CAMPAIGNDIRECT: ISSUE M&C SAATCHI - M&C plunges into DM with ambitious double act/The pairing of Lisa Thomas and David Harris is making waves at the agency, Eleanor Trickett says

If an art director tried to sketch the concept of opposites, he could well come up with a thumbnail of Lisa Thomas and David Harris, the founding partners of M&C Saatchi’s direct marketing venture.

If an art director tried to sketch the concept of opposites, he

could well come up with a thumbnail of Lisa Thomas and David Harris, the

founding partners of M&C Saatchi’s direct marketing venture.

The tall, dark, placid, slightly Mark Lamarr-esque creative and the

petite, gregarious, oh-so-capable blonde suit (you work out which is

which) are sitting around the biggest boardroom table in the world, amid

the general clutter and hub-bub of M&C Saatchi, plotting world


For the M&C Saatchi direct agency is finally ready to launch, after a

lengthy search for a creative partner since Thomas’s appointment in


Although it doesn’t yet have a name (the smart money’s on an abstract

name along the lines of Joshua or Circus), it has three clients and a

positively ravenous senior management.

As the conversation begins, however, initial impressions of complete

polarity between Thomas and Harris soon fade and a more enduring feeling

of seeing two sides of a coin takeover. As with all start-ups, the

partners wax lyrical over the meeting of minds and identical outlook.

What is out of the ordinary in Thomas and Harris’s situation is the

sheer amount of time and effort it took to get them in the same room, at

the same time, on the same payroll.

While a creative partner has officially been sought since Thomas,

formerly the managing director-in-waiting of Craik Jones, came on board,

it has in reality taken far longer. Rumours that M&C was up to something

with a below-the-line flavour kicked off last year as the agency started

a trawl of direct marketing’s creative superstars. Not a single creative

director went unturned.

What Nick Hurrell - the joint chief executive of M&C and the project’s

architect - found in David Harris, IMP’s executive creative director,

was not only a talented art director with a bookful of ideas, but a

calm, inspirational leader and a champion of creative direct


Just as important is Harris’s ability to make all things below the line

credible and worthy of top-table status. During his four years as

creative director, Harris’s department won awards for a whole tranche of

clients, not just the one or two more adventurous ones.

He and his team also gained a degree of fame and recognition within the

D’Arcy group, with Harris’s name frequently popping up on the agenda of

international group conferences, firing up above-the-line creative

directors with his evangelism.

His career began at respectable above-the-line agencies, starting out at

Allen Brady & Marsh before joining Geers Gross and then


The importance of that background can’t be overstated: while the

advertising world has begun to embrace direct marketing as not so much a

necessary evil but an exciting revenue earner, try telling that to some

of the purists in the ad agencies themselves. What Harris offers,

therefore, is a shining example of a happy conversion for those at M&C

who may feel that direct marketing is an unwanted relative being forced

upon them.

Thomas is a relative old hand at M&C as she has been squatting in

various account groups ever since she was taken on to launch the direct


During her integration into M&C, and especially with the above-the-line

clients that the outfit is likely to scoop, she has laid the ground work

for a symbiosis between the parent agency and its offspring.

Among Thomas’s strengths is the fierce loyalty she engenders from

clients, who have trusted her with ideas that seemed plain clunky to

start with.

At the launch of Land Rover’s Freelander, for example, everyone hated

the name - Thomas’s idea - but it now slides off the tongue as easily as

wet mud off a hubcap.

And speaking of cars, Thomas could prove the secret weapon in M&C’s

calculated courtship of Rover, given her extensive experience on the

below-the-line account.

Hurrell draws a parallel with Walker Media when it set up - although the

direct operation is majority-owned by M&C while the more independent

Walker is 50/50: ’It’s all about the people. M&C people didn’t really

want to ’do’ media, but now Christine (Walker) and Phil (Georgiadis) are

there, they all want to use them. People here really like Lisa and David

and because of that, direct will work.’

Thomas has her sleeves well and truly rolled up now, as she finally has

a partner with whom to get the show on the road. ’Up until now, I have

tried not to define - either inside or outside the agency - what sort of

operation I want this to be, other than it was to be a strategic and

creative one.’

Thomas’s background at Craik Jones was the perfect foundation for such a

task, and it seems inevitable that much of her alma mater’s philosophy

will be reincarnated in her new shop’s outlook. ’It is imperative that

direct marketing and relationship marketing becomes more strategic,’ she

tub-thumps. ’Clients don’t just buy a direct mail campaign, they buy a

strategic plan.’

Thomas has been portrayed as an audacious young upstart by many a

bar-room pundit before now. Indeed, her rise at Wunderman Cato Johnson,

where she was before moving to Craik Jones, can only be described as


John Shaw, her then managing director and current managing director of

Brann’s European agencies, says: ’Lisa was one of the youngest and

fastest account directors that we ever had, and I always thought that

she would go on to greater things. She was a very good team player and

now I’m sure she’ll be a great team leader, as she involves other


Harris’s first project at Allen Brady Marsh may sound insignificant but

was an epiphany of sorts. ’It was to design some beermats for Harp

lager,’ he reminisces. ’One went on to be a TV commercial, one went on

to be a poster. I realised that a good idea can travel across all media,

and the seed was planted for a through-the-line future.’

David Jones, D’Arcy’s European client services director, attests to

this: ’He is extraordinarily versatile, and builds no fences between

different sorts of communications, proving that it is possible to have a

high level of creativity running through all media and techniques.’

Where M&C differs in its approach from, say, BMP DDB and Claydon

Heeley’s joint venture, Jones Mason Barton Antenen, is that it seems

initially less focused on volume and more concerned with philosophy.

While Hurrell vaguely waves his hand in the direction of wanting to be a

top three agency ’in the next few years’, he is more concerned that the

outfit and its staff are just right.

’Lisa is young,’ Hurrell enthuses, ’and we like that; young, confident

people who aren’t part of the establishment. Craik Jones has a great

creative reputation, so someone from there is ideally suited to us.’

Hurrell is also convinced that he has the cream of the crop in


’His book was incredibly impressive, not only the direct-related stuff

but a whole bunch of other things. He’s also a great leader; not the

type to bang his shoe on the table, but he could persuade you to walk

off a cliff.’

The chemistry between the partners is obvious - even as they were having

their pictures taken for Campaign, they suffered a fit of the giggles

and had to be separated. A grown-up pair who are more than capable of

being extremely silly; if anyone can bring to life the excitement and

potential that direct marketing offers to a sceptical bunch of admen,

they can.