AMV goes digital with iChameleon jointventure

Is forging this kind of partnership the best way forward for creative shops looking to provide integration, Noel Bussey asks.

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO stole a march on many of its rivals last week by moving into the online arena with the launch of a joint venture with the US digital shop iChameleon.

The new business venture, which will be based in AMV's offices and retain the iChameleon name, will offer integrated digital solutions and the option of standalone digital creative to AMV's clients. AMV would not provide financial details on the structure of the venture.

IChameleon, which has three offices in the US and works on clients including Coca-Cola, Virgin, De Beers and Victoria's Secret, was founded by Freddie Laker Jnr, the son of Sir Freddie Laker, the airline entrepreneur. Laker Jnr will run the UK agency initially, and will then spread his time between the British and US offices, while both iChameleon and AMV staff will work on the UK business.

AMV is not alone in its desire to move into digital - most, if not all, of the above-the-line agencies are only too aware that clients are increasingly looking for fully integrated solutions, and that means providing a digital offering.

One such agency is Clemmow Hornby Inge. Nick Howarth, its group chief executive, says: "Everyone is obsessed by this at the moment and we are no different. Every chief executive in the country is asking themselves these two questions: 'What is the perfect model?' and 'where do I find the best people?'"

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions.

One option for creative agencies is to buy an existing digital outfit.

Thus far, such sales have been few and far between, with holding companies put off by the fact that good independent digital businesses are over-valued by comparison with more traditional takeover targets.

Another route is to hire digital specialists and have them head a digital arm or dedicated digital agency. However, the dearth of talent within the digital market means agencies are complaining that it is difficult to find experienced staff.

However, Ben Priest, the executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, who has hired four digital creatives in the past year and embedded them within his creative department, believes that the right talent is out there, if creative directors look hard enough and in the right areas.

"People looking for these creatives are probably middle-aged men in grey suits using a headhunter because they've decided to hire some digital talent as an afterthought," he says.

Ian Pearman, the managing partner at AMV, masterminded the deal with iChameleon. He says that the agency took all of these options and problems into consideration before making the decision to enter into a joint venture.

"We first looked at a preferred partnership arrangement with an existing agency, but found that, though there were a lot of good options out there, we didn't get the total integration we wanted."

He adds: "We also looked at cherry-picking the best talent in the industry to head a division, but found we needed three or four individuals who all had the required experience and talent, like-minded views, the correct chemistry and the desire to move down this particular career path. With iCham-eleon, we had that chemistry, experience and talent, giving us the integration we want."

However, Priest believes true integration comes from offering clients an idea that encompasses all advertising media at the very first stage of the creative process, and that means digital creatives sitting alongside their more traditional cousins.

Priest says: "With a separate agency, there is no joined-up thinking. It just seems like a piece of paper is carried down to the digital agency and a website is banged out.

"Because our digital creatives work right in the creative department, they have broken the cycle of just thinking about a 30-second ad. They think in ideas, not in execution. They don't care if their idea eventually ends up on a website or a badge."

By opting to launch a joint venture with a US agency, AMV has circumnavigated many of the problems facing creative agencies when moving into digital.

But such an approach also throws up its own difficulties, such as cultural divides in approaches to work and experiences, as well as technological differences.

Laker Jnr, who has dual US and British nationality and has lived and worked in both countries, believes that it is unfair to make generalisations about the two nations.

"They are both competent and successful. No country is particularly ahead of the other and the relationship we already have with AMV will overcome any cultural differences," he says.

Certainly, iChameleon has a strong creative reputation in the US and, in addition to producing work for its own clients, it has close working ties with Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

Its group creative director is the former Crispin Porter digital creative director Juan Morales, whose most famous work is the "subservient chicken" campaign for Burger King.

Pearman adds: "At the end of the day, geography doesn't really come into it. It's about the people and the fit. IChameleon also has one of the best technological set-ups in the US, which, combined with its creative talent, makes for an outstanding opportunity for us."