McBain Noel-Johnson was set up in 1972 as a design agency, but after a
couple of years the company decided to ‘transfer big agency skills into
a smaller operation,’ the chief executive, Chris Noel-Johnson, says.
This evolutionary process was repeated in 1988, when Richard Ballard was
drafted in to set up an electronic state-of-the-art production facility,
called, imaginatively enough, the Electronic Studio.
It revolutionised the way agencies looked at creative production and
technology. ‘We realised that the future of production was in fully-
automated production,’ Noel-Johnson explains.
Noel-Johnson and Ballard have worked together at McBains (as it is now
called) for many years and have a complementary working relationship.
Ballard is the softly spoken, hands-on man.
He studied art at Somerset School of Art and Design, but admits: ‘I’ve
always been more interested in the mechanics than art.’
Noel-Johnson, meanwhile, is an account man by trade, having worked at
Ogilvy and Mather and S. H. Benson. He comments: ‘I wouldn’t say I was
an account man for long; I started McBains when I was 25.’
The pair’s most involved work was for Wightlink, a ferry service linking
the Isle of Wight to the mainland. They were immersed from the start,
from designing the corporate livery to creating the brand advertising.
‘We try to work closely with our clients at whatever pace they wish to
go,’ Noel-Johnson says.
McBains has also worked on campaigns for BT and the Heart of Britain
Noel-Johnson adds: ‘Now our priority is to develop our creative
reputation, hence the hiring of Giles Keeble [the former creative
supremo at Leo Burnett] as creative director, and to develop online
work. Above-the-line media is fragmenting and agencies need the
resources to drive the business.’