Feature

Cutting the umbilical cord

After the sale, the earn-out, and after the dust has settled, what do the founders think of the agencies they've left behind? Matt Williams asks those behind an ad agency, a media shop and a direct outfit.

ROBERT CAMPBELL - FOUNDER, RAINEY KELLY CAMPBELL ROALFE

One of the most gossip-worthy stories of 2009 was undoubtedly the launch of Campbell Lace Beta, the start-up from the advertising luminaries Robert Campbell and Garry Lace.

The reason it made such big headlines was simple: everyone with as much as a smidgen of interest in the industry wants to know what those two are up to. Campbell, in particular, has a great start-up track record: alongside MT Rainey, Jim Kelly and Mark Roalfe, he first made his name as one of the original quartet behind Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, which later sold to Y&R.

The founders, when launching the agency in 1993, had the same ambition as so many others - to be unique, innovative, and to work with a rich and diverse range of clients.

For Campbell, it was the most enjoyable time of his career. "For the first six years, we had a fantastic time," he says. "Together we experienced a weird and extraordinary journey, and we all had great fun doing it."

Things didn't necessarily turn sour for Campbell, but they did change dramatically. After selling to Young & Rubicam in 1999, the agency, in his words, "began flatlining".

Four years later, he opted out and left to become the executive creative director of McCann Erickson.

"I was just so tired and needed a change," he says. "It got to a point where as partners we couldn't just commit for two more years. We either had to quit then or go the whole hog."

The sale of the agency had also clearly begun to bother Campbell. "I couldn't countenance simply spending all day managing clients, and being under the pressure of just delivering numbers and not having room to experiment," he says.

"I don't really have any regrets, but I do often wonder whether it would have been different if we hadn't sold to Y&R."

With the founders all throwing their weight behind their vision, Campbell says in hindsight that there was an opportunity to avoid selling and create something very special.

"In MT particularly, we had a woman who was iconic in the industry, and if the four of us had had the presence of mind to say no to Y&R, we could have shaped the agency into something very different and absolutely legendary," he says.

RKCR/Y&R management is now, of course, a very different beast. With Roalfe as the only remaining founding partner, the agency has a relatively new set-up, with Richard Exon as its chief executive, Damon Collins as the executive creative director, and Ben Kay as the head of planning.

"The agency is second to very few now," Campbell says. "Mark in particular has done a fantastic job, and although I don't know them that well, from what I've seen he's made some very shrewd hires in Damon and Richard.

"I love the work that they've done this year too, it's been a real step up.

In particular, the Virgin Atlantic campaign is a stroke of genius - it was simply superb.

"I think the agency had a period where it really struggled to find its feet again, but it just goes to show you that when you manage to regain a sense of stability, you can form strong relationships with big clients and produce fantastic work."

Despite his name still being above the door, Campbell doesn't claim to be overly keen on following the progress of his old agency.

"I still really miss Rainey Kelly," he says. "But because I'm not totally obsessed with the industry, I haven't become an avid student of the agency. Mark's a personal friend, so that's where my interests lie, but I've not got a stronger relationship than that."

DAVID PATTISON - FOUNDER, PHD

David Pattison is a workaholic. Having made the decision to stop working full-time at the start of this year after 35 years in the game, he is already getting itchy feet. Indeed, he admits that he's even going to start looking for a job again in the not too distant future.

There'll certainly be a few companies queueing up when he does officially put himself back on the market. Campaign's 2006 Media Achiever of the Year brings with him the experience of holding high-profile roles at a number of advertising agencies, and in founding PHD has been responsible for launching one of the most exciting media agencies in the industry.

It was never going to be easy - the agency launched on the day that the last recession was announced - but PHD had a clear and exciting offering.

The agency had a strong planning unit from the beginning, and its creative orientation attracted a variety of clients. That focus on innovation has stuck, but the agency has gone through some serious changes. Always seen as an "alternative" to the conventional media shop, Pattison now believes it is much harder to find any sense of differentiation in PHD. "Media planning and media buying have become more of a commodity, and by default, the only way to compete in a market now is to be more like the other companies in your market," he says.

"Especially in these times, clients aren't looking to differentiate in the way that made PHD an attractive proposition beforehand, and the agency has had to respond to that."

This problem may not have been of the agency's own making, but Pattison does put it down as one of the main reasons why he left when he did.

His departure, in 2006, was indeed a blow. But a big push during his final few years at the agency had stood PHD in good stead. Global expansion in particular was a key avenue that Pattison wanted PHD to explore. He got the ball rolling by setting up in a number of untapped markets, and he has since been impressed with how the agency has continued on this front.

"The people there have done a good job in progressing the network's global expansion," he believes. "They haven't made it just yet, but they're definitely on the way to turning it into a proper and respected network. They just need that one big global win now."

Pattison believes that in Mike Cooper, the man who replaced him as the chief executive of PHD Worldwide, the agency has "a strong and ambitious leader", and that it made "a good decision" in appointing Philippa Brown as the PHD Group chief executive.

"The agency moved on once I left at the end of 2006, and has moved on again since," Pattison muses. "But it's kept most of the good habits that has helped it become such an attractive proposition to clients, and I think it'll continue to be a success in the future."

JON CLAYDON - FOUNDER, CLAYDON HEELEY JONES MASON

There can be few agencies that have fallen off the Campaign radar as quickly as Claydon Heeley has done in the past few years.

Having been named Campaign's Direct Agency of the Year in 2004, and the runner-up in 2006, the agency has since gone from being on the tip of everyone's tongue, to being almost completely ignored.

It's no coincidence that these changes came after the departure of some key agency staff. This included the chief executive, Martin Brooks, the managing director, Mike Welsh, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the chairman and founder, Jon Claydon.

Claydon's departure in 2007 signalled the end of a 16-year tenure at the agency he launched in 1991.

It was a successful time. Claydon's entrepreneurial spirit and keen eye for talent helped Claydon Heeley become one of the most feared agencies on a DM pitchlist. Work under his tenure included iconic campaigns for The Guardian and Callaway, and the agency picked up key accounts including Mercedes-Benz and Sony PlayStation.

However, perhaps most impressively, Claydon managed to turn his agency into one responsible for producing some of the industry's strongest talent. Along with Brooks and Welsh (now leading Work Club and Publicis Dialog respectively), Claydon Heeley was also home to Nigel Jones, the chairman and chief executive of Publicis UK group; Jane McNeill, the Agency Republic chief executive; Jonathan Harman, the chairman of Carlson Marketing; and Mark Leversedge, a managing partner at Elvis.

"For me, the best legacy was that Claydon Heeley was a fantastic launch pad for a lot of careers," Claydon says. "Lots of people have gone on to run ad agencies, and that's testament to what we tried to build."

Now this talent has gone, though, Claydon Heeley is a very different beast. The defining factor of its recent history is last year's merger with Targetbase, the US-based data and analytics shop. The merger has certainly had a detrimental effect on the agency's creative output, with the shop working on far more eCRM and web-build projects than it is on traditional "creative" campaigns.

It's a business model that, in Campaign terms, is less glamorous, but one that Claydon fully understands. "The product is extremely sellable, and although to get to that place they may have neglected the glamorous side of things, it's now in a position to do very well over the next few years," he says.

"The agency has pushed hard to develop its data side, which had never been a strength before. We won lots of awards but never really wrestled the data beast."

But Claydon admits that if he was still at the helm, it wouldn't have necessarily been the direction that he would have taken the agency in.

"I'm honestly not sure that it would have gone that way if we'd all stayed, but that was just because we were doing what was right for ourselves and what interested us," he says. "Claydon Heeley needed to go one way, and personally I needed to go another."

That way is Work Club, a creative agency with a digital background. "It's a thrilling opportunity," Claydon says. "It gives us a chance to work with exciting clients in a sector that we enjoy."

So while Claydon likens his existing relationship with his previous shop to that of an ex-girlfriend ("it's something I still care a lot about, but you can't go around stalking it and hoping to bump into it in the street," he jokes), there's still a huge amount of respect shared.

"It's a different set-up to what we had, but it's not bad different," he says.

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