It’s a long way from Wormwood Scrubs to Golden Gate Bridge, but
Rooney Carruthers - who was born in the prison hospital after his mum
was caught short at a nearby party - has bounded across the divide with
Carruthers, the joint creative director of WCRS, accepted the job of
executive creative director of Foote, Cone & Belding San Francisco on a
He hit it off instantly with Geoff Thompson, the agency’s worldwide
creative director. Fortuitously, they met soon after Carruthers had
undergone something of a career revelation during a shoot in Los Angeles
’It was a perfect trip, but I was bored,’ Carruthers says. ’I spent most
of the two weeks in my hotel room. That was when I knew I had to leave
It is hard to imagine Carruthers suffering from ennui. He is a boyish
bundle of enthusiasm who, on the day of our interview, has already
written three ads by 2.30pm - even though he is flying to San Francisco
the following day.
Despite more than 20 years in the business, Carruthers seems as fresh
and excitable as a fledgling art director on his first placement at
Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Except that he’s going to be in charge of the
creative department at one of the US’s most famous and troubled
agencies. FCB is still struggling to restore its reputation after the
loss of its flagship Levi Strauss account in January 1998.
’There’s nothing better than being scared. I’m shitting myself,’ he
admits. ’There’s the whole culture thing. Some of the clients are
There’s the fear of failure - I don’t want to come back with my tail
between my legs. When I saw the reel I thought, ’what the hell do you
want me for?’’
Beneath this modesty and natural apprehension is a man who knows his own
worth. With Larry Barker, now the creative director of BMP DDB, he
created the famous ’swimmer’ spot for Levi’s and broke the mould for
many clients, particularly Haagen Dazs and Orange.
’I could sell pork pies in a synagogue,’ Carruthers boasts, getting
carried away. It’s just as well FCB is sending him on a ’political
correctness’ course before he is unleashed on the US.
Carruthers has mounted and filed all his favourite work. One of his
first press ads, for Camden Council, was pick of the week in Campaign,
he tells me proudly. His first work with Barker, for an off-licence,
made it into the D&AD annual. There’s a framed letter from the WCRS
chairman, Robin Wight, formally offering the job of joint creative
directors to Carruthers and Barker.
Wight and Carruthers have a rapport. ’Robin is brilliant at filtering
ideas and information, he’s electric,’ Carruthers says. ’I hope he
doesn’t go mad in old age.’
Wight says: ’We are temperamentally similar. We like things that are new
and fresh. Neither of us is at our best when polishing - we like to
John Hegarty, the executive creative director of BBH, regards enthusiasm
as a key ingredient for US success. He says: ’Rooney will find it very
Hegarty makes this point because US culture is evolving constantly.
Carruthers’ talent for the visual will serve him well. ’We are in a
visual culture - ideas have to cross so many borders,’ he says.
He also warns that the British can’t rely on their own reputations,
however good, when trying to make it in the US. This is not to say he
underestimates Carruthers’ worth. ’Rooney and Larry understand how to
put across ideas in a profound way,’ he remembers from their time at
One of advertising’s most famous and creatively successful partnerships
came to an end when Barker left WCRS for BMP two years ago. Together
they had earned a reputation for fast living, developed particularly
while at DDB Needham in the late 80s.
A merger with BMP was looming on the horizon so there was a lot of
Faithful to their creative director, Tony Cox, the duo coined the motto:
’Nothing on the box ’til we hear about Cox.’ So instead of writing ads
they spent all their time in the pub and other dens of iniquity.
’It was fabulous but it was killing us,’ Carruthers recalls. Six months
after the merger they were poached by Hegarty. ’The boys became men,’
Carruthers proclaims. ’We didn’t expect to get the job because of our
naughty reputations, but we were quick workers and every day was
fantastic. At BBH I got stylish and really learned how to art
Carruthers’ polished style has aroused speculation that he might become
a director. ’I wouldn’t like the solitude - I love having people around
me. Agencies are such a laugh,’ he says.
After a brilliant spell at BBH, the duo accepted an offer from the
troubled WCRS in February 1993.
Orange, First Direct, Caffrey’s, Worthington, BMW, Tate & Lyle: their
contribution to the rebirth of WCRS was priceless. FCB will be hoping
for more of the same magic from Carruthers in San Francisco.
According to a former FCB San Francisco senior executive, Carruthers
will have the ’absolute support’ of the entire agency. But Hegarty
warns: ’He has a very big task. It is an agency in search of meaning and
it needs management as well as creative leadership. There is a danger
that the fate of the entire agency will fall on Rooney’s shoulders when,
in fact, it is everybody’s responsibility.’
This is where Carruthers’ enthusiasm will come in handy. ’He has passion
to such a degree that it will shock a lot of them and they’ll fall in
love with that. For Rooney, it’s about every day being interesting,’
Although he is looking forward to San Francisco, Carruthers can’t help
but look back. In London, he is a popular figure and he knows he has
been ’well protected’ by all his industry friends. ’I’ll miss the
production companies,’ he begins, before reeling off a roll-call of
thanks, like an Oscar-winner acknowledging everyone who has made this