CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: PROFILE - FELIX VELARDE. Head New Media has found its spiritual home within Lowes. Felix Velarde wasn’t going to accept just any agency, Gordon Macmillan writes

The recent acquisition by the Lowe Group of a stake in the digital agency, Head New Media, surprised a few people in the industry.

The recent acquisition by the Lowe Group of a stake in the digital

agency, Head New Media, surprised a few people in the industry.

The shock was not so much that Lowe had invested in a leading web

production company - it was a well-flagged move and part of the

Interpublic-owned network’s carefully constructed new-media strategy.

What was surprising was that the web company in question had agreed to

the deal.

Head’s managing director is Felix Velarde, a self-declared ad agency

cynic who has gone into print to state his firmly held view that

’advertising agencies should stick to what they know ...’. He has, to

put it mildly, been scathing about the activities of ad agencies in new


So what’s changed? Well, not that much actually. ’I’m still scathing,’

he says. ’I just think an awful lot of ad agencies try to reapply old

rules to new media. New media is non-linear. It’s about the user. It is

not about what you want to sell, it’s about what the consumer wants to

buy - and those things are diametrically opposed.’

Velarde is one of those people who just can’t help speaking his


The simple truth is that, when it comes to new media, he believes that

things should be done in a certain way. And if they’re not, then they

are glib, facile and really not very good.

Not surprisingly, he is often accused of arrogance. ’It’s something that

I’ve recognised and tried to work on, but I think all I can do now is

demonstrate the effectiveness of certain types of work. To demonstrate

that our approach is right and that others are not.’

It is this conviction, shared with his partners at Head, that has led

them to hold out for the right kind of offer, from the right kind of


As he said - in typically candid fashion - in Campaign at the time of

the deal: it had to be a Bartle Bogle Hegarty or Lowe Howard-Spink, not

a McCann-Erickson. And Lowe, he says, was not the first to offer: ’We

have spoken to Omnicom and just about everyone else.’

It is often difficult to believe people when they tell you very

earnestly that it isn’t about the money, it’s about finding the right

partner - you know, like a marriage. But Velarde had a very clear idea

of the type of partner Head wanted to be with.

He sees the Lowe Group’s attitude to advertising as analogous to Head’s

attitude to new media. ’Any relationship had to focus on the brand and

be about creative freedom. Head is intensively creatively focused, as is

Lowe. It’s what they’re known for - but also they have size and we

wanted to grow to a global size very quickly.’

Marc Cave, executive vice-president of the Lowe Group and the man who is

charged with expanding its new-media interests, sees like minds


’He’s a pioneer,’ Cave says of Velarde. ’We came across him and Jason

(Holland, the Head creative director) and thought they were our ideal

creative partners in new media. They’ve built a successful agency from

scratch which we think is the best of its type in the UK. Like us, they

are concerned with creative quality first and foremost, and I’m sure

that is what has bred their success.’

Even at this early stage of the relationship, there are encouraging

signs. On the back of a joint presentation by Lowe Howard-Spink, Head

and Decipher, the digital management consultancy that Lowe bought last

year, Tesco appointed the three to develop an interactive TV


These are new areas for Lowe and according to Tim Lindsay, the president

of Lowe & Partners Europe, this is where the Head deal will pay


’I think Felix will be a real asset to us, particularly in broadening

the range of services we offer to our clients,’ he says.

Another success is UDV. It appointed Head to develop its global intranet

just six weeks before it fired Lowe as its global agency. Add to that

clients like PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Mars and Lotus and Head starts to

look like a useful business proposition.

Velarde’s involvement with the ad industry - for all the venom he

directs against it - could have begun 14 years earlier. Not long into

his first job in sales at the now-defunct Harrington Kilbride, he was

offered a job as a media buying trainee at Lintas. ’I wanted to get into

advertising but it paid pounds 7,000 a year and I couldn’t live on


It’s been a long and circuitous route, but one suspects that Felix

Velarde has finally found his spiritual home.


1985: Harrington Kilbride, advertising sales executive

1989: Kingsway, sales director for launch of Sports Digest

1992: Launched Al Hadiya (the gift), a luxury goods magazine

1994: Launched Hyperinteractive with Richard Mellor

1997: Broke away to form Head New Media

1998: Sold stake to Lowe Group.


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