EDITORIAL: Fear of failure isn't a reason not to try

The demise of Mitchell Patterson Grime Mitchell ought to serve as a cautionary tale to any agency staffer whose ambition to do a start-up remains undiminished by harsh economic realities.

Mitchell Patterson will probably merit only a footnote in the history of UK advertising. In the 14 years of its life, it never successfully got on to the radar of big clients.

Unlike other fledgling operations, it never had Abbey National, Coca-Cola or the Carphone Warehouse to give it an early vote of confidence to build its business on.

Had it secured such an account, maybe the story might have been different.

One big win often begets another and, as headline grabbers such as Mother and Clemmow Hornby Inge have proved, can propel an agency rapidly from newcomer to permanent fixture.

The passing of time dulls the memory of an agency whose debut sparked a blaze of interest. The pedigree of its principals (Neil Patterson was the creative director of Young & Rubicam, Andrew Mitchell the vice-chairman of Publicis) was such that Campaign had no hesitation about splashing with the story.

Somehow, though, reality never matched the expectation for the agency.

Perhaps the fact that it launched into the teeth of a howling recession accounts for its failure to build a strong platform of blue-chip clients essential to secure its status during the crucial first three years while client curiosity about a start-up remains high. As a result, the agency was left with no significant profile and a confining client list that meant its creative product would invariably be hard working, not award winning.

Meanwhile, the world has been closing in on agencies such as Mitchell Patterson. At one end, the communication supergroups have become better at offering tailor-made solutions for so-called challenger brands for whom Mitchell Patterson would previously have been a natural home. At the other, newcomers have become potent rivals for business. To make matters worse, marketing services companies have been broadening their offerings, budgets have been cut and margins slashed.

Little wonder, perhaps, that the agency's founders have stared their future in the face and agreed to call it a day while still ahead of the game. But they'll doubtless continue to ponder why the big time eluded them. Was it a combination of unfortunate timing and bad luck? Or was it that Mitchell Patterson's offering wasn't compelling enough to allow the agency to build the critical mass needed to lure clients with significant spends?

The answer will always be debatable. The hope must be that Mitchell Patterson's experience will be a reminder to those following in its footsteps that not everybody can create the next Mother. But it shouldn't stop them trying.