CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: The enigmatic Englishman who took South Africa by storm. Ex-lawyer Graham Warsop set up the nation’s largest independent shop Here he talks to Karen Yates

Graham Warsop is trying not to beam with delight as we dissect Leo Burnett’s recent deal to acquire a stake in Bartle Bogle Hegarty. But the parallels - however humble - are too exciting to ignore. So the ambitious founder of South Africa’s largest independent agency, the Jupiter Drawing Room, is wolfing down the details with the eagerness of Just William clutching a humbug jar. News of the deal, in which Burnetts took a large minority stake in BBH, has just broken.

Graham Warsop is trying not to beam with delight as we dissect Leo

Burnett’s recent deal to acquire a stake in Bartle Bogle Hegarty. But

the parallels - however humble - are too exciting to ignore. So the

ambitious founder of South Africa’s largest independent agency, the

Jupiter Drawing Room, is wolfing down the details with the eagerness of

Just William clutching a humbug jar. News of the deal, in which Burnetts

took a large minority stake in BBH, has just broken.



And Warsop is doing a sterling job at not smacking his lips at the cash

BBH now has to plough into its own expansion. Noooo. There’s no smacking

allowed in the foyer of the Ritz, and Warsop is every inch a Ritz

man.



The Jupiter Drawing Room has been South Africa’s fastest-growing agency

for the past two years. It has won Agency of the Year in its category

every year since 1991, and has the highest creative awards-to-billings

ratio of any agency in the country. So, where is Jupiter going next?



Warsop, a personable and approachable 40-year-old, will not be drawn -

on specifics, anyway. With a sweep of the hand, there are allusions to

his independent status and hints of deals with multinationals. But

Warsop is too interested in the BBH thing to launch his own sales

pitch.



’What does Burnetts get out of it?’ he muses. ’I guess BBH will use the

money for the US. What does everyone else think of the deal?’



Despite being based in Johannesburg, he’s a man who follows the London

advertising scene closely - particularly fellow independent shops. What

do I think of St Luke’s? Great Astra win for Rainey Kelly! How’s the

Simons Palmer merger going? Warsop has landed in London. The creative

mothership. Land of Hegarty and Abbott. Although South Africa has been

his home for ten years, in some ways, the Englishman in Warsop never

left.



The schoolboy prankster, for example, who wins awards with press ads

calling Martin Sorrell ’an odious little shit’ (quoting someone else, of

course).



The gentleman of letters who names his agency after a Parisian brothel

in a short story by Guy de Maupassant. And, finally, the English

eccentric whose mascot is a stray bull terrier called Polly, who turned

up one day at the agency and was made head of security.



Warsop began life as a lawyer, the proper way, with a degree from

Cambridge.



It was about the time Out of Africa was doing the rounds in the cinema

that he decided he’d had enough. ’While I was enthusing about a new film

I’d seen, my colleagues were sitting round talking about the finer

points of English law.’ So he quit to write a novel and visited his

brother in South Africa. The stay dragged on and the money ran out, so

in 1987 he took a job as a copywriter. The next year his first

television campaign picked up a record number of awards at the Loeries,

South Africa’s annual advertising competition.



A year later, Warsop started up his own agency with two pals and one

client (worth pounds 130,000). The rest of the story is the kind of

rags-to-riches stuff dreams and movies are made of: the first South

African agency to have print work accepted by the D&AD; an imposing

colonial-style building; claimed billings of more than pounds 30

million; and a mini-empire stretching from advertising to human

resources.



It’s tempting, at this point, to push Warsop ever so slightly harder on

where Jupiter will go next. But Warsop just flashes another of his

if-I-told-you-where-the-tuckbox-is- you’d-pinch-it smiles. ’Let me ask

you a question,’ he replies. ’Do you think it’s possible to build an

international brand from South Africa?’



Since this interview the Jupiter group has moved into Europe with the

purchase of a below-the-line agency, Foresight (Europe).





FACT FILE

1984: Graduates from Cambridge University with master’s degree in Law

1986: Qualifies as a barrister. Leaves law to write a novel

1987: Visits South Africa. Takes job as a junior copywriter in an

      advertising agency

1988: First TV campaign wins awards at the Loeries, South Africa’s

      annual ad competition

1989: Launches the Jupiter Drawing Room

1993: Elected chairman of the South African Creative Directors’ Forum

1994: Selected for the Cannes International Adver-tising Festival film

      jury

1997: Jupiter becomes South Africa’s largest independent agency group



Topics