CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: Shaky beginnings of RPM3 lie at root of bloody clearout

Not only has Paul Cowan been swinging the axe over at RPM3 (Campaign, last week) but he has also selected one that is sharp, double-headed and dripping with blood.

Not only has Paul Cowan been swinging the axe over at RPM3

(Campaign, last week) but he has also selected one that is sharp,

double-headed and dripping with blood.

In the wake of the decision by the agency’s second-largest client,

Somerfield, to call a review of its creative business, Cowan has fired

the creative director, Rupert Sutton (a repeat of his spat five years

ago with Cowan Kemsley Taylor’s founder, Adrian Kemsley), demoted the

planning partner, Maggie Taylor, and hinted at a wholesale restructure

in account management. What’s going on?

Well, if proof were needed, here is a bald admission that the axis for

any successful agency lies between managing director and creative


Great account people know the power of great creative work as the

ultimate sales tool. Great creative people know that this is a business

first and a beauty pageant second. But Cowan ’inherited’ Sutton via a

merger and the partnership was doomed from the start.

Given that there are all sorts of agencies operating in the same

mid-sized wilderness, many of them willing to be all things to all men,

what kind of agency does RPM3 now want to be? Reportedly, it wants to be

an ideas factory, all about innovative solutions to clients’ problems.

To sound an overly cynical note, that narrows down the field to about

200 shops with similar positionings.

Less cynically, it may well be that Somerfield will stay on board and

everything in the RPM3 garden will be lovely again. Mitsubishi, its

largest client, looks secure thanks to the relationship with Matthew

Lutos. Austin Reed is the only other reported loss since the merger -

although, rather suspiciously, the agency declined to supply details of

accounts won and lost for Campaign’s last Top 300 report.

Despite a robust defence of the Somerfield work from the agency on this

week’s letters page, RPM3 finds itself in the classic lose-lose

situation of every incumbent on a pitch-list. Repitching with new work

is as much as admitting that your work to date has been wrong. And if

you don’t change the work, isn’t it giving yourself impossible odds

against keeping the business?

Perhaps the sceptics were right when they greeted the formation of RPM3

from the merger of Butler Lutos Sutton Wilkinson with CKT back in

December 1997 with mutterings of ’two times nothing equals nothing’. In

other words, two modest-sized agencies with similar strengths and

weaknesses and patchy creative reputations equalling a short-term shot

in the arm but nothing for the long term. That was only the view of the

industry lunchers - and, of course, the only view that really matters is

that of the client.

But as RPM3’s second-largest client looks set to walk out the door, I

guess that says it all.


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