CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - HOOPER GALTON. A gold award may put this agency firmly on adland's radar. Jenny Watts reports

Hooper Galton. Not really an agency name automatically associated with fellow independent start ups Mother, Clemmow Hornby Inge or Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy. But the shop, unknown to much of adland, surprised everyone by scooping gold at the Campaign Press Awards last week for its Discovery Networks Europe ad, "age of terror".

It was quite a coup for the agency, which was founded in 1999 by the creative partners Steve Hooper and Martin Galton and the managing partner Oliver Lewis-Barclay, none of whom deny the shop's regrettably low profile. "We started up in a blaze of invisibility," Hooper admits.

The three equal shareholders launched Hooper Galton after leaving Bartle Bogle Hegarty where they were all long-serving employees, especially Hooper, who'd been there for 15 years.

Galton, a ten-year veteran, had a break as Tim Delaney's partner and head of art at Leagas Delaney before returning to the BBH fold, and Lewis-Barclay spent eight years at BBH, joining from J. Walter Thompson in 1986.

Having been ensconced in such a creative environment for so long, it was inevitable the agency would position itself as a creatively led shop.

"Delicious monsters" is how they term it, a metaphor for creating brand ideas that aim to be both huge and appealing.

Despite its lack of profile, Hooper Galton has built a varied client base spanning numerous categories. Discovery is no longer a client, having opted to take its business in-house, but the client list includes Emap's Yours and New Woman magazines, House of Fraser, New Covent Garden Food Company, the Soil Association, Bakehouse and Whiteleys Shopping Centre.

Still, winning Campaign's gold award is Hooper Galton's first creative accolade since its inception. "When you're our size, you're scrabbling around to get the good opportunities," Lewis-Barclay says. "We were lucky with the brief with 'age of terror'. It had great opportunities."

That lucky brief might be the trigger that puts the agency on the map, according to Andrew Melsom, the managing director of Agency Insight. "It's likely to mean more clients will be interested in seeing them. There will also be people who want to shortlist them, and other agencies may look to acquire the management team to help turbo-charge their own management."

Working with a 20-strong shop already has its advantages for clients, offering direct access to creatives without a plethora of middlemen. And the weight of experience behind the founders - across clients including Audi, One2One and Sony - should mean good brand advice rather than just the latest thinking.

However, Lewis-Barclay is the first to admit that the agency needs to up the ante on the new-business front. "Our hunger is to do a lot more than what we've done in the past," he says.

This will mean increasing its profile from the relative invisibility Hooper mentioned earlier. "It wasn't intentional," Lewis-Barclay says. "The three of us don't have a great gift for self-publicity."

Still, while the agency's new-business record won't have competitors running for the hills, it has won New Woman and Shelter in recent weeks - both in pitches against established agencies - which is more than other shops its size, or larger, can lay claim to.

With business so thin on the ground, how does the agency hope to grow?

Is it up for acquisition? "I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't like to be acquired or bought at some stage," Lewis-Barclay says. "I'm not sure we'd be that attractive a proposition now, but we're getting to that stage."

Hooper Galton has had three separate approaches to merge with other agencies, but has never approached anyone itself. There is an aim to build the agency to 30 people by the end of the year, but the founders are keen to do it themselves. "We'd rather we grew organically than get someone in to kick us around," he adds.

Growth may be difficult for Hooper Galton but, as one industry expert notes, to have got to this point is a good sign in itself: "You can't be a bad agency in this market, or you wouldn't survive."