CLOSE-UP: THE CAMPAIGN INTERVIEW/ADRIAN KEMSLEY; Tamed talent plans revolutionary changes at CDP

Karen Yates wonders if the new creative chief of CDP is as barking mad as ever

Karen Yates wonders if the new creative chief of CDP is as barking mad

as ever

Everyone in advertising has heard of Adrian Kemsley, right? He’s the one

who did ‘furry friends’. A wild boy. Lights his own farts at parties.

Pretty good at it, too.

Or was. The new Kemsley, we are told, is an altogether more sober

affair. Or more mature, anyway. No, the man who will join Collett

Dickenson Pearce as executive creative director, we hear, is not the

loose cannon of old - and he gave up scatalogical party tricks years


Convincing? Well, it has a nice logical feel to it. From his meteoric

rise at Saatchi and Saatchi, through his ‘bruising’ time at Cowan

Kemsley Taylor and subsequent recovery at Ammirati Puris Lintas, the

story could read something like this: Boy finds fame too early. Fame

goes to head. Boy and ego start up agency with friends. Sparks fly.

Wunderkind matures under healing influence of strong multinational


This is followed by the latest chapter, the one where a tamed but still

talented Kemsley takes back the reins he chucked away in his youth. ‘I

have mellowed a lot since the Saatchi days,’ he declares. ‘The realities

of running my own agency gave me a good smack in the face.’

However, stories of the Kemsley ego still follow him around like chicks

behind a hen. One recent example tells of how he unilaterally declared

himself head of art at the then Still Price Lintas while his creative

director was on holiday. He even went to the trouble of having new

business cards printed. Worse, perhaps, if you ask Kemsley whether the

tale is true, he screws his boyish good looks into a smile and shrugs as

if to say ‘Where’s the sin?’ In his view, art direction at the agency

needed new impetus and he was the best man for the job.

Still, Kemsley’s absolute confidence in his own ability may well stand

him in good stead in his new home. When he unpacks his pencils in Soho

Square next month, he will be the eighth creative director to do so at

CDP in six years. And his wagon will be firmly hitched to an agency with

a rich creative heritage, but not much personality. An agency that has

tried to pull itself out of obscurity several times over the years, and


With the ink barely dry on his contract, Kemsley has already sketched

out a revolutionary future for his department. This envisages sweeping

away the rigidity of the old creative team structure, allowing

individuals instead a free hand in developing their own advertising. In

this new way of working, a brief will be given to two individuals - not

necessarily from the same partnership - and both of these will be asked

to come up with ideas.

Whoever comes up with a winning scenario will get to carry the concept

through in the way he or she thinks best. This could be with their

traditional partner or, more controversially, with someone else. Even

outsiders, such as a director.

It’s a bold idea, and one that also, perhaps, offers an insight into

Kemsley. This is the single-minded, enthusiastic Kemsley, capable of

inspiring passionate loyalty in younger teams who work for him, but who

has little truck with consensus or compromise. The trait has often led

him into trouble with colleagues.

‘He’s barking mad, a complete nutter,’ one suit from the old days says.

‘If he disagrees with you, he can fly into a sulk that can last for

days.’ Others prefer only to hint at the personality clashes of his

past. Paul Cowan, for example, managing partner of CKT and one of its

original founders with Kemsley, fell out badly with his former partner,

but now says rather mildly: ‘He’s got very strong opinions about

advertising, which will probably be good for putting CDP on the creative


In full flow, Kemsley can be charming. His conversations are often

punctuated by hilarious impressions of other people, and he can be

disarmingly frank. For example, when talk turns to his most famous work,

‘dog, cat, mouse’, for the Solid Fuel Advisory Bureau, his eyes roll


‘That’s all I’m remembered for - like a bloody one-hit wonder!’ comes

the retort. Nevertheless, he admits that things ‘didn’t really start

happening’ for him at CKT, where - in those days - every ad could have

put his house on the line. Since then, he says, he has done good work at

Lintas. The sort of work that multinational clients like Flora and the

Economist demand, but that does not necessarily walk off with awards.

So, can Kemsley make a difference at CDP, or will his lone-achiever

tendency get up the noses of the rest of the management before his magic

can work? Can the man who has a photo of himself emblazoned on the back

of his business card stop playing the ‘me’ game and start welding a

harmonious department?

In his favour is the fact that whatever Kemsley lacks on the team player

side, he has in spades on energy and motivation. And he still gets a

thrill from the cut and thrust of new business - a priority for CDP’s

Japanese owners as they go all out for critical mass in London.

Mark Lund, who used to work with Kemsley at Lintas and is now the

managing director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell, has particularly fond

memories of the boy wonder as a new-business ally. He has few of the

doubts assailing other former workmates and describes him as a

‘thrumming, humming powerhouse’ at new-business meetings. ‘He’ll be a

real focus for CDP’s creative product - a lightning rod to harness the

good things about its present and its past.’


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus