LIVE ISSUE/CIRCUS: Start-up with management consultancy in sights - Harriet Green cuts through the Circus jargon to see if it’s an act with a difference

Roll up, roll up. Come and see the strange creatures. Circus has come to town, promising much that will amaze - including admen who closely resemble management consultants.

Roll up, roll up. Come and see the strange creatures. Circus has

come to town, promising much that will amaze - including admen who

closely resemble management consultants.

Circus, let me explain, is the name of adland’s latest start-up, a new

venture put together by a group previously employed by some of the

industry’s most impressive organisations. But the question is, will this

gang turn out to be clowns or lion tamers?

The answer, it seems, is both.

Every start-up needs to position itself as tremendously original in

conception, and Circus is no exception. This time, according to the

people in charge, clients are offered exceptional strategic ideas,

supported by brilliant executions - but not necessarily ads.

The idea, essentially, is to claw back work from the management

consultants who have positioned themselves, in recent years, as the new

marketing gurus. The consultancy market has already more than doubled in

the 90s; and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has devoted

serious attention to agencies’ lack of access to top management at

client companies.

The fact is that calling the consultants has become the natural first

step for incoming chief executives.

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the WPP Group, which owns J. Walter

Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather, recently spoke of the threat posed by the

likes of McKinsey. And Niall Fitzgerald, chairman of Unilever, told the

European Association of Advertising Agencies conference last October

that a gulf existed between the marketing needs of brands and what

agencies could offer.

Circus is the brainchild of Paul Twivy, formerly group chief executive

of Bates Dorland, deputy chairman at JWT and co-founder of Still Price

Court Twivy D’ Souza. In the ring with him - as equal partners - are Tim

Ashton, once Dorlands’ executive creative director; Tim O’Kennedy,

formerly chief operating officer of the Lowe Group and Nike’s marketing

director at the launch of the legendary ’just do it’ campaign; and Dilys

Maltby, a Body Shop consultant and one-time client services director at


An impressive bunch, with experience ranging over business, planning and

strategy, art direction, design and marketing.

Twivy is a celebrated egghead. He speaks fluently the convoluted dialect

of consultants: his is the name at the bottom of the Circus manifesto, a

terrifying pile-up of jargon and overworked metaphor. And yet he insists

Circus will not compete against management consultants so much as work

in collaboration with them.

’We are not as good as management consultants,’ he says, ’at

understanding how the structures of business work. We shouldn’t attempt

to be.’ But ’where advertising is best is the real confidence that the

gut instinct, intuition, the well-turned phrase holds the key to why

people do things’.

Twivy says he’s considered a start-up for many years. ’I have talked to

hundreds of people in the advertising community and the management

consultancy community. My observation was that what clients want is not


The secret of success, it seems, will lie in keeping an open mind. Thus,

instead of offering clients a 60-second TV ad, Circus might suggest a

road show or a new retail environment, or even the introduction of an

aromatherapist to boost staff morale.

This concern for staff, Circus claims, indicates a breakthrough. ’Most

management consultants assume that shareholders are the most important

people,’ says Twivy, ’and then, slightly grudgingly, consumers and

finally staff.’ Circus, by contrast, emphasises that companies will not

project themselves well if their staff are unhappy. So the idea is to

start from the inside of companies, then work outwards.

Martin Jones, managing director of the Advertising Agency Register,

believes Circus offers an appealing sell. ’There are an increasing

number of clients who are looking for solutions beyond advertising,’ he


Ashton, who signed off as many as 30 ads a week at Dorlands before he

was fired in June, is excited. ’I relish the opportunity. Agencies are

so constraining. If a creative team got a brief to launch a drink, they

would sit in their departments and work on an ad encompassing TV, press

and, at the last minute, a trade-press execution. But what about

designing a can? I will roll up my sleeves and have a go.’

All four partners offer their admiration to proponents of integrated

communications, such as HHCL & Partners or the Abbott Mead Vickers group

(which owns PR, direct marketing and sales promotion companies). But,

they argue, the final impetus at these companies is to make ads. Circus,

by contrast, starts with a blank sheet. As Ashton enthuses: ’This is our

party and we will choose what colour wallpaper we are going to have.’

Design is a crucial element. ’Design has always been put to one side.

Advertising people are frightened by it. But it is the permanent face of

the brand.’

But will Circus be different from other recent start-ups that have

adopted a ’holistic’ approach, such as St Luke’s and Mother? ’There is

no doubt they represent elements of what we are doing,’ Twivy says, ’a

democratic form of ownership, and an offering that goes beyond

advertising. But we are about bridging the world of consultancy. It’s

bigger and more ambitious.’

What about Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, which launched as an ’ideas’

shop five years ago? Its creative partner, Robert Campbell, said at the

time, ’many creative people instinctively leap to the script and the

layout. We will take a much broader view ...’ Does Circus really mark a


MT Rainey, Rainey Kelly’s planning partner - who knows the Circus

partners well - welcomes the start-up because it will ’legitimise the

intellectual property end of the business where we operate’. But she

offers some advice: ’They are worrying a bit too much about being seen

as an ad agency.’

She speaks from experience. Rainey Kelly is viewed in terms of its ads

for the Times, Lil-lets or Virgin Atlantic, and Circus, in turn, will

inevitably be judged in the same way - by its ads.

The challenge facing Circus will be to get behind the jargon, proving

through its first few clients that ’media neutrality’ is more than just

the buzzword of the moment.

Perspective, p18.


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