Two weeks ago, things at Hurrell and Dawson were quiet. Instead of the usual goodwill extended to start-ups, certain loose ends were finding their way on to adland's lunch tables. What had happened to the full-service agency model promised last year? Where was the deal-clinching piece of new business? What had become of the heavyweight media hiring? And had anyone actually seen any creative work?
The agency was quick to bite back. First, it announced Greg Grimmer, the managing director of the Publicis-owned Zed Media, was to join as its third partner, silencing those that questioned the agency's commitment to full service. This was followed last week by the hiring of Al Moseley, Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam's executive creative director, who was signed as the creative director and fourth partner.
The second signing is even more extraordinary than the first. Moseley was thriving at W&K, masterminding work for Nike, Electronic Arts and Coca-Cola. His CV is packed with iconic work, some of which has shaped the creative offering of its agencies, including a two-year stint at Mother on Orange and Boots, and, before that, at TBWA\London on Sony PlayStation. For a start-up hungry to weave channel-neutral thinking into its tapestry, there can be few better ambassadors than Moseley. This summer, his "happiness factory" campaign for Coke launched a three-minute movie premiere in a purpose-built cinema in Second Life, nearly a year after the TV ad scooped awards at Cannes.
So why has such a renowned creative chosen Hurrell and Dawson as his next port of call? "Independent agencies such as Mother or Wieden & Kennedy have an entrepreneurial spirit, but there's still always a hankering to go out and create that for yourself," the 38-year-old says. "And the chance to build a hybrid agency from the ground up is extremely rare."
No doubt the influence of an old pal will have helped, too. Dawson and Moseley worked together at TBWA, but their connection goes as far back as 1990, when they met through mutual friends at a party.
Moseley does concede that Hurrell and Dawson's performance, until now, has been steady, if a little underwhelming. Finalists in some of the year's larger pitches, such as the Evening Standard and 3, and a steady flow of moderate wins, including Autotrader, Garrard and Early Learning Centre, have demonstrated glimpses of greater potential. "Expectations are high," Moseley says. "People are waiting to see the proof of the pudding."
Does it faze him knowing he is one of the partners who has to deliver this? "I like this pressure," he says. "If we were starting from scratch, we'd have to wait a year before I could get stuck in creatively. Instead, everyone is waiting to see ideas strong enough to break the mould of communications in more radical ways than just advertising. Working in a full-service capacity, where we shape the media strategy, gives us the chance to do that."
The signing is a coup for Hurrell and Dawson, who are unapologetic about the time it's taken to find the remaining partners. "It takes time to prise people out of really good jobs," Dawson says. "Al was doing well at W&K, but we talked a lot about our vision and what we need to deliver great creative work. Al, like Greg, answers that."
So what is Moseley's vision for the creative department? He describes it as an "art school" culture, fostering a multitude of talent across advertising, branded content, digital and DM in an agency void of silos or departments.
Even over the phone, Moseley projects a self-effacing demeanour that makes it hard to visualise him giving teams a rocket for below-par work. Trevor Beattie, who worked with Moseley at GGT and TBWA, describes him as a "quiet persuader". In a profession that is known for its bullying tactics, Moseley is the opposite. "He can quietly earn your respect without fighting for it," Beattie says.
All of this means that while the partners are now in place, Hurrell and Dawson's arms race is far from over. Until now, neither founder has feared being held to ransom by their ambition. Signing Moseley and Grimmer signals the benchmarks can now be set even higher. "This is a work in progress. We're continuing to build a healthy, vibrant agency, and we expect to be judged by output," Dawson says.
For Moseley, who will oversee that output when he returns to London, the challenges he faces will be different to those he has seen before. "The world is waiting," he says. "I can't wait to get started."
Lives: (currently) Amsterdam
Family: Son, Manfred (two years old)
Favourite ad: Sugar Puffs ad starring John Cooper Clarke
Favourite film: Being There
Favourite brand: The Economist
Most treasured possession: A ring from my grandfather, whom I never met
Last book read: Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis and Larry Sloman
Favourite website: TED
Motto: Think Gandhi