It was hard to move in London a few years back without worrying about a letter from the signage of an MCBD or HMDG landing on your head.
These days, the presence of an owner’s initial above a door is a rarity, as they opt increasingly for an array of nouns and adjectives to brand their activity.
HMDG (Hurrell Moseley Dawson Grimmer) recently rebadged itself as Enter, while DHM (once Dye Holloway Murray) is no more after its founder Dave Dye created a new agency brand, Hello People, alongside the former Ogilvy & Mather team of Hugh Baillie and Rachel Hatton.
Charles Vallance, the co-founder of VCCP (which still carries his initial above the door), recently co-authored a book, The Branded Gentry, about eponymous company owners including Sir John Hegarty and Sir James Dyson. In a recent PR Week article, he said: "Is the eponymous brand going out of fashion in the agency world? Much of the evidence suggests so… many of the newer arrivals go for more abstract, esoteric names. Will proper names ever come back? Well, if something has gone out of fashion, the only certainty is that eventually it will come back in."
For the time being, and with the exception of the occasional Australian (Droga5) and the Americans (Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Mcgarrybowen), abstract is the way forward when naming a shop. Here, we ask six independent agency founders for the story behind their names.
Founded September 2005
Clients DFS, Fiat, Pets at Home
Barry Cook, founder
We knew that we wanted to have a brand name, not a collection of names; particularly relevant if your initials could leave you being called WC HQ. We also wanted a name that told people something about us and the way we think: "Oh, Krow – they’re the ones that work backwards."
With hindsight, it should have been easier to get to the name. Maybe we just had too much time on our hands, but we definitely struggled a bit.
First, there were names that one or more of us loved but somebody hated (eg. Outcome, Pavlov, Noah).
Then there were ones that we all liked but someone was already using it or owned all of the domain names (eg. PlanB – NB. Predates Ben Drew).
The moment of clarity came from Nick [Hastings]. I remember him calling me when we were both on holiday and suggesting that maybe we should spell work backwards "because it makes a word and looks quite cool". Suddenly it all fell into place.
I don’t think any of us could have done the past seven years if we had been called Ipso Facto. The name is a reminder to never lose sight of the end goal: will it work?
It makes it easy to explain what we care about to employees, prospective employees, clients and new-business prospects. It has inspired our way of working, from the way we write briefs to how we approach presentations and measure our performance.
Founded April 2012
Clients ITV Player, Maybourne Hotel Group, 32Red
David Gamble, creative director
Our name was inspired by blood, sweat and beers. But, before we started thinking of names, we asked ourselves: "What’s in a name?" The answer was: "Everything and nothing."
More specifically: everything when you have nothing, and nothing when you have everything. We started Hometown with no clients, no work and no staff; just a name, lots of self-belief and a vision. So, the name had to say a lot.
We wanted to build a creative community with a strong sense of belonging. Everyone who joined needed to feel empowered to shape the agency and feel like they’d found their creative home.
We decided to come up with a name with community at its heart. After much deliberation, several arguments and more beers, Hometown was born. It just felt right. It felt like "us" and had the bonus of a theme tune by Adele.
It’s really hard to separate our culture, beliefs and our name, but I can say that "Hometown" has definitely affected the way our agency has developed and who we work with. People seem to warm to the name. It has helped us attract a great client list and a tight community of hardworking, talented, like-minded folk, who really seem to like working with us.
Founded January 2012
Clients Adidas, Fuller, Smith & Turner, National Geographic Channels International
Neil Simpson, founder
Our name came from a book called The Corner, which was the inspiration behind the HBO series The Wire. We liked the everydayness of it. It’s a social leveller. People all over the world, from all walks of life, meet on street corners. They chat, argue, gossip and sell.
From a design perspective, the shape of a corner is interesting as well. It’s a strong part of any construction and it’s always sharp and to the point.
Some clients have offered their own interpretations: only from the corner of the room can you see the whole picture; when you reach a corner, you need to decide which direction to take. Others have talked about their desire to corner a market or help their business turn a corner. It’s pretty organic at The Corner, so we’re happy to accept suggestions.
The name has helped shape our ambition to be a "collaboration of advertising, technology and culture", where multiple skillsets and opinions fuse together to create, make and build something better.
Founded May 2012
Clients Project Verde (TSB), Air New Zealand
Richard Exon, founder
When Damon [Collins] and I were deciding on what to call our new company, we had a predictably demanding wishlist.
We wanted a name that illustrates our belief that the way to great things is through relentless collaboration.
A name that helps us build our company’s spirit and personality. A name that lends a hand in credentials meetings. A brandable, memorable name that works in all formats. Hence Joint.
Being called Joint has helped in every conversation, giving us a shorthand for who we are and how we work. But perhaps, more importantly, it has helped us hire some fantastic people from all over the world. And partner brilliant, inspiring companies that enjoy working in the way we do.
Founded February 2011
Clients Davidoff, Imperial War Museums, Jeremiah Weed
Neil Hughston, founder
Alcohol. That was the inspiration behind the name. However, the inspiration behind the thought behind the name was more considered. We didn’t want our names to be our name.
Solicitors do that. And we didn’t want to have something conceptual because that’s a bit pretentious. So we tried to communicate what people can expect from us. We also noted that, in the frosty economic landscape, people might be relieved to meet a group of people who didn’t look scared shitless on a daily basis by the threat of job loss, client loss, hair loss or impending financial meltdown.
We also noted our own love of audacious work. We realised that the only work we had ever admired in others or been proud of in ourselves had been "fearless".
We also thought that the name should hint – in an entirely professional way, you understand – that we had a sense of humour. If you can’t enjoy yourself doing this for a living, you’re an idiot.
The name has turned out to be our best new-business tool because it is self-selecting. Only the people who are intrigued by the name "Johnny Fearless" would want to work with a an agency like Johnny Fearless. QED they’re fearless. It all kind of makes sense. Amazing how sensible alcohol turns out to be.
18 Feet & Rising
Founded January 2010
Clients Nationwide, National Trust, Nando’s
Jonathan Trimble, chief executive
None of the founders can remember a single inspiration for our name. I remember putting the task on to Matt Keon, who turned up with 200 sheets of A4 with random words on. One of the sheets read: "Just like Phuket."
I’ve looked back through some old notes and noticed we wrote down "17 Feet" – we clearly started with the idea of combining our height (actually, of course, 18 feet) instead of using our names. This has often been misinterpreted as starting out with nine people.
We added "& Rising" as a statement that the agency would not be solely defined by the founders. This was a direct lift from 3 Feet High And Rising, the De La Soul album, if you hadn’t guessed already.
While erratic in its creation, it has beautifully put us top of listings alphabetically and we haven’t spent a penny on SEO. So there’s a good lesson in not overthinking things.