Duke London's Neil Hughston has blood and sweat but no fear
A view from Jeremy Lee

Duke London's Neil Hughston has blood and sweat but no fear

The independent agency founder has vowed to fight on after his business went into administration last week, forcing him to change direction yet again.

"Blood Sweat and Fears." That was the title of Duke London’s submission to The Age of Independence, a compendium of print ads from London’s independent agencies commissioned by Goodstuff Communications in April to celebrate their collective contribution to the industry.

It was an honest account of how working in an indie can provide an experience like no other – certainly not a choice for those endowed with weak stomachs or glass jaws. Sadly Duke London went into administration last week (although it will come back in a new iteration). 

The final punch, we are told, was that its founding client pulled its spend, despite commissioning work. Incidentally, at the shop’s launch its clients were listed as including Rolls-Royce and the app Ticklr (among the latter’s directors was one Neil Hughston – the co-founder of Duke).

The pugnacious Hughston has promised to roll with the punches and that Duke London will be reborn in a pre-pack deal – an insolvency procedure in which a company arranges to sell all or some of its assets to a buyer before appointing an administrator to facilitate the sale. "On the ropes and facing potential closure… what was Duke London Ltd is now Duke Productions Ltd. Officially a separate company but still Duke in name and attitude."

Attitude is something that Hughston is not short of. However luck seems to have been a little more elusive for someone who is in danger of acquiring a reputation as a serial entrepreneur – Duke Productions will be his third stab at running an independent agency.

In 2011, he quit his job as managing partner at Grey London to launch Johnny Fearless alongside two former Saatchi colleagues Paul Domenet and David Howard. By mid-2015 the shutters had come down – the agency went into liquidation, owing creditors in excess of £640,000, after its largest client Grafton GB pulled its advertising. Creditors were later told by the liquidator that there was no reasonable chance of any of the creditors – secured or unsecured – to receive their money.

Duke London also suffered an early blow with the departure of its executive creative director Jo Stanner and chief strategy officer Steve Stokes, who cited "fundamental differences over the direction of the agency" with Hughston. But it lived to see another day, until the latest piece of misfortune.

There can’t be many people left in London agency start-ups as bloodied and sweaty as Hughston. He still doesn’t seem to have got the fear though.


Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign 

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