The news that Martin Smith, the former Grey chief executive and
Bartle Bogle Hegarty managing director, has set up a creative-free ad
agency has been hailed as a coup by some, and received less
enthusiastically by others.
Smith has teamed up with Mark Rapley, the former BMP DDB deputy managing
director, and Roisin Robothan-Jones, the former agency planner and
founder of the "green" product distribution company Ark to provide
services to clients who want alternatives to traditional
Rapley Smith Jones will act as "commissioning editors" for their
clients, farming out, quality controlling and co-ordinating all their
needs, from website design, media planning and buying to television
production and PR.
"We're establishing a new sector in advertising, dubbing it 'new'
advertising," Smith says. "'Old' advertising is all about responding to
what agencies see as the right solution. We want to come at it from a
different angle, from the consumer's point of view. They aren't aware of
the breakdown between above-, below- or through-the-line marketing -
they see it all as advertising. And they're responsive to so many more
sectors, including ambient, sponsorship and editorial TV."
Media neutrality is unlikely to cause RSJ to stand out these days when
both media and creative agencies have repositioned to claim similar
The most striking difference about the new shop, however, is that there
will be no full-time creative on board.
Smith is adamant that the model is one which can thrive, especially in a
climate where project-based work seems a cost-effective alternative to
long-term relationships for clients. In a month which has seen the
outsourcing of Circus' creative work, abandoning the full-service route
seems an increasingly popular route.
"It makes no sense to offer this kind of very flexible, fluid service
and thinking and then default to the experience of one creative brain,"
Smith says. "Rather than being a hindrance, it will allow us to pick and
choose from a range of collaborators."
He's confident of finding the right talent to work with. "People are
often disincentivised by the way conventional agencies work, possibly
reporting into a parent company," he says. "There are talented
creatives, designers and production people who have decided not to work
that way. We intend to tap in on their talent."
The shops on RSJ's wishlist include Karmarama, the creative outfit
opened by the former St Luke's creatives Naresh Ramchandani and Dave
Buonaguidi; Arkwright, established by HHCL & Partners' creatives Chas
Bayfield and Jim Bolton last year; Monkey, the television production
company which spun off from Chris Evans' Ginger Production company; and
Naked Communications, the media consultancy increasingly winning
accolades in creative circles too.
Smith claims his structure will do away with the tendency to become
protective of campaigns. "Lots of agencies quite naturally want to
defend their creative work, but that can become detrimental to the
client's needs," he says.
"We won't be doing that and will ask our creative collaborators to
innovate on individual projects as much as possible."
It's not clear how those collaborators will pick up work from RSJ -
whether individuals will be asked to pitch against each other on a
roster basis or will be briefed on projects based on expertise.
Arguably the nearest parallel to Smith's structure comes from a media
background. Increasingly, Michaelides & Bednash has moved away from
traditional planning and buying as it bids to establish itself as a
creative force through the use of freelance. M&B's managing partner,
Graham Bednash, maintains that outsourcing the creative input for a
project masterminded in-house can work effectively: "The central idea is
to offer clients choice and with lots of creative specialists in
different sectors you can."
However, with that choice must come creative excellence or else the
theory falls flat, and while M&B has justified its position with work
for Channel 4, its creative work for Rockingham motor racing last year
At Mother, an agency which tore down traditional divides between account
handling and creative, one source claims never to have seen an effective
strategy in place without parallel development of creative: "Creative
people are already far too distant from the account handling and
planning - why deliberately exclude them?"
It's far from the only doubt. One senior ad agency executive expressed
concern that RSJ's creatives will have two sets of clients, the agency
and its employer. "Is the agency sure its collaborators are, in fact,
the best for the job?" another asks. "Surely the best creative directors
are already working in agencies?"
Bednash remains convinced the model can work. "It's the same structure
the film industry uses," he says. "You don't get one company making a
movie - lots of experts come together."
AGENCIES THAT HAVE SHED TRADITIONAL STRUCTURES
AGENCY NAME (launch date)/ KEY CLIENTS
Michaelides & Bednash (1994) Channel 4
The original brand strategy agency, which has increasingly positioned
itself as an alternative to above-the-line creative shops. Replaced WCRS
on Workthing's ad account last year.
Mother (1996) ITV Digital
Creatives wear the suits and run the accounts, putting them in direct
contact with clients and keeping creative work at the heart of the
business. Campaign's Agency of the Year 2001.
Quiet Storm (1997) Emap
Also skips account handling to offer clients direct liaison with
creatives. Has produced TV ads for Heat magazine and Xfm, while in-house
production facilities are used by other agencies.
Circus (1998) Environment
Launched as a media-neutral marketing consultancy but restructured as a
brand strategy consultancy last week, with creative no longer handled
Karmarama (2000) Selfridges
Creative studio, which develops work for shops such as Naked. Produced
creative for last year's award-winning Selfridges campaign. Said to be
receiving the Ikea business.
Naked (2000) Selfridges
Planning specialist with flat management structure that crossed over to
mastermind creative for Tate Galleries and plan the Campaign Media
Award-winning Selfridges drive.