School Reports 2016: Karmarama


Karmarama's founder and chief creative of 14 years, Dave Buonaguidi, joined Crispin Porter & Bogusky in 2015, 11 months after leaving amid talk of seeking a life outside agencies. 

Buonaguidi’s return to the industry would have been weirder for Karmarama had the agency not been fortuitously placed to make its own star hire in 2015, offering Nik Studzinski a lifeline out of the faltering Droga5 Europe, now London.

Studzinski’s influence was felt almost immediately. He had created award-winning work for the Army when he was at Saatchi & Saatchi in the 90s and it’s no coincidence that Karmarama snatched an Army recruitment brief out of the jaws of J Walter Thompson London in the months after he joined.

The later hire of the executive creative director, Adam Kean, who also worked on the Army at Saatchis, ensured some striking – if not universally lauded – print work in January.

But Studzinski’s arrival as the chief creative officer ruffled feathers and the agency’s group executive creative directors, Caitlin Ryan, Sam Walker and Joe De Souza, left soon after.

There were a handful of wins in 2015, of which a spot on Unilever’s roster and were the biggest.

But Karma Communications Holdings is enduring financial difficulties that a few bits of new business won’t fix.

Phoenix Equity Partners, Karma Communications’ backer, restructured its funding after the agency group’s 2014 accounts revealed an £18.5 million deficiency in its shareholders’ funds. Murmurings that Phoenix was scouting for a potential buyer don’t seem so far-fetched in this light.

How the agency rates itself: 6

"We shored up our creative with new a chief creative officer while ushering in new mobile developers, thinkers and data scientists to Nice and Konnect. Our investment in talent paid off with big wins including and the Army, and standout work for CBeebies and Iceland’s transformative "power of frozen". We were also recognised by The Sunday Times for being the best employer in adland. In 2016, we’re shooting for even bigger and better."

Type of agency Integrated creative
Company ownership Independent
Nielsen billings 2015 £88m
Nielsen billings 2014 £79m
Declared income n/s
Total accounts at year end 32
Accounts won 6 (biggest: Unilever)
Accounts lost 1 (Virgin Active)
Number of staff 248 (+9%)
Key personnel Ben Bilboul, chief executive
Sid McGrath, chief strategy officer
Nik Studzinski, chief creative officer
Jon Wilkins, executive chairman
Liz Wilson, chief operating officer

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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