘thrumming, humming powerhouse’ at new-business meetings. ‘He’ll be a
real focus for CDP’s creative product - a lightning rod to harness the
good things about its present and its past.’