CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AGENCY NAMES - Ego versus emotion: new rules for the name game. Funky or straight? The sign above your door says a lot about you, Emma Hall says

It used to be so simple. Just bung an assortment of names over the door and there you had it.

It used to be so simple. Just bung an assortment of names over the

door and there you had it.

Boase, Massimi and Pollitt did it. So did Abbott, Mead and Vickers. Then

came another wave of successful start-ups in the late 80s, none of whose

founders - including Howell, Henry, Chaldecott and Lury and Simons,

Palmer, Denton, Clemmow and Johnson, - worried about their unwieldy

names sticking in people’s throats, just as long as they were well and

truly visible above the door.

Of course, there was always the row over the touchy subject of whose

name went first. But the principle was never in question - until

recently, that is. St Luke’s blazed a trail in 1995, but it wasn’t until

Mother launched in 1997 that the trend for off-beat agency names was

properly established. Now it seems that more and more start-ups are

coming up with wacky names.

There’s Soul, Rocket, Unity, Circus, Karmarama. And now, as announced in

Campaign last week, there’s Naked.

Why have all these new outfits shunned the traditional agency naming

device? Dave Buonaguidi, a partner of Karmarama, says bluntly: ’The

whole thing is so male and egotistical. It’s a power trip for people who

set up a business just to fatten it up and flog it. I’m not on that


Buonaguidi remembers the time - a few years ago - when he was in

discussions about starting up an agency. His would-be partner told him:

’The best thing about having your name above the door is that you can

walk into reception and there, right in front of you, is a beautiful

girl picking up the phone and saying your name.’

Jeremy Miles, a partner at the newly formed Miles Calcraft Briginshaw

Duffy, wants to distance his ’old-fashioned’ agency name from this sort

of dubious reasoning. ’We are building a quality brand, and some names

can sound temporary. Having our names over the door is a point of

differentiation and it suits our positioning as a grown-up start-up. I

know from my experience at Abbott Mead Vickers that clients like to deal

with the names over the door.’

At Naked, however, founding partner John Harlow is intent on avoiding

the hierarchical structure that he says is an inevitable result of

naming the agency after its founders.

’We work in the business of building brands and we want to create a

brand that is bigger than the individual. If there are names above the

door, clients want to deal with one of those names. Anyway, I’d be

embarrassed to have my name over the door,’ he says.

The story behind Mother has similar reasoning. Robert Saville, one of

its founders, says: ’We develop brands and we wouldn’t dream of

recommending that a client calls a new pet food ’cereals, oils and

animal derivatives’, so we shouldn’t rely on legal practice nomenclature

for ourselves.’

Miles admits that he and his partners spent days ’wrestling’ with

alternative names. And Graham Deakin, a partner at Malcolm Moore Deakin

Blazey, admits that naming the agency was the hardest thing of all when

it launched this May. ’We oscillated between funky and straight names,’

he says.

’But in the end, we thought: ’What are we offering our clients?’ We are

four senior partners who’ve ’done the do’ and know how to get


Clients want to touch knees with people whose names are over the


If we had a funky name, clients wouldn’t know whether or not the

founders were in the room.’

In the dotcom era, good, memorable names are now increasingly valuable

and difficult to own. A collection of names is more likely to be

available to copyright at a time when entrepreneurs are busy buying up

every potential brand name under the sun.

Duncan Bird, a partner in Soul, found that many of his ideas for names

had already been taken. ’So many people are making money out of names at

the moment. The Halifax has just spent pounds 1 million buying the name

’If’ for its new financial services brand.’

With a name such as Soul, Bird says, the agency is ’creating a brand

that everyone can join in. We want to be successful, attract good people

and grow, and it makes it easier for new people to be senior players if

the founders don’t have their names over the door.’

There is, however, one principle that all the agencies agree on - it’s

not what you’re called, it’s your reel that counts.

Saville says: ’It’s nice to have a name you like, but a name only gets

meaning as a result of what you do. I can’t criticise people for having

their names on the door. When you’ve broken free, part of your ego wants

everyone to know it. And some names are a big bonus - David Abbott

(Abbott Mead Vickers), Tim Delaney (Leagas Delaney) and Dave Trott

(various) were all huge draws. It works if your name has meaning.’

And even if your name doesn’t have meaning, it can take on relevance if

your new agency is a success. Neither Rainey, Kelly, Campbell and Roalfe

nor Simons, Palmer and the rest were at the top of their games when they

started their own agencies.

Eventually, though, these names became brands in their own right because

of the successful agencies behind them. The name Rainey Kelly doesn’t

conjure up MT and Jim personally - it has become a brand name referring

to everyone who works at the agency.

Suzanna Trollope, the head of naming at Interbrand Newell & Sorrell,

sums it up: ’Naming is a crucial part of the branding mix, and it’s

important to get it right first time. Then you can set about building

meaning into the name.’


AGENCY                       WHAT THE FOUNDERS SAY ...

Malcolm Moore Deakin Blazey  It’s more about creating a brand

                             than just a name. Our logo captures

                             our honest, brave, cheeky approach

                             to advertising

Karmarama                    Karma is an important part of our

                             way of doing things. The name is

                             liberating and fun

Naked                        The word suggests the essence of what

                             we aim to deliver - pure, simple,

                             unadulterated brand communication.

                             In a world awash with brand

                             messages, crystal clarity is the only

                             guarantor of cut-through. Brands

                             have to get naked

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw    We wanted to create a durable brand

Duffy                        name, not something that could sound

                             transitory or even old-fashioned

Soul                         We want to get to the soul of brands,

                             and we all love the music

Mother                       Mother will always tell you what she

                             thinks and she doesn’t need a

                             go-between when she wants to talk to

                             you - it’s you and her versus the world

AGENCY                       CAMPAIGN’S THINKING ...

Malcolm Moore Deakin Blazey  We vaguely recognise the names, but

                             they’re not saying a lot to us so far

Karmarama                    A new age name for a new age agency with

                             no ambitions beyond being a niche player

Naked                        Attention-grabbing and earnest, all at

                             the same time. And a good starting point

                             for lots of puns

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw    This agency is serious about creating

Duffy                        itself in David Abbott’s image.

                             The original grown-up start-up

Soul                         Sounds a bit wishy-washy. But we get the


Mother                       Adland was dubious to start with, but now

                             they all wish they’d thought of it first