CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BEAN MC; What can we learn from the demise of Bean MC?

Bean MC was a good team with different views of its future.

Bean MC was a good team with different views of its future.



So, what happened then? The demise of Bean MC (Campaign, last week) was

a surprise to most people, and the nature of the announcement - a terse,

two paragraph release, leaving us plenty of room to read between the

lines - made it clear that the split was not an entirely amicable one.



Actually, the two camps into which the partners have divided are still

talking - just. But the one thing Paul and Gary Marshall, in one corner,

and Robert Bean and Mark Cramphorn, in the other, have agreed, is that

they won’t speak to anyone else about the reasons for the split.



This is what we’ve got to go on officially: ‘Bean MC, the creative

independent started in September 1994, today announced that its four

founding partners are to part company. Paul and Gary Marshall, the

creative 50 per cent of the agency, wished to keep Bean MC going. But

Mark Cramphorn and Robert Bean, the management half, found that their

interests and ambitions were no longer being served by the agency.



‘The Marshalls, without proper management support, have decided to

consider their long-term options, freelancing for the immediate future.

While Cramphorn and Bean have decided to start a new brand development

company which will temporarily trade under the name Bean Cramphorn.’



Ouch! No prizes for guessing which of the two parties were at the

keyboard for that statement. Clearly, the Marshalls are piqued with

their former ‘management half’. What does ‘found that their interests

and ambitions were no longer being served by the agency’ really mean?



To find out we have to go back to the launch of Bean MC in July 1994. In

a feature headlined ‘Back to Basics’, Campaign told of a shop set up

simply to ‘make ads’. With an emphasis on creative outsourcing, a

‘virtual’ network of planners and the use of media independents; with

clients invited in early in the creative process, payment by fee plus

bonuses and a willingness to handle business on a project basis as well

as retained clients, Bean MC looked likely to fill an interesting niche

in an otherwise crowded marketplace.



Superficially, it looked a dream set-up for the Marshalls (‘creative

nirvana’ was the phrase we used at the time). ‘What swings it for us is

that old crappy thing about being in charge of your own destiny,’ Paul

Marshall said. ‘It will be fun. Gary, in particular, wants more contact

with clients. We just want to get back to the work.’



And, actually, that is exactly what the Marshalls have done. In Bean

MC’s brief lifespan they have been involved with more than 20 completed

projects, not to mention new-business prospects. The most high-profile

of the bunch remains the Virgin Radio launch poster campaign and TV and

print work for Laser Sales. However, the Marshalls also turned out work

for clients such as Voluntary Services Overseas, Foundation Health, the

South Bank, Planet Internet, Smash Hits, Time Warner Interactive and, of

course, Campaign.



Surely, the Marshalls should have been happy. Their output at their

former agency, Leagas Delaney, included work for Harrods, Mothercare,

the Guardian, Jazz FM and UK Gold. Their style is distinct: beautifully

crafted art direction and typography married to clever wordplay. It

seems suited to press ads, single pages or double-page spreads. They are

among the very best at that kind of work. And their posters aren’t bad

either.



But a question mark remains over their versatility in the face of the

variety of business an agency like Bean MC attracts, above and beyond

the needs of a start-up shop. It is no secret that ‘the management half’

has been hankering after larger business on a retained basis for some

time now.



Perhaps this is where Bean and Cramphorn lie open to criticism. Did they

make it clear to the Marshalls just what kind of agency they envisaged?

Bean himself, talking over the past few months, remains unbowed. The

agency has attracted a good deal of business. Unfortunately, for one

reason or another - not least among which were internal disagreements -

it has had to turn away, or decline to pitch for, a great deal more.



Nevertheless the agency was profitable from the start, and there has

never been an outside investor; not even an overdraft facility. The

structure of the agency, with its fees and outsourcing resulting in

extremely low overheads, made sure of that.



Reviewing last year ahead of Campaign’s Top 300 report, Bean saw the

successes of the venture as its ability to unblock the over-complicated

process of advertising; its low overheads, the focus on work the

structure permitted and the ability to handle a variety of clients and

fit teams to each client.



And the weaknesses? The lack of a guaranteed income results in a

project-by-project business and that can cause a great strain. What’s

more, there is something unsatisfying about working for clients and then

letting go. Some of the pleasure in advertising is surely derived from

getting under the skin of a client’s brands.



What went wrong for Bean MC was primarily personal. It turned out that

it was just the wrong combination of people for the venture. This is not

to insult either party and it would be a shame if they could not part

amicably.



Bean and Cramphorn, if we are to take the statement at face value,

believe in the structure of the company enough that it will be recreated

in their new venture. However, the key difference in their new ‘brand

development and communications’ company is a willingness to acknowledge

the increased client requirement for an integrated service, so missing

from the previous ‘simply doing ads’ ethos.



As for the Marshalls, their future is less certain in the short term.

However, long term, they are among the most talented guns for hire on

the market, and they will almost certainly be snapped up. Probably they

would do best in an agency like Lowe Howard-Spink, or back at Leagas

Delaney, where they would be free to pursue the kind of work they are

happy doing.



The four are known and respected in the industry. Their talents are not

in question, but their experience is another example that advertising is

‘a people business’.



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