CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/NEW AGENCIES - Rapley Smith Jones aims for a new agency model. RSJ argues it can succeed without full-time creatives, as Camilla Palmer reports

The news that Martin Smith, the former Grey chief executive and

Bartle Bogle Hegarty managing director, has set up a creative-free ad

agency has been hailed as a coup by some, and received less

enthusiastically by others.

Smith has teamed up with Mark Rapley, the former BMP DDB deputy managing

director, and Roisin Robothan-Jones, the former agency planner and

founder of the "green" product distribution company Ark to provide

services to clients who want alternatives to traditional


Rapley Smith Jones will act as "commissioning editors" for their

clients, farming out, quality controlling and co-ordinating all their

needs, from website design, media planning and buying to television

production and PR.

"We're establishing a new sector in advertising, dubbing it 'new'

advertising," Smith says. "'Old' advertising is all about responding to

what agencies see as the right solution. We want to come at it from a

different angle, from the consumer's point of view. They aren't aware of

the breakdown between above-, below- or through-the-line marketing -

they see it all as advertising. And they're responsive to so many more

sectors, including ambient, sponsorship and editorial TV."

Media neutrality is unlikely to cause RSJ to stand out these days when

both media and creative agencies have repositioned to claim similar


The most striking difference about the new shop, however, is that there

will be no full-time creative on board.

Smith is adamant that the model is one which can thrive, especially in a

climate where project-based work seems a cost-effective alternative to

long-term relationships for clients. In a month which has seen the

outsourcing of Circus' creative work, abandoning the full-service route

seems an increasingly popular route.

"It makes no sense to offer this kind of very flexible, fluid service

and thinking and then default to the experience of one creative brain,"

Smith says. "Rather than being a hindrance, it will allow us to pick and

choose from a range of collaborators."

He's confident of finding the right talent to work with. "People are

often disincentivised by the way conventional agencies work, possibly

reporting into a parent company," he says. "There are talented

creatives, designers and production people who have decided not to work

that way. We intend to tap in on their talent."

The shops on RSJ's wishlist include Karmarama, the creative outfit

opened by the former St Luke's creatives Naresh Ramchandani and Dave

Buonaguidi; Arkwright, established by HHCL & Partners' creatives Chas

Bayfield and Jim Bolton last year; Monkey, the television production

company which spun off from Chris Evans' Ginger Production company; and

Naked Communications, the media consultancy increasingly winning

accolades in creative circles too.

Smith claims his structure will do away with the tendency to become

protective of campaigns. "Lots of agencies quite naturally want to

defend their creative work, but that can become detrimental to the

client's needs," he says.

"We won't be doing that and will ask our creative collaborators to

innovate on individual projects as much as possible."

It's not clear how those collaborators will pick up work from RSJ -

whether individuals will be asked to pitch against each other on a

roster basis or will be briefed on projects based on expertise.

Arguably the nearest parallel to Smith's structure comes from a media

background. Increasingly, Michaelides & Bednash has moved away from

traditional planning and buying as it bids to establish itself as a

creative force through the use of freelance. M&B's managing partner,

Graham Bednash, maintains that outsourcing the creative input for a

project masterminded in-house can work effectively: "The central idea is

to offer clients choice and with lots of creative specialists in

different sectors you can."

However, with that choice must come creative excellence or else the

theory falls flat, and while M&B has justified its position with work

for Channel 4, its creative work for Rockingham motor racing last year

was unremarkable.

At Mother, an agency which tore down traditional divides between account

handling and creative, one source claims never to have seen an effective

strategy in place without parallel development of creative: "Creative

people are already far too distant from the account handling and

planning - why deliberately exclude them?"

It's far from the only doubt. One senior ad agency executive expressed

concern that RSJ's creatives will have two sets of clients, the agency

and its employer. "Is the agency sure its collaborators are, in fact,

the best for the job?" another asks. "Surely the best creative directors

are already working in agencies?"

Bednash remains convinced the model can work. "It's the same structure

the film industry uses," he says. "You don't get one company making a

movie - lots of experts come together."




Michaelides & Bednash (1994) Channel 4



The original brand strategy agency, which has increasingly positioned

itself as an alternative to above-the-line creative shops. Replaced WCRS

on Workthing's ad account last year.

Mother (1996) ITV Digital



Creatives wear the suits and run the accounts, putting them in direct

contact with clients and keeping creative work at the heart of the

business. Campaign's Agency of the Year 2001.

Quiet Storm (1997) Emap




Also skips account handling to offer clients direct liaison with

creatives. Has produced TV ads for Heat magazine and Xfm, while in-house

production facilities are used by other agencies.

Circus (1998) Environment


Launched as a media-neutral marketing consultancy but restructured as a

brand strategy consultancy last week, with creative no longer handled


Karmarama (2000) Selfridges

Creative studio, which develops work for shops such as Naked. Produced

creative for last year's award-winning Selfridges campaign. Said to be

receiving the Ikea business.

Naked (2000) Selfridges

ITV Digital

Tate Gallery

Planning specialist with flat management structure that crossed over to

mastermind creative for Tate Galleries and plan the Campaign Media

Award-winning Selfridges drive.


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