CLOSE-UP: Live Issue/Boymeetsgirl - IPG venture lures Law back into the corporate fold

Could Boymeetsgirl signal the end of the S&J brand in London?

Andy Law's re-emergence after a brief three-month stint in the advertising wilderness reads a bit like a scene from the classic comedy of opposites The Odd Couple. It seems a bizarre relationship for Law - the figurehead behind the convention-bucking co-operative St Luke's - to partner IPG to run the traditional, conservative Springer & Jacoby London office.

Under the deal, Law has been given free rein to build a new entity, called Boymeetsgirl, by combining the below-the-line agency The Reef and S&J.

The operation, to be launched in September, will place Kate Stanners at the creative helm of an agency that aims to offer "multi-disciplined" creative solutions, while David Pensel takes the chief executive role.

Media-neutral, cross-media - these terms have been used before to position a new agency from the standard services in the market. While it is intriguing to hear Law describe Boymeetsgirl as St Luke's version two and "based on the rules of attraction", the real issue is why IPG has decided to embark on this venture; especially, given the financial scrutiny IPG is under, a venture using a business model called a limited liability partnership.

Bob Willott, the editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence, believes that the talk about the LLP model being something radical is more gamesmanship on Law's part than a mould-breaking model: "My guess is that this is a very limited exposure by IPG. It is hoping that by bringing in Law and Stanners it will be able to breathe life into the London office."

And that could be the crux of IPG's motivation. The S&J London office has under-performed since its launch in the UK in 1999. The view is that the launch of a new entity and a new brand is no more risky for IPG than trying to breathe life into an existing name that has failed to make an impact.

S&J has only managed to pick up small accounts, such as Burberry and Penhaligon, with its raison d'etre remaining the DaimlerChrysler global corporate account. It has not managed to pry any more business from the car manufacturer's other UK roster agencies.

Paul Slaymaker, who has been running both The Reef and S&J, claims that no firm decision has yet been made to drop the S&J brand name in the UK but new clients will be serviced with the Boymeetsgirl brand. However, perhaps in a nod to the corporate nature of its biggest client, DaimlerChrysler will continue to see the S&J name above the office door.

"These two businesses need a new name because it is a different business model. We may continue to use the S&J name in some parts of the operation, we are still finalising the details," he says.

Slaymaker has been running the two agencies with very little senior management support, and the St Luke's boardroom coup that ousted Stanners and Law happened to be perfectly timed to hammer out a deal to bring in the new team.

He believes the new model will alleviate the problems he has faced with management. "A disadvantage of earn-out deals is talent management. Staff manage well during their earn-out period but then leave and the new owner is left with an agency that has been run with a very short-term view.

Under the new model the share-out is ongoing and that helps people remain committed and incentivised and allows for better succession management."

Slaymaker is the critical link between Law's team and IPG going forward.

He was the architect behind the sale of 35.5 per cent of S&J to True North in 2000. IPG now controls 51 per cent of the global S&J Group. And his strong relationship with David Bell, IPG's chief executive, makes his working relationship with the new management team critical to the success of Boymeetsgirl. Law's aspirations to have international capability rest with Slaymaker as the international and strategic development director at the new agency.

"There are aspirations to develop internationally and we already have a number of opportunities which are active," Slaymaker says. "This is not going to be a fifth network for IPG but we are looking for the right partnerships and that includes within the IPG network."

The future role and influence of S&J Group in the venture is unclear at present, although Oliver Schwall, the managing director of S&J Group, indicates that change is afoot throughout the network.

"We will do something more than the current situation in the UK and we are among others in close contact with Andy and Kate," Schwall says. "But how in terms of structure, shares, brand names, etc, can't be more than speculation."

Law's ability to make a success of the new venture will be balanced against how much room IPG is willing to give him to do so. For the persuasive Law, rules have often been taken as guidelines and he has yet to test where IPG will draw the line. Right now, IPG appears to be giving the new team plenty of scope to look to the future and turn the Boymeetsgirl concept into reality.