Or is it asking too much of creatives to transfer their skills to
TV? By John Owen asks?
Bloody St Luke’s. If it’s not poncing on about ’workers’ co-operatives’
and ’hot-desking’, it’s producing pretentious ads for Boots make-up and
writing annoyingly catchy jingles for Ikea and the Midland Bank.
Now, it’s gone and set up a new unit to ’expand into other areas of
creativity’ (Campaign, last week). By which it means not only TV and
film production, but also photography, poetry and sculpture - sculpture,
for God’s sake, are these guys for real?
Such is the conventional advertising person’s view of the agency that
launched out of the ashes of the equally maverick Chiat Day just over a
year ago. Is it justified? Is St Luke’s a naive nirvana or is there some
maturity lurking beneath the much maligned veneer?
More to the point, will this new creative unit, currently being
developed by the agency’s most senior creative directors, Naresh
Ramchandani and David Buonaguidi, be a success? Or is this just an
ego-driven essay into vanity publishing, an attempt to keep top talent
happy at the expense of clients and colleagues alike?
Andy Law, the chairman of St Luke’s, believes that everyone will benefit
both from the motivational effect of the new unit and from the promotion
of two ’brilliant’ creatives, Julian Vizard and Alan Young, to free
Ramchandani and Buonaguidi for their new task.
Happy people work better. ’Job satisfaction comes first. That’s why
we’re incredibly motivated,’ Law says. And as Robert Campbell, the
creative partner at the rival agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe,
admits, Law runs a shop that ’sounds like a lovely place to work’.
This is meant as a genuine compliment. From others in the industry, it
would be a back-handed one.
Contrary to some people’s perception, however, Law is a commercial
He’s in business to make a profit and is not about to sanction a
The idea behind the new unit is to make the most of the talent at St
Luke’s disposal. ’You look around this place and we’ve got sculptors,
fine artists, photographers - all sorts. So what we’ve said is ’let’s
set up a division that gives this natural creative flair a commercial
outlet’,’ he states.
Putting aside all the self-conscious stuff about fine art, the most
obvious ’commercial outlet’ is TV production as the digital revolution
produces a massive explosion of channels. As Law says: ’With digital TV,
people will be desperate for programming and here we are applying proper
management skills to the area.’
It’s an opportunity he is not alone in spotting. In the same week as St
Luke’s announcement in the UK, Wieden and Kennedy made a remarkably
similar statement of intent in the US.
Jerry Judge, chief executive of Lowe Howard-Spink, believes many
agencies - or at least agency groups - will get into TV production:
’Yes, we’ve talked about it, but it’s something that would occur within
the Lowe Group rather than within the advertising agency. It requires
the skill of an impresario, a TV producer.’
This emphasis on bringing in outside expertise is notably absent from
both the St Luke’s and Wieden and Kennedy visions. Maybe they’re not far
enough down the line to have to consider that yet, but if they are
serious about getting into TV and film, it is something most observers
believe they will have to do at some point.
One man who has already done it is Paul Simons, chairman of Simons
Palmer Clemmow Johnson. Last year, the agency set up a production unit
called the Mission. It is run by a former BBC producer, Joanne Reay, in
partnership with an ex-account man, Stephen Colegrave.
The combination is crucial, according to Simons. The idea that agency
creatives can somehow transfer their advertising skills to TV
programming is ’ridiculous’, he says.
However, for the all-important job of selling the idea to a
commissioning editor, agencies are not necessarily at a
Kenton Allen, who runs the light entertainment department at Granada,
says ad agencies could prove a goldmine of ideas. ’Ad people have a
commercial appreciation of what viewers and advertisers want from the
This is their strength. Their weakness? ’They wouldn’t have a clue about
how to actually make the programme,’ Allen says. As for launching into
the perception that digital TV will greatly expand the independent
production market, Allen has his doubts.
The companies that are most likely to run digital - Granada, Carlton,
BSkyB - already have their own dedicated production units which they are
committed to using, he points out.
Charlie Parsons, the managing director of Planet 24, has experience of
making programmes and ads - in the form of a series of three-minute
Pepsi ads which were based on Planet 24’s old Channel 4 youth programme,
the Word. He warns agencies: ’Things aren’t that rosy - there is no
As ads get more like programmes, so programmes will get more like ads -
funded by advertisers, made by production companies, but ’brokered’ by
ad agencies, Parsons predicts.
In fact, what St Luke’s is doing will not necessarily involve
advertisers at all. But brokering a good idea could become an ever more
lucrative skill in the multi-channel era. And isn’t that what
advertising people do best?