What’s all this about? MT Rainey, Jim Kelly, Robert Campbell and
Mark Roalfe are crowded into a stuffy meeting room. The anonymous
entrance and 60s decor suggest a brothel while the faded, seedy
surroundings hint at conspiracy and vice.
And who’s this? Bruno Widmer, the chairman of Young & Rubicam Europe, is
looking relaxed and happy in this strange location and unlikely
So, too, is his president, Bert Meerstadt.
Behind them, bottles of Krug are on ice and Tiffany flutes are on hand,
waiting to be filled and clinked in celebration.
The six people present have spent a lot of time in this ’safe house’
recently. And, at last, they are ready to celebrate the deal they have
been hammering out for weeks - the formation of Rainey Kelly Campbell
Typically, the deal was made with a speed that indicates decisiveness
and determination. Serious talks began barely eight weeks ago at the
Cannes International Advertising Festival.
Rainey Kelly’s rise to become the most sought-after agency in London has
been similarly swift. Almost six years ago, it set up shop with no
clients and plenty to prove. Jim Kelly had been stuck in the managing
director’s role at GGT for six years. MT Rainey had had a difficult
tenure as the managing director of Chiat Day in London. Worst of all,
Campbell and Roalfe, having quit Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO to set up the
Banks Partnership in 1991, were given a clear message about their lowly
place in the pecking order when John Banks put Ken Hoggins and Chris
O’Shea’s names over the door.
These setbacks seemed to put an extra edge on the four partners’ hunger
for success, but it was still four months before they won their first
client - a ’secret project’ from BT. Jim Kelly got pneumonia early on
and had to take months off work. But once the momentum had started,
Rainey Kelly’s ascent was underway and there was no looking back.
In 1994, its first full year of business, Rainey Kelly was ranked number
70 in Campaign’s top 300 agencies league with pounds 9.1 million in
From there, its position rose every year: 58 in 1995, then 43, 29 and,
finally, 21 in 1998, by which time the billings were up to pounds 64
The ’payment for ideas’ philosophy - by which most clients pay a flat
fee for the idea and then performance-related bonuses on top - had
Similarly, Rainey Kelly’s scores in Campaign’s annual top 300 report -
it achieved three top scores of nine and twice made an eight - also
vouch for the impact the agency has had on the British ad industry in
just six years. It managed to remain fashionable while building a
reputation as a grown-up, client-friendly agency.
Creatively, too, Rainey Kelly has won respect from its peers. Virgin
Atlantic has been its most-awarded client, with 1997’s ’grim reaper’
spot picking up a host of accolades.
Smith & Nephew, Emap, Virgin Atlantic, Thornton’s and Scottish Courage
all appointed Rainey Kelly in 1994. Times Newspapers, which the agency
won in December 1995, has also been a bedrock client. Significantly, all
are still around and almost all are expected to be part of the new
Over time, these clients have built up their business with Rainey Kelly:
Virgin Cola, Virgin Rail and Virgin Direct were added to the airline;
Smith & Nephew followed the Lil-lets business with a brief to relaunch
the Simple skincare range; and Directors, the agency’s first Scottish
Courage brand, has been joined by Miller Pilsner, Miller Genuine Draft
But it hasn’t always been one-way traffic. Sun Microsystems, Spillers
dogfood, M&G and other sundry accounts didn’t show the same loyalty to
the agency. It also saw some important pitches slip through the net. But
when the four partners beat the might of the Interpublic Group to win
the pounds 30 million pan-European launch of General Motors Europe’s
latest Astra model in 1997, Rainey Kelly was propelled into a new
Paradoxically, General Motors, its biggest-billing client, is the
agency’s only sacrifice on the way to sealing the merger with Y&R. Kelly
says: ’The Astra experience has been fabulous. We have learnt how a
pan-European launch can be done.’
It is not surprising, then, that Interpublic was among the many agency
groups to court Rainey Kelly over the past few years.
Almost all the big names have been linked with the agency recently,
although the scale and speed of the deal with Y&R still comes as
something of a surprise.
The partners have never concealed their intention to sell the agency if
the right opportunity came along at the right time. But they all stress
that the deal is not the end of their struggle for recognition - just a
new stage in the life of the Rainey Kelly brand.
A straw poll around the partners corroborates this attitude. Rainey
says: ’We want bigger challenges. We want to be players in a world-class
agency.’ Kelly states: ’We are competitive individuals. There is a
strain of workaholism running through this agency and it won’t
Campbell adds: ’I think we’ll benefit from having a larger trainset.
It’s frustrating when you see big accounts moving around. This will give
Clearly, Y&R treasures the dynamic work ethic exhibited by the four
partners at Rainey Kelly. ’If I hadn’t felt the ambition on your side,
we wouldn’t have done the deal,’ Widmer fires at them across the big
mahogany table. It looks unlikely that he will be disappointed in his