The three founding members of Keevill Lee Kershaw are sitting at a smart table in a pristine white room at their new office. There's not a speck of dust to be seen, and the joint creative director Simon Kershaw jokes that it's a bit like a science lab. "We want to be seen as the R&D specialists in direct marketing," the managing director and new colleague, Lisa Lee, says. "So having a squeaky-clean office is rather appropriate."
KLK has just opened its doors with a mission to create direct campaigns for clients seeking an alternative to the more traditional mail-outs and inserts. It will not compete on price and scale, Kershaw says, but the three-strong team claims to be invaluable for fresh thinking and creativity.
"If you think of direct marketing like manufacturing, then we're the boffins in the lab thinking up all the great new products and strategies, constantly challenging the status quo," Lee says. The joint creative director Phil Keevill adds: "We want to ask clients big questions at a high strategic level."
Kershaw and Keevill's reputations are strong - the pair have won many awards for high-value brands such as Gordon's Gin and Land Rover. They left Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel in March, and have been freelancing for direct and above-the-line agencies since, helping out as a "stealth team" on pitches and several high-profile accounts.
Lee, most recently working within Wunderman's EMEA team on Citibank, is herself a creative, and brings a wealth of strategic and management experience to the team, largely garnered from 14 years within Ogilvy.
Planning a start-up was not the first thing on Kershaw or Keevill's minds when they left to go freelance in the spring. "It was a case of taking stock, of realising that we had spent 11 years in the same place, and realising that we didn't want to be creative directors at a rival shop," Kershaw says.
Lee, who wanted to return to work in the UK after a long stint abroad, felt a start-up would suit her better than a continuing role in networks, and jumped at the chance when the three went out for dinner to discuss the idea.
All three will work on all aspects of the business, and won't have a traditional "suits" versus "creatives" structure. "Our skills are complementary to each other's," Keevill says. "We hope we've got all bases covered."
They are bullish about the fact that they don't have a founding client.
"We're not very patient," Kershaw laughs. "We wanted to crack on immediately, and waiting any longer wasn't on the cards."
There's also the question of how much a founding client can dictate terms, Lee says: "We didn't want to be overwhelmed as a unit by one founding client, and take our eyes off other opportunities because we're so busy serving their needs."
Kershaw claims plans are underway to sign the agency's first client, but won't be drawn further. He also points out to cynics that Craik Jones didn't have a client when it opened its doors in 1991. Ten years later, it was a big success.
KLK is funded by private means, although the trio were approached by various backers. "Fiscal independence means cultural, geographical and creative independence," Kershaw stresses, although he adds that with time a move into a network, with the scope that brings, might be desirable.
For the moment, it's all six hands to the deck to get clients through the door, develop the agency's offering and forge links with other players, such as bigger direct agencies and above-the-line shops - all as yet unnamed. Although their shared offices in Charlotte Street are somewhat swanky, there's the hard slog of setting up a business to contend with too - sorting out equipment and other essentials.
Keevill harks back to the early days at Craik Jones when, as part of a ten-strong agency, he regularly ordered his own stock and took his turn washing out the cafetiere. "The added excitement now is that we are doing it for ourselves," he enthuses.
Studying the cyclical nature of the ad world also led KLK to the conclusion that the time is right for a new start-up - and the trio point to Partners Andrews Aldridge and Archibald Ingall Stretton as direct creative agencies that have outgrown their romper suits.
The AAR's Julie Constable says: "There is always room for an agency that will give clients access to top people."
Others in direct marketing are more sceptical. "Simon and Phil were surrounded by the cream at Craik Jones - it will be interesting to see how they fare on their own," one unnamed source says.
EHS Brann's chairman, Terry Hunt, thinks the trio are a formidable team: "They are top-class talent, totally unprecious, hardworking and the kind of people clients will want to work with." Perhaps most importantly, Hunt thinks they will make money.
The bare white room is devoid of awards because KLK has only just moved in, but the agency is aware of their importance. After all, awards are part of the reason the partners are in a position to start their own shop.
"Our zeal for collecting them will continue," Keevill stresses. "They're a good measure of our progress."
Kershaw adds: "If we want to attract talent, we must show them they'll be given the opportunities to win them." However, he admits that he'd rather the agency won an IPA Effectiveness Award than another creative gong: "That's the real indication of whether your creative has worked, isn't it?"