Does Steve Grime have the right stuff to revive Mitchell Patterson, John
Campaign’s request for a chat about his new job has made Steve Grime as
jumpy as a kitten. The day before the agreed rendezvous he rings to ask
what the lines of inquiry might be and repeats them slowly to himself as
You suspect that he is starting to rehearse his answers even before the
receiver goes down and that he will greet the following dawn wide awake
and fine-tuning what he will say.
For the meeting, he arms himself with a couple of pages of notes, which
he consults to ensure nothing of importance is missed, while attempting
to keep his famous and endearing stammer in check.
Grime has been on tenter-hooks since word broke of his departure for
Mitchell Patterson Aldred Mitchell (Campaign, last week). But it’s not
really ego or arrogance that drives him to be word perfect.
It’s more a desire that his decision should not be seen to reflect badly
on his current employer, Leagas Shafron Davis, particularly with the
agency facing a possible repitch to retain and extend its pounds 15
million Sun Alliance business after the insurance company’s merger with
Doing the honourable thing has always been important to him. And, in a
business where bitchiness can often flow like a flood tide, it’s hard to
find anybody with a bad word to say about Grime. Instead, there is only
praise for his decency and straight-batting causing Ron Leagas, his
current boss, to dub him ‘the Geoff Boycott of advertising’.
As a result, Grime rides into his new role as Mitchell Patterson’s joint
creative director on a wave of goodwill. Trevor Beattie, TBWA’s creative
director, bestows the ultimate blokish accolade on his friend. ‘Steve,’
he declares, ‘is a top geezer.’
Others believe he is also a courageous and maybe even a reckless geezer.
Not so much because Grime has chosen to quit the agency where he built
his reputation, but that he should have picked the 109th-ranking
Mitchell Patterson to start over again.
Formed six years ago by Neil Patterson, the former Young and Rubicam
creative director, and three ex-Publicis senior managers, the agency has
never commanded the profile of contemporaries like Duckworth Finn Grubb
Waters or Banks Hoggins O’Shea.
Winning too many accounts that never lived up to their promise has put
the agency in a classic Catch-22 situation. To produce high-profile
work, it needs some big-spending brands. But it can’t win them because
it has no strong creative legacy. It will be Grime’s task to break the
vicious circle, a prospect he relishes. ‘Within a year, I expect the
agency to double in size and produce award-winning work,’ he declares.
Such a confident assertion would have been unthinkable when Grime toiled
competently but anonymously in the creative departments at WCRS and
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. Since then, his career has blossomed under
Leagas’s tutelage and on the back of startling work for Sun Alliance and
unpromising briefs such as Inland Revenue self-assessment.
In his favour is the fact that Mitchell Patterson has reached the outer
reaches of some notable client rosters, including Unilever, St Ivel and
Spillers. What’s more, those who know the agency and its principals
believe it and they to be underrated.
Derek Ralston, the Barker and Ralston managing director who worked with
three of Mitchell Patterson’s founders at Publicis, believes their
heads-down approach and lack of hype in an over-supplied market are to
blame for their lack of profile. ‘Steve could provide the grit in the
oyster,’ he suggests.
At 47, Grime should at least feel comfortable operating in the mature
environment provided by Andrew Mitchell, a former Publicis vice-
chairman, and Chris Mitchell (no relation), its one-time deputy planning
The crucial question is whether Grime and Patterson can blend their
creative talents. Fortunately, the pair know each other well, having
almost come together in a start-up eight years ago. ‘We’re complementary
characters although I’m probably more upfront,’ Grime says.
Those who know them both point to their intellectual synergy. However,
Grime’s inexhaustible energy contrasts sharply with Patterson’s more
passive and reflective style, which is prone only to the occasional
outburst of frustration, when bottles of mineral water have been known
‘Steve still goes on about doing great ads like creatives less than half
his age,’ says Robert Campbell, a creative partner at Rainey Kelly
Campbell Roalfe, who was with Grime at WCRS and AMV. ‘He’s never cynical
but always emotional about good work.’
Peter Buchanan, the Central Office of Information director of
advertising, who has worked with him on the Inland Revenue and special
constable recruitment business, agrees: ‘Steve feels passionately about
what he does but has the almost unique ability to take on board the
clients’ comments while retaining the core idea.’
Whether such enthusiasm is enough to provide Mitchell Patterson with the
vital spark remains to be seen. The question of why Grime should want to
make the leap lingers. Part of the answer seems to be that Mitchell
Patterson’s pragmatic approach fits comfortably with his long-standing
fascination for applying creativity to produce immediate commercial
But friends say Grime’s move was born of frustration at the conservatism
of Leagas and his management partner, Mike Davis, and because he has no
equity in Leagas Shafron. ‘He knows he has between five and ten more
years in the business and that, if he is going to make his mark, it has
to be now,’ one says.
For his part, Grime claims his move was more to do with a unique and
unexpected opportunity and the not unimportant matter of his name on the
Leagas, meanwhile, will put Grime’s deputy, Rob Janowski, in temporary
charge of the agency’s five creative teams as he examines his options
and puts the best possible spin on events.
‘When you’re being reviewed by an existing client a balance between
continuity and change is probably the ideal,’ he says cheerfully. ‘But
we expect to hire very soon. I do seem to be a bit of a Svengali.’