William Hague is either a genius or a fool. The Conservative
Party’s decision to hand its advertising account to Yellow M either
demonstrates an intuitive search for an agency that was not guided by
snobbery or just plain old ignorance.
The Party’s decision to go off piste with its choice of agency has
thrust Yellow M into the kind of limelight it is not accustomed to. It
has also raised the question among the advertising cognoscenti: ’what is
Not to be confused with Yellowhammer, Yellow M is a bit of an
Mike Dethick, its chief executive and founder, has the clean-cut
bespectacled look of a 50s American car salesman. He is said to play his
cards very close to his chest and have a stand-offish attitude at
Unlike most advertising chief executives, Dethick seems almost reluctant
to talk about his business. He founded the Newcastle agency in 1992,
having been the creative services director at McCann-Erickson Bristol,
and still owns 100 per cent of Yellow M.
It is a small operation. MMS gives it billings of pounds 7.37 million in
1999, although Dethick says that’s on the conservative side. Important
clients in the past have included Ikea and Index, both of which have now
departed. Clients include Holland & Barrett and the Dunfermline Building
In 1998 Yellow M opened an office in Edinburgh. The work from that
office is bringing Yellow M into the forefront. The Edinburgh agency is
working for the Scottish Herald newspaper and its work for the Scottish
Tories is what got the agency on to the main Tory shortlist.
Dethick set up in Newcastle because he felt it lacked an agency and
because he had studied law there. He admits, however, that ’Edinburgh
will be larger than Newcastle and London will be larger than all of them
in the long run’.
He is in the process of setting up a London office, the catalyst for
which has been winning the Tory account, and has plans for international
expansion in the long term. He says: ’I don’t want to sell it now. I
want to take it beyond London and overseas at some stage.’
Dethick and Ronnie Duncan, a senior planner at the Edinburgh office,
both say ’nimbleness’ is at the centre of the agency’s positioning.
Neither claim to have come up with anything new in terms of ideals; they
talk about a ’holistic approach to media’, the ’idea’ being central,
being ’open-minded’ and ’questioning’.
None of the adjectives throw much light on what the agency is actually
like. Ian Wright, the joint marketing director at Faulds Advertising, is
joining Yellow M as managing director shortly. He describes it as ’a
very good small agency’.
Although Michael Ancram, the Conservative Party chairman, believes that
the agency has ’the drive, talent and nerve to become the Saatchi &
Saatchi of the 21st century’, he is probably barking up the wrong
There is no questioning Dethick’s quiet determination but his methodical
approach to growth, via regional agencies, makes the kind of success the
Saatchis have enjoyed a very, very long way down the road.