Close-Up: Live issue - 'It's not about being different for the sake of it'

Start-up Adam & Eve is promising to break the traditional advertising mould. Can it deliver on its promise?

For an agency that has been launched on the premise that it can break out of the traditional mould and move advertising forward, it seems rather apt that Adam & Eve's birth should be viewed in the minutest of detail on a number of advertising blogs.

Debate is raging around this start-up (which has been the talk of adland since the new year dawned), as various people spout their two penn'orth on all manner of issues, from serious points about its launch principles and the originality of its offering to more frivolous observations on the merits of its name.

One cheeky blogger on Brand Republic, called April Feeney, posted this comment: "A&E! ... that's brilliant! ... a much better name than Adam & Eve ... I can see it now, clients waiting in reception for five hours with a bleeding brand that's haemorrhaging cash."

Joking aside, however, it is the agency's founding principals and the claims of its creators that is filling up most of the digital inches.

By launching with staff from backgrounds such as traditional advertising, media communications, digital and brand entertainment, Adam & Eve hopes to move away from the "traditional creative structure of agencies" and plans to offer clients a tailor-made advertising solution by bringing together a suitable combination of the above skills - a practice the founders have dubbed "creative teaming".

But condemnation of this approach has been loud, with the main criticism being that the idea has been trumpeted before by agencies who have then comfortably slipped into the traditional agency model.

But James Murphy, one of the founding partners, argues Adam & Eve is the real deal: "The new model idea has been cheapened by people talking about it, but not actually doing it. Not many people have, literally, put their money where there mouth is like we have."

David Golding, another founding partner, adds: "It's not about being different for the sake of it. We set it up with the thought 'How are we going to be good?' not 'How are we going to be different?'."

Criticisms aside, Adam & Eve has also picked up a lot of support, from bloggers and friends alike, and many, such as MT Rainey, a founder of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, believes the combination of Murphy, Golding and Priest almost guarantees it success.

"Ben (Priest, a founding partner) is great at marshalling talent and David will drive their profitability, but James has learnt a healthy paranoia from Jim (Kelly), and an unhealthy perfectionism from me about making sure every detail is right, and that will drive the agency forwards," Rainey says.

But not even the most obsessive planning can control every eventuality, as the start-up discovered this week. Problems and challenges can pop up at any time.

Catherine Kennedy, who was supposed to join the agency from Shop, decided at the last minute against doing so, citing personal reasons for her decision. This now leaves the partners of Adam & Eve looking for somebody else with Kennedy's skills who is willing to join a start-up.

Despite the fact that any ambitious adman has been thinking about their own start-up since they were on their first shoot, the founders say the whole concept of their business has been created out of what clients want: a simplification of the process, and not what the industry thinks a start-up should be.

"We're not a one-stop shop. If we come up with the idea, the client can still go to the other agency to have it implemented," Golding says.

Murphy adds: "We aim to be brilliant at collaborating, both internally and externally, which is what clients are telling us they want."

Kelly, a founder of RKCR/Y&R, believes the proposition is exactly what some businesses need. He says: "Some clients just don't have the money for three or four different agencies, and this is where Adam & Eve will be successful."

As with any start-up that has been gestating for six months, there have been a lot of rumours flying about over whether or not Adam & Eve would launch with a client, and there were some surprised individuals when it emerged that they wouldn't be. But it's worth remembering the founders have not yet reached the end of the non-compete clauses in their WPP contracts. Many expect some Virgin business, to which the founders were close at RKCR/Y&R, might head their way.

Add to this the fact they say they are on "a number of pitches" and are "very confident" of winning them, it seems likely that when they officially become free of their contracts, which will be in a couple of weeks, an announcement of clients might follow.

Will Collin, a founding partner of Naked, says: "Getting good new-business momentum going is vital to launching an agency."

But Murphy is adamant he can't comment on whether or not clients are signed up to Adam & Eve.

One thing he is happy to talk about, and does so at great length, is the talent that has been brought into the agency, which he believes is at the heart of its entire offering.

Of Adam & Eve's founding partners, it is fair to say that Jon Forsyth is the least well known, but this doesn't mean he hasn't got his supporters. Collin, who worked with Forsyth at Naked for four years, says his former employee's skills make him ideal for the agency. He says:"He's a great collaborator and a good all-rounder. He developed our planning process, but can work just as well with strategists or software developers, and he's also brilliant with clients."

Even less well known are the two creatives, Ben Harris and Nicholas Tasker. Harris joins from Agency Republic, where he has spent two years as a creative. He began his career above-the-line on work placements at a number of big agencies. "When I heard what they wanted to do, it was very similar to what I thought I would do if I ever did a start-up," Harris says.

Meanwhile, Tasker is even less experienced than Harris, but Murphy thinks he makes up for this in enthusiasm and creative talent.

He started his career at Big Communications, before moving into brand consultancy at Cake because he believes "advertising should try to entertain its audience".

He came to the attention of the Adam & Eve founders after displaying work at the 2007 Creative Cream Awards. Murphy says: "He's a precocious talent who doesn't seem to have boundaries."

One thing all the recruits have in common is that at one time or another, they are described by one of the founders as "good blokes".

Considering the principles of this start-up, it is imperative that everyone gets on and that they can work together - something that Murphy is acutely aware of.

But as his time running RKCR/Y&R shows, he is attuned to building teams that really work for each other. "So far, we've been locked in a room for a week and everyone has been equally vocal, and this is why we picked those people - their being able to work together will be crucial to our success," he says.

Despite not having a full team in place, the amount of planning, its principles, the names behind it, the industry buzz and the "impending" client sign-ups have given Adam & Eve a strong start, and a great chance to go forth and create.