School Reports 2016: Dare


If Dare was quiet for most of 2015, all eyes were on the shop at the beginning of October with the surprise announcement that it was being bought by Oliver, an activation agency. Many observers took the sale as proof of how far Dare’s star has fallen.

After the deal broke, it emerged that Toby Horry, the executive partner, had been working at Tesco for months after impressing the supermarket giant’s group brand director, Michelle McEttrick. The move was confirmed as a permanent one in November shortly before the agency upped sticks to Shoreditch to join the Oliver family.

Horry was not the only senior figure to leave the agency in 2015: the planning supremo John Owen and the creative leaders Flo Heiss and Vassilios Alexiou also walked out the door – and with them valuable experience and relationships. Remaining at the top are the chief executive, Leigh Thomas, and creative partner, Brian Cooper. At the end of 2015, the agency had a headcount of 105 – down 15 on a year before and a far cry from the 250 staff it had back in 2011 following the MCBD merger.

Interesting work during the year included the continuation of Barclays’ online LifeSkills programme, which has helped 1.2 million school-leavers prepare for the workplace, and bringing the Nike Academy into Oxford Street as part of Dare’s new role on the brand’s football roster. Other wins included a global task for Investec and briefs from Experian, Curzon and Irn-Bru.

The hope is that under its new ownership, this former gem of a shop – Campaign’s Digital Agency of the Decade, no less – may be given the impetus to be great again after too long out of the spotlight.

How the agency rates itself: 6

"After affirming our digital positioning the previous year, 2015 was one of regeneration. Retaining existing clients, we won a slew of exciting briefs (including Nike, Investec, Experian and Irn-Bru). And despite bidding a fond farewell to the Dare legends Flo Heiss, John Owen and Toby Horry, exciting young talent has stepped up in Cassim, Neish, Gibbard, Alder-Shah and Bell. Now part of the dynamic Oliver group, we enter 2016 filled with optimism and opportunity. "

Type of agency Digital and innovation
Company ownership Oliver
Nielsen billings 2015 £25m
Nielsen billings 2014 £34m
Declared income £14.5m (2014)
Total accounts at year end 34
Accounts won 6 (biggest: Investec)
Accounts lost 1 (Public Health England)
Number of staff 105 (-13%)
Key personnel Leigh Thomas, chief executive
Brian Cooper, creative partner
Rachel Hatton, strategy partner
Richard Neish, managing partner
Jamal Cassim, managing partner

Score key: 9 Outstanding  8 Excellent  7 Good  6 Satisfactory  5 Adequate  4 Below average  3 Poor  2 A year to forget  1 Survival in question

Footnote: *indicates where agencies claim the corporate governance constraints of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.


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