CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/STEVE GRIME; Mitchell Patterson drafts in adland’s ‘top geezer’

Does Steve Grime have the right stuff to revive Mitchell Patterson, John Tylee asks

Does Steve Grime have the right stuff to revive Mitchell Patterson, John

Tylee asks

Campaign’s request for a chat about his new job has made Steve Grime as

jumpy as a kitten. The day before the agreed rendezvous he rings to ask

what the lines of inquiry might be and repeats them slowly to himself as

he scribbles.

You suspect that he is starting to rehearse his answers even before the

receiver goes down and that he will greet the following dawn wide awake

and fine-tuning what he will say.

For the meeting, he arms himself with a couple of pages of notes, which

he consults to ensure nothing of importance is missed, while attempting

to keep his famous and endearing stammer in check.

Grime has been on tenter-hooks since word broke of his departure for

Mitchell Patterson Aldred Mitchell (Campaign, last week). But it’s not

really ego or arrogance that drives him to be word perfect.

It’s more a desire that his decision should not be seen to reflect badly

on his current employer, Leagas Shafron Davis, particularly with the

agency facing a possible repitch to retain and extend its pounds 15

million Sun Alliance business after the insurance company’s merger with

Royal Insurance.

Doing the honourable thing has always been important to him. And, in a

business where bitchiness can often flow like a flood tide, it’s hard to

find anybody with a bad word to say about Grime. Instead, there is only

praise for his decency and straight-batting causing Ron Leagas, his

current boss, to dub him ‘the Geoff Boycott of advertising’.

As a result, Grime rides into his new role as Mitchell Patterson’s joint

creative director on a wave of goodwill. Trevor Beattie, TBWA’s creative

director, bestows the ultimate blokish accolade on his friend. ‘Steve,’

he declares, ‘is a top geezer.’

Others believe he is also a courageous and maybe even a reckless geezer.

Not so much because Grime has chosen to quit the agency where he built

his reputation, but that he should have picked the 109th-ranking

Mitchell Patterson to start over again.

Formed six years ago by Neil Patterson, the former Young and Rubicam

creative director, and three ex-Publicis senior managers, the agency has

never commanded the profile of contemporaries like Duckworth Finn Grubb

Waters or Banks Hoggins O’Shea.

Winning too many accounts that never lived up to their promise has put

the agency in a classic Catch-22 situation. To produce high-profile

work, it needs some big-spending brands. But it can’t win them because

it has no strong creative legacy. It will be Grime’s task to break the

vicious circle, a prospect he relishes. ‘Within a year, I expect the

agency to double in size and produce award-winning work,’ he declares.

Such a confident assertion would have been unthinkable when Grime toiled

competently but anonymously in the creative departments at WCRS and

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. Since then, his career has blossomed under

Leagas’s tutelage and on the back of startling work for Sun Alliance and

unpromising briefs such as Inland Revenue self-assessment.

In his favour is the fact that Mitchell Patterson has reached the outer

reaches of some notable client rosters, including Unilever, St Ivel and

Spillers. What’s more, those who know the agency and its principals

believe it and they to be underrated.

Derek Ralston, the Barker and Ralston managing director who worked with

three of Mitchell Patterson’s founders at Publicis, believes their

heads-down approach and lack of hype in an over-supplied market are to

blame for their lack of profile. ‘Steve could provide the grit in the

oyster,’ he suggests.

At 47, Grime should at least feel comfortable operating in the mature

environment provided by Andrew Mitchell, a former Publicis vice-

chairman, and Chris Mitchell (no relation), its one-time deputy planning


The crucial question is whether Grime and Patterson can blend their

creative talents. Fortunately, the pair know each other well, having

almost come together in a start-up eight years ago. ‘We’re complementary

characters although I’m probably more upfront,’ Grime says.

Those who know them both point to their intellectual synergy. However,

Grime’s inexhaustible energy contrasts sharply with Patterson’s more

passive and reflective style, which is prone only to the occasional

outburst of frustration, when bottles of mineral water have been known

to fly.

‘Steve still goes on about doing great ads like creatives less than half

his age,’ says Robert Campbell, a creative partner at Rainey Kelly

Campbell Roalfe, who was with Grime at WCRS and AMV. ‘He’s never cynical

but always emotional about good work.’

Peter Buchanan, the Central Office of Information director of

advertising, who has worked with him on the Inland Revenue and special

constable recruitment business, agrees: ‘Steve feels passionately about

what he does but has the almost unique ability to take on board the

clients’ comments while retaining the core idea.’

Whether such enthusiasm is enough to provide Mitchell Patterson with the

vital spark remains to be seen. The question of why Grime should want to

make the leap lingers. Part of the answer seems to be that Mitchell

Patterson’s pragmatic approach fits comfortably with his long-standing

fascination for applying creativity to produce immediate commercial


But friends say Grime’s move was born of frustration at the conservatism

of Leagas and his management partner, Mike Davis, and because he has no

equity in Leagas Shafron. ‘He knows he has between five and ten more

years in the business and that, if he is going to make his mark, it has

to be now,’ one says.

For his part, Grime claims his move was more to do with a unique and

unexpected opportunity and the not unimportant matter of his name on the


Leagas, meanwhile, will put Grime’s deputy, Rob Janowski, in temporary

charge of the agency’s five creative teams as he examines his options

and puts the best possible spin on events.

‘When you’re being reviewed by an existing client a balance between

continuity and change is probably the ideal,’ he says cheerfully. ‘But

we expect to hire very soon. I do seem to be a bit of a Svengali.’


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