Roll up, roll up. Come and see the strange creatures. Circus has
come to town, promising much that will amaze - including admen who
closely resemble management consultants.
Circus, let me explain, is the name of adland’s latest start-up, a new
venture put together by a group previously employed by some of the
industry’s most impressive organisations. But the question is, will this
gang turn out to be clowns or lion tamers?
The answer, it seems, is both.
Every start-up needs to position itself as tremendously original in
conception, and Circus is no exception. This time, according to the
people in charge, clients are offered exceptional strategic ideas,
supported by brilliant executions - but not necessarily ads.
The idea, essentially, is to claw back work from the management
consultants who have positioned themselves, in recent years, as the new
marketing gurus. The consultancy market has already more than doubled in
the 90s; and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has devoted
serious attention to agencies’ lack of access to top management at
The fact is that calling the consultants has become the natural first
step for incoming chief executives.
Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the WPP Group, which owns J. Walter
Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather, recently spoke of the threat posed by the
likes of McKinsey. And Niall Fitzgerald, chairman of Unilever, told the
European Association of Advertising Agencies conference last October
that a gulf existed between the marketing needs of brands and what
agencies could offer.
Circus is the brainchild of Paul Twivy, formerly group chief executive
of Bates Dorland, deputy chairman at JWT and co-founder of Still Price
Court Twivy D’ Souza. In the ring with him - as equal partners - are Tim
Ashton, once Dorlands’ executive creative director; Tim O’Kennedy,
formerly chief operating officer of the Lowe Group and Nike’s marketing
director at the launch of the legendary ’just do it’ campaign; and Dilys
Maltby, a Body Shop consultant and one-time client services director at
An impressive bunch, with experience ranging over business, planning and
strategy, art direction, design and marketing.
Twivy is a celebrated egghead. He speaks fluently the convoluted dialect
of consultants: his is the name at the bottom of the Circus manifesto, a
terrifying pile-up of jargon and overworked metaphor. And yet he insists
Circus will not compete against management consultants so much as work
in collaboration with them.
’We are not as good as management consultants,’ he says, ’at
understanding how the structures of business work. We shouldn’t attempt
to be.’ But ’where advertising is best is the real confidence that the
gut instinct, intuition, the well-turned phrase holds the key to why
people do things’.
Twivy says he’s considered a start-up for many years. ’I have talked to
hundreds of people in the advertising community and the management
consultancy community. My observation was that what clients want is not
The secret of success, it seems, will lie in keeping an open mind. Thus,
instead of offering clients a 60-second TV ad, Circus might suggest a
road show or a new retail environment, or even the introduction of an
aromatherapist to boost staff morale.
This concern for staff, Circus claims, indicates a breakthrough. ’Most
management consultants assume that shareholders are the most important
people,’ says Twivy, ’and then, slightly grudgingly, consumers and
finally staff.’ Circus, by contrast, emphasises that companies will not
project themselves well if their staff are unhappy. So the idea is to
start from the inside of companies, then work outwards.
Martin Jones, managing director of the Advertising Agency Register,
believes Circus offers an appealing sell. ’There are an increasing
number of clients who are looking for solutions beyond advertising,’ he
Ashton, who signed off as many as 30 ads a week at Dorlands before he
was fired in June, is excited. ’I relish the opportunity. Agencies are
so constraining. If a creative team got a brief to launch a drink, they
would sit in their departments and work on an ad encompassing TV, press
and, at the last minute, a trade-press execution. But what about
designing a can? I will roll up my sleeves and have a go.’
All four partners offer their admiration to proponents of integrated
communications, such as HHCL & Partners or the Abbott Mead Vickers group
(which owns PR, direct marketing and sales promotion companies). But,
they argue, the final impetus at these companies is to make ads. Circus,
by contrast, starts with a blank sheet. As Ashton enthuses: ’This is our
party and we will choose what colour wallpaper we are going to have.’
Design is a crucial element. ’Design has always been put to one side.
Advertising people are frightened by it. But it is the permanent face of
But will Circus be different from other recent start-ups that have
adopted a ’holistic’ approach, such as St Luke’s and Mother? ’There is
no doubt they represent elements of what we are doing,’ Twivy says, ’a
democratic form of ownership, and an offering that goes beyond
advertising. But we are about bridging the world of consultancy. It’s
bigger and more ambitious.’
What about Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, which launched as an ’ideas’
shop five years ago? Its creative partner, Robert Campbell, said at the
time, ’many creative people instinctively leap to the script and the
layout. We will take a much broader view ...’ Does Circus really mark a
MT Rainey, Rainey Kelly’s planning partner - who knows the Circus
partners well - welcomes the start-up because it will ’legitimise the
intellectual property end of the business where we operate’. But she
offers some advice: ’They are worrying a bit too much about being seen
as an ad agency.’
She speaks from experience. Rainey Kelly is viewed in terms of its ads
for the Times, Lil-lets or Virgin Atlantic, and Circus, in turn, will
inevitably be judged in the same way - by its ads.
The challenge facing Circus will be to get behind the jargon, proving
through its first few clients that ’media neutrality’ is more than just
the buzzword of the moment.