CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - STEVE VRANAKIS. Why a West Coast web-master returned to the UK. Steve Vranakis is happy to join his former colleagues at VCCP, Jenny Watts writes

A launch into the troubled digital arena might not seem the obvious move for a fledgling agency with only two accounts to its name. However, Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest hasn't allowed the collapse of numerous agencies' interactive divisions to dissuade it from following through on its full-service rhetoric. Hot on the heels of VCCP Plus, the agency's direct marketing and sales promotion arm which launched in June, VCCP last week rolled out its interactive subsidiary, VCCP Online.

Unlike VCCP Plus, which launched with the Samsung account, VCCP Online comes with no new business. However it does have a credible leader in Steve Vranakis, known around the agency scene as a seasoned stalwart of online - and one who has weathered the dotcom storm better than most.

Vranakis is also a veteran when it comes to working with the agency's management - and its founding client.

Indeed, sceptics who refer to Rooney Carruthers reassembling WCRS's Orange account team at VCCP - with Charles Vallance and O2's poacher-turned-gamekeeper, Will Harris - will only be encouraged by Vranakis joining the fold.

A native Canadian, Vranakis originally moved to London from Palmer Jarvis DDB Needham in Vancouver. He spent three years as the creative director at Modem Media, working on brands such as IBM and PlayStation, before joining WCRS as the interactive creative director in 1999. There he established WCRS's interactive arm, e-brands, and carved himself a strong reputation in the online arena, taking pole position in Campaign's "Ten hottest new-media creatives of 2000".

Vranakis subsequently followed Carruthers to Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco, where he spent two years in charge of the output of the agency's interactive department. There he picked up more silverware for accounts such as Compaq and Taco Bell to vie for trophy cabinet space with the gongs from his e-brands days.

Although he claims not to have given returning to London much consideration before getting the call from VCCP, Vranakis complains about a West Coast working culture that is "nine-to-five and an obsessive civility that restricts creative passion. It's clear that the offer of a second stint in the UK had plenty of appeal.

"To be honest, I'm completely disillusioned with the whole big agency multinational network thing, Vranakis reveals. "FCB was too big for me; the accounts are so big that they don't take any risks with their ads."

In contrast, Vranakis is upbeat about rekindling a partnership with Carruthers and Vallance, with whom he worked on Orange, Land Rover and BMW while at WCRS. "Charles is the best planner I've worked with," Vranakis waxes.

"And Rooney's a great guy to work for because he says it like it is."

Vranakis gives little thought to those grumbles about attempts to reassemble the winning Orange formula. "The fact that VCCP launched on the back of a mobile phone account is probably why they've drawn that kind of criticism, he counters. "I'm looking at the bigger picture. We'll pick up more accounts than that."

In the current climate, digital might not seem the easiest market in which to achieve this. However, as budgets are squeezed and clients look into other media to get results, equating digital solely with the internet could prove imprudent. According to the VCCP co-founder Adrian Coleman, any agency worth its salt now needs to be able to offer an array of digital communications: "In an ever more fragmented media world, this is part of our commitment to create more cohesive and effective campaigns for our clients."

Marcus Vinton, the executive creative director and founder of Spring TV London, thinks the potential for integration makes this a good move for Vranakis. "Steve is a very good strategic communicator, able to integrate digital activity across all divisions, he says. "His thinking is not just web-centric."

There are plenty of reminders that new interactive thinking is needed.

Last week consumer frustration at being held hostage to delays in loading superstitial ads prompted iVillage to ban such "pop-ups". It's just one indicator of how the sector has fallen from grace, with calls for advertising that is less obtrusive and more relevant too often falling on deaf ears.

For his part, Vranakis believes the whole online formula has yet to be cracked properly, with production values and general creative calibre still lacking. "Online ads need to provide consumers with something, rather than a generic repurposed message, he says.

The fleshy task of integrating O2's online activity should give Vranakis plenty of opportunity to showcase such ideas and combat some of the prejudices surrounding his field. "The future for someone of Steve's ability is to look at larger pieces of advotainment, or big brand pieces that happen to be living online, Vinton says. "He's not your typical web-head."


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