Close-Up: Glue marks ten years of breaking the mould

Unlike many of its digital peers, glue made its mark in the past decade as a groundbreaking creative shop.

In 1999, a twentysomething Scot and three colleagues decided to set up a digital agency. The enterprise, then called gluemedia, was formed as part of a joint venture with the web design company Deepend, and provided clients with online banner advertising.

Ten years on, and that agency has become glue London, an integrated shop with more than 100 employees, a client list that includes 3, Coca-Cola, Toyota and Nokia, and an annual turnover of almost £10 million.

At launch, glue was similar to many other digital agencies of the time. But a decade on and in contrast to the likes of GT, Agency.com and Digitas, it has become one of the most creatively respected digital agencies in the UK, and has managed to diversify its offering outside the digital space.

Looking back, its current success can be traced to its (unconventional at the time) approach in launching itself as an advertising agency with a digital specialism - now the default positioning for start-ups.

"There were a lot of (digital) agencies at the time that didn't put creative at the heart of their offering," Mark Cridge, the agency's founder, says. "For instance, we were the only digital agency to have designated art director/copywriter roles."

Glue's success has had an awful lot to do with Cridge's influence. One of the very few digital executives who doesn't look out of place among the advertising industry's top brass, Cridge has managed to create a successful agency model that is defined by groundbreaking creative work.

That's not to say that there haven't been turbulent moments. Following a strong opening period, the agency experienced a lull in the middle of the decade, when it resigned the loss-making Pot Noodle account (a piece of business that has helped define it creatively), and suffered from a lack of retained business and a poorly resourced planning team.

But where other digital agencies failed to recover from their dips, glue managed to steer itself back on track. The agency's portfolio moved from entrepreneurial FMCG clients, for which it generally worked on a project basis, to encompass a broader, more mature client base.

And glue decided to bolster its planning team, which had long played second fiddle to the creative department. Planners now account for 10 per cent of staff, and this has given the agency the depth to secure higher-profile briefs, including the advertising account for mobile network 3, which consolidated its above-the-line business into glue last December.

One catalyst in the agency's coming of age was its sale in August 2005 to Aegis. Some felt glue had sold too early, and on optimistic earn-out targets, but four years on, it is easy to see that the pressure put on the business to operate as part of a network has paid off in driving its development.

By pitching, and subsequently winning, accounts such as 3 (another win of a similar scale is understood to be close), the agency has managed to again get itself back into a position where it is ahead of most of its digital peers.

But at a time when digital specialists are being forced to look closely at their business models - can they compete with ad agencies? Should they focus on technology? - glue looks to have a clear strategy and the resources to make it happen.

It plans to take more advantage of the scale that Aegis can offer, by exploiting the data and media knowledge within the network.

Cridge now has a good management team in place, consisting of the managing director, Jo Hagger, the executive creative director, Seb Royce, and the executive planning director, Martin Bailie.

But with Cridge's role changing - he will be spending more time advising fellow Aegis-owned digital agencies and helping to define the group's longer-term strategy - glue's future now rests more heavily than ever on the shoulders of the rest of the management team.

That team now needs to maintain momentum by winning some more advertising accounts if revenues, which have been fairly static over the past few years, are to grow at the pace required.

And as one of the agencies that has defined the UK's digital landscape, there will be plenty of people hoping that glue eventually fulfils its long-stated aim and becomes the first large-scale, genuine advertising agency with a digital specialism.

GLUE'S TOP TEN CAMPAIGNS: see them at campaignlive.co.uk

Pot Noodle, 2003

The double gold-Lion winner at Cannes, "hysterical girlfriend", swept the awards board and took the "slag of all snacks" to new lows.

Mini, 2006

The "ave a word" campaign used what, at the time, was an innovative idea that allowed users to send personalised films to their friends. Scarily outdated now, but spawned many rip-offs.

Royal Marines, 2006

"99.99% need not apply" - one of the first online campaigns backed by a genuine idea rather than a gimmick.

Royal Navy, 2007

Design, creative and technology combined in "get the message".

Virgin Money, 2007

Pretty use of animation in the "say yes" series of online ads.

Virgin Trains, 2007

People in animal suits banged the environmental drum in a series of ads promoting the green benefits of train travel.

Glue, 2007

The "cycle to Lapland" Christmas card involved decking out a meeting room with fake snow, Christmas trees and a painted mural of the "road to Lapland", as staff took turns to cycle the 2,000 miles to Santa's Grotto.

The Sun, 2009

"Movie boy" tried to watch as many films as possible back-to-back, 24-hours-a-day for seven days; it was aired live online.

3, 2009

A big-spending campaign for the mobile operator saw a TV ad and press/poster executions that impressed, particularly given the sector's usual uninspiring efforts.

The Green Party, 2009

Three anti-Labour posters aimed to highlight how only the Greens could defeat the Conservatives in the target constituency of Brighton Pavilion.

THE GLUE STORY

1999: Gluemedia launches as part of a joint venture with the web design company Deepend.

2001: Re-establishes itself as glue London following the collapse of its parent company, Deepgroup. Sells significant stake to the communications agency St Luke's.

2004: Picks up two Cannes Lions for its work on Pot Noodle.

2005: Acquired by Aegis for £14.7 million.

2006: Secures a place on the Coca-Cola roster to handle Coke Zero.

2008: Appointed by Toyota on its digital advertising account. Scoops the £28 million advertising account for the mobile network 3 from Euro RSCG London.

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