CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/YELLOW M - Yellow M is fast becoming an enigma in the ad world, Francesca Newland writes

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.

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

Yellow M?’



Not to be confused with Yellowhammer, Yellow M is a bit of an

enigma.



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

industry get-togethers.



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

Society.



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

tree.



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.



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