Bean MC was a good team with different views of its future.
So, what happened then? The demise of Bean MC (Campaign, last week) was
a surprise to most people, and the nature of the announcement - a terse,
two paragraph release, leaving us plenty of room to read between the
lines - made it clear that the split was not an entirely amicable one.
Actually, the two camps into which the partners have divided are still
talking - just. But the one thing Paul and Gary Marshall, in one corner,
and Robert Bean and Mark Cramphorn, in the other, have agreed, is that
they won’t speak to anyone else about the reasons for the split.
This is what we’ve got to go on officially: ‘Bean MC, the creative
independent started in September 1994, today announced that its four
founding partners are to part company. Paul and Gary Marshall, the
creative 50 per cent of the agency, wished to keep Bean MC going. But
Mark Cramphorn and Robert Bean, the management half, found that their
interests and ambitions were no longer being served by the agency.
‘The Marshalls, without proper management support, have decided to
consider their long-term options, freelancing for the immediate future.
While Cramphorn and Bean have decided to start a new brand development
company which will temporarily trade under the name Bean Cramphorn.’
Ouch! No prizes for guessing which of the two parties were at the
keyboard for that statement. Clearly, the Marshalls are piqued with
their former ‘management half’. What does ‘found that their interests
and ambitions were no longer being served by the agency’ really mean?
To find out we have to go back to the launch of Bean MC in July 1994. In
a feature headlined ‘Back to Basics’, Campaign told of a shop set up
simply to ‘make ads’. With an emphasis on creative outsourcing, a
‘virtual’ network of planners and the use of media independents; with
clients invited in early in the creative process, payment by fee plus
bonuses and a willingness to handle business on a project basis as well
as retained clients, Bean MC looked likely to fill an interesting niche
in an otherwise crowded marketplace.
Superficially, it looked a dream set-up for the Marshalls (‘creative
nirvana’ was the phrase we used at the time). ‘What swings it for us is
that old crappy thing about being in charge of your own destiny,’ Paul
Marshall said. ‘It will be fun. Gary, in particular, wants more contact
with clients. We just want to get back to the work.’
And, actually, that is exactly what the Marshalls have done. In Bean
MC’s brief lifespan they have been involved with more than 20 completed
projects, not to mention new-business prospects. The most high-profile
of the bunch remains the Virgin Radio launch poster campaign and TV and
print work for Laser Sales. However, the Marshalls also turned out work
for clients such as Voluntary Services Overseas, Foundation Health, the
South Bank, Planet Internet, Smash Hits, Time Warner Interactive and, of
Surely, the Marshalls should have been happy. Their output at their
former agency, Leagas Delaney, included work for Harrods, Mothercare,
the Guardian, Jazz FM and UK Gold. Their style is distinct: beautifully
crafted art direction and typography married to clever wordplay. It
seems suited to press ads, single pages or double-page spreads. They are
among the very best at that kind of work. And their posters aren’t bad
But a question mark remains over their versatility in the face of the
variety of business an agency like Bean MC attracts, above and beyond
the needs of a start-up shop. It is no secret that ‘the management half’
has been hankering after larger business on a retained basis for some
Perhaps this is where Bean and Cramphorn lie open to criticism. Did they
make it clear to the Marshalls just what kind of agency they envisaged?
Bean himself, talking over the past few months, remains unbowed. The
agency has attracted a good deal of business. Unfortunately, for one
reason or another - not least among which were internal disagreements -
it has had to turn away, or decline to pitch for, a great deal more.
Nevertheless the agency was profitable from the start, and there has
never been an outside investor; not even an overdraft facility. The
structure of the agency, with its fees and outsourcing resulting in
extremely low overheads, made sure of that.
Reviewing last year ahead of Campaign’s Top 300 report, Bean saw the
successes of the venture as its ability to unblock the over-complicated
process of advertising; its low overheads, the focus on work the
structure permitted and the ability to handle a variety of clients and
fit teams to each client.
And the weaknesses? The lack of a guaranteed income results in a
project-by-project business and that can cause a great strain. What’s
more, there is something unsatisfying about working for clients and then
letting go. Some of the pleasure in advertising is surely derived from
getting under the skin of a client’s brands.
What went wrong for Bean MC was primarily personal. It turned out that
it was just the wrong combination of people for the venture. This is not
to insult either party and it would be a shame if they could not part
Bean and Cramphorn, if we are to take the statement at face value,
believe in the structure of the company enough that it will be recreated
in their new venture. However, the key difference in their new ‘brand
development and communications’ company is a willingness to acknowledge
the increased client requirement for an integrated service, so missing
from the previous ‘simply doing ads’ ethos.
As for the Marshalls, their future is less certain in the short term.
However, long term, they are among the most talented guns for hire on
the market, and they will almost certainly be snapped up. Probably they
would do best in an agency like Lowe Howard-Spink, or back at Leagas
Delaney, where they would be free to pursue the kind of work they are
The four are known and respected in the industry. Their talents are not
in question, but their experience is another example that advertising is
‘a people business’.