I can imagine many readers muttering ’typical bloody creative’ when
they learned that Naresh Ramchandani, the last remaining founding
creative director of St Luke’s, is leaving because the agency has become
’too corporate’ for him (Campaign, last week).
We are, after all, talking about New Labour’s favourite workers’
co-operative that has embraced everything from client-specific project
rooms to a mobile internal phone system, hot-desking, the use of company
satchels and parents evenings. St Luke’s is about as far from corporate
as today’s CDP is from hot.
But St Luke’s is no longer the creative Utopia of its early days when it
first brandished the pirate flag and bought itself out of Omnicom.
Now it has financial clout and deep pools of talent and technology to
draw on. It is able to win clients like BT, the COI, Sky, Ikea and
That client list reminds us that, hype aside, any agency is a business
first and foremost. House it in an old hospital, call it St Luke’s, St
Puke’s or whatever, give everyone shares, preach business ethics and
piss off the rest of the advertising community, but it’s still a
business (and one that is 12 per cent down in billings for the year
ending 31 March, according to MMS figures reported elsewhere in this
Ramchandani’s discontent first became apparent back in 1997 when, with
Dave Buonaguidi, he told Andy Law: ’We don’t want to be creative
directors any more.’ Just at the moment when the two-year-old agency was
attracting clients because of its creative output, three key staff (the
third was the planner, John Grant) wanted to work in a ’new thinking’
Did that mean that the rest of the agency was about old thinking? As St
Luke’s was supposed to be synonymous with ’personal growth’, new
creative leaders were duly appointed from within.
But it was a short-lived experiment which has borne little fruit -
unless you count exciting jobs for Buonaguidi at Channel 4 and Grant as
a consultant to Carlton, that is. St Luke’s found that one of the first
things about the entertainment field is that you’re working on a longer
time scale and without a monthly fee to protect you. And as frustrating
as the process of creating ads is, the process of creating entertainment
vehicles is unbelievably political and complex.
Born as a reaction to big bad Omnicom, St Luke’s has completed its
launch phase. Through hype and business cunning, it’s managed to become
a successful agency while professing and insinuating at every turn that
other advertising agencies are fundamentally flawed. It now faces the
eternal question for mid-sized agencies: with groovier, fast-moving
shops like Mother springing up, where to go next?