CAMPAIGN CRAFT: PROFILE: Battle-scarred double act finds haven at Publicis - Richard Cook talks to Keith Courtney and Rob Janowski about their jump to safety

Many successful service companies experience problems with cash flow from time to time. For ad agencies especially, the loss of a single large account can precipitate an uncomfortable few months. And then sometimes, of course, it gets even worse.

Many successful service companies experience problems with cash

flow from time to time. For ad agencies especially, the loss of a single

large account can precipitate an uncomfortable few months. And then

sometimes, of course, it gets even worse.

Sometimes the dreaded administrators are brought in to pronounce their

diagnosis of the patient’s overall health. When that happens, you better

believe the situation is serious. But when the administrators themselves

are displaced by even more stern-faced money men and have to join the

self-same list of creditors they started, the situation isn’t merely

serious, it’s time to call in the priest for the last rites. Yet that is

precisely what happened at Leagas Shafron Davis when the agency finally

collapsed last month.

In fact, an agency whose reputation was in large part based on its

handling of the Inland Revenue, Royal & SunAlliance and other financial

accounts, rapidly found itself in financial free-fall. Staff salaries

were left unpaid and the employees themselves were reduced to grabbing

master tapes of ads and other potentially valuable material to hold

hostage in the mad hours before the doors of their plush new office

building were closed for the last time.

Rob Janowski, one half of Publicis’s newest creative team, had already

left by then. He was one of 12 staff axed at the beginning of March in a

futile last-ditch attempt to stave off the worst. He still hasn’t been

paid and remains perplexed by the suddenness of the fall.

’The agency always seemed so penny-pinching in its approach to spending

anything which, though it might have been frustrating at the time, meant

you never felt it would get into financial difficulties,’ he


Talking about this from the brand-new corner office he now shares at

Publicis with his former creative director, now creative partner, Keith

Courtney, Janowski ought, you might think, to have put his experience at

Leagas Shafron behind him. But it still rankles. It wasn’t the quality

of the creative work, but the quality of management that brought the

agency down, he says. And that hurts.

What he doesn’t say (and nor, pointedly, does his normally ebullient

partner, Courtney) is how much it hurts to see this management team

continuing to determine the fate of Leagas Shafron’s crucial Government

accounts, while at the same time asking their staff to apply to the

client for their unpaid salary cheques.

’It was a difficult time creatively,’ Courtney explains, ’not least

because we were dealing with very young teams who, like all young teams,

tend either to produce great work or nothing at all. You would find

yourself having to have much more involvement in their work than a

creative director might ordinarily. Then again, because the agency was

in such trouble you would find yourself put into a suit and wheeled out

to meet the clients at each and every opportunity - all of which

interfered with the work.’

Against that gloomy backdrop, the output was commendable, led by a

low-budget Sanyo film that put the brand back on TV and which had a

campaign budget not dissimilar to the TV production budget on just one

of their new agency’s Renault commercials.

’I’m not saying that money is important for creativity,’ Courtney says,

’but if you are having to devote your time every day to staving off

financial ruin, you’re bound to take your eye off the ball a bit.

’And the other thing is you get too desperate with ads when you know how

important the client is to the agency,’ Janowski chips in, ’which I

think is what happened on Royal & SunAlliance. It was clear from the

start that we were never going to retain the business and yet, instead

of giving it up as a lost cause and pitching for new stuff, we had to

try and second guess what we thought the client wanted. We ended up

making ads by committee, really.’

Janowski was quickly offered a new home by Gerry Moira at Publicis,

entirely on the strength of a diverse book that included a lot of

financially oriented work from Leagas Shafron and his preceding two

years at Ayer, alongside surprisingly eclectic stuff like an ad for

British Knights and an anti-vivisection piece he produced with Courtney

shortly after the two were teamed up.

Courtney’s track record includes more conventional highlights -

including the controversial Pentax campaign that won a host of garlands

at the Campaign Press Awards two years ago and which also sparked a

furious plagiarism row. But then Courtney was no stranger to controversy

and upheaval even before the demise of Leagas Shafron. He started his

career, after all, under Dave Trott at GGT and left at the same time as

his mentor amid a storm of acrimony. Later, after spells at Simons

Palmer, Lowe Howard-Spink and as a freelance, he joined K


A month later he found himself as a 29-year-old creative director

following the collapse of a management buyout and the subsequent

departure of many of the agency’s top talent. There was just time to fit

in a football-themed campaign for Carlsberg and the controversial Pentax

ads. ’There was nothing particularly innovative about the idea,’ he says

now, showing those photographs with the quality control stickers on,

’but you can’t deny we were the first ones who got the work out and got

the client to agree to it.’

Courtney jumped ship to Leagas Shafron just ahead of Saatchi & Saatchi’s

decision to effectively close K. ’I saw the situation at Leagas Shafron

and I had started to prepare a parachute,’ is his straightforward

explanation of how he came to be united with Janowski.

In a sense, it’s a new start for both of them. There are no hierarchies

in the Publicis creative department, so the former creative director and

deputy creative director have a less impressive title on their business

cards these days, but they do get the chance to work on some impressive


And, of course, Publicis has the resources that Leagas Shafron could

only dream of. ’I needed a book,’ Courtney says, ’and was prepared to

pay for it and wait for the agency perhaps to pay me back at some point

in the distant future, like at Leagas Shafron, only to find they had an

account at the shop,’ he laughs. ’Oh, yes, it’s just fantastic here,’

and somehow, knowing everything that has happened before, you can’t help

believing him.