Steve Aldridge
Steve Aldridge
A view from Steve Aldridge

I hope Engine isn't throwing my PAA baby out with the bathwater

Steve Aldridge, one of the founders of Partners Andrews Aldridge, thinks the agency still had life left in it.

It seems strange writing an obituary for an agency that is in rude health! Partners Andrews Aldridge has always been successful both creatively and financially. I feel very proud to have worked there for 19 of the 20 years it existed. 

But that wasn’t the plan. I wanted to create an agency that didn’t just make work but put ideas first. To think differently about why, what and when we did something, way before we came up with an execution. I wanted the execution to be considered and crafted. But, most of all, I wanted everyone to contribute. To build an environment where "none of us is as creative as all of us". A neon sign that was on the wall for everyone to see. And to be able to challenge clients and ourselves every day. I didn’t imagine with that philosophy that it would last three years, let alone 20. 

And yet those principles hold as true today as they did on day one. We built a creative culture that ran through everything; that allowed the agency to respond to a changing world and a changing market, without having to change what it believed in. 

And it worked. PAA was shortlisted for Campaign Agency of the Year more than 10 times and voted Agency of the Decade by two publications that never made the decade themselves! Hundreds of awards, no doubt in a skip at Great Portland Street. PAA has outlived every single one of its competitors, from OgilvyOne and Rapier to Glue and Razorfish. The reason for its successes is simple: creativity was always at its heart. The agency consistently evolved the talent and the solutions as the landscape and client need changed. And it gave everyone a platform to contribute. 

It’s a culture that applies to whatever your role is in a modern agency, from producer to user experience designer, from copywriter to business director. The key to consistent reinvention is the people. PAA has been a swarming pool of talent from the beginning. It has been a launchpad for many, many careers – I’ve lost count of the number of creative directors the agency has produced (and a few chief executives too).

But perhaps the most significant thing about the agency was its strength in brand and strategic planning. The key to great work is great insight. From day one, we leaned hard into our friends at BDDH, with Leslie Butterfield working on our first pitches, closely followed by Malcolm White. Then two of the most talented people I’ve ever met, in Kate Waters and then Richard Dunn, led our strategic output. All I did was join the dots. 

Engine was a great platform for PAA; it was Engine’s engine room for a long time, delivering the big integrated pieces of work. I loved it too. It was a springboard for me to create proper integrated teams and campaigns for BMW, Rolls-Royce, Santander, the Department for International Trade and many more. The PAA culture of collaboration became the Engine way. 

I fear this latest development is more about following a trend than killing dying brands. Engine has always led, not followed; it was the first to create an integrated, under-one-roof model, with great successes. Clearly, something has changed. I really hope it's change for the better. But the principles that PAA lived by still hold true today. By all means put the name out to grass, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Steve Aldridge is a founder of Partners Andrews Aldridge