MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Naked Ambition's chief has to win back credibility

Was Matt James as secure a hiring as Naked's bosses would like, Jeremy Lee asks.

Naked Communications' decision to launch yet another franchise, Naked Ambition, was startling for two reasons.

First, there is an argument that the market is becoming super-served by people claiming to offer "strategic communications advice". You only have to open the window to discover another one has launched - do we really need another? And second, because the person who will be running it is none other than the itinerant Matt James, briefly the managing director of Mediaedge:cia.

Naked Ambition, like the Naked Inside joint venture with Clemmow Hornby Inge, will operate as a sister company to Naked. James will be taking equity in the venture and the Naked founders acting as partners. Jon Wilkins, a partner and co-founder of Naked, confirms that it will have a similar offering to the core Naked agency.

Wilkins argues that there is room in the market for yet another communications planning agency and that the Naked brand has still got mileage. "The Naked word is worth building on. Naked Ambition will go and plough its own furrow," he says. Furthermore, he says that this process of creating new cells is evocative of the advertising agency culture of the 60s and 70s and is part of Naked's strategy for growth.

He denies, however, that Naked Ambition is just a convenient conflict shop. "Describing it as a conflict shop makes it sound secondary. It makes sense for us to offer a hermetically sealed alternative," he says. That said, he concedes that it is a way of looking after clients who may not be able to go to Naked due to clashes. A conflict shop, in other words.

As for employing James, who left Mediaedge:cia after just three months in the job, Wilkins thinks that the manner in which he left the agency has not damaged his credibility. This, despite him previously spending a year in the wilderness, or more accurately his own shortlived content and strategy business, Maguffin. This followed his resignation, after just one year, from the job of managing director of Manning Gottlieb OMD.

"Like a lot of entrepreneurs, he is a bit of a lost soul. Mediaedge:cia was an aberration - he is a decent, loyal bloke," Wilkins says.

But some would disagree with him on this point. With so many moves in such a short time and the manner in which he abandoned Mediaedge:cia, it's tempting to see James as a risky hiring.

Critics of James say he is a nice enough bloke but, with his tendency to slip into impenetrable marketing bullshit, it might be an over-statement to describe him as "very, very talented".

Naked will hope that its clients will overlook James' previously flaky behaviour and if they are willing to do this it may well have a success on its hands.

It has spent a great deal of time searching for the right leader for the new agency and if James sticks it out, Naked's brand and contacts should do the rest. Naked is relying on this continued appetite for strategic communications planning. James should have no problem, as long as the bubble doesn't burst too soon.


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