The future looks interesting for Naked Communications. Its decision to sell lock, stock and barrel to the Australian marketing services company Photon Group at last ends speculation over its future direction, and the intentions of its founders.
Will Collin, John Harlow, Jon Wilkins and the company's other shareholders (including the fourth partner Ivan Pollard) will be considerably better off following the completion of the deal, which was concluded earlier this week in Australia by the group chief executive, Nigel Long, Wilkins and the finance director, Barry Dudley.
However, Naked, which has expanded its horizons with launches into markets including the US, Australia, The Netherlands and Japan, is not resting on its laurels in the UK. Rather than sitting back and counting the cash, the senior team at Naked has identified the need for a better-resourced and more dynamic UK operation.
To achieve this, it recently announced a restructure that will see the partners Collin and Pollard returning to help run its UK business. Alongside the managing director, Chris Green, they will form part of a new UK triumvirate to take the agency forward.
The restructure, which dismantles a UK managing partner structure put in place two years ago, also sees more clearly defined roles for Collin's fellow founding partners Harlow and Wilkins. As the agency adjusts to losing its independent status, Harlow will stay in New York to help run Naked's agency there, while Wilkins will oversee its diversified services, such as the content and intellectual property business, Naked Ventures; the data analysis division, Naked Numbers; and the experiential agency, Lunch Communications.
The local UK changes have been instigated by Green, who wanted to bring a greater focus to the agency's culture and work for clients. They have resulted in the departures of the managing partners Niku Banaie and Jo Pearce, who formed two-thirds of the team that was put in place to run the UK business in 2006. The third former UK managing partner Geoff Gray is moving to Tokyo to help steer Naked's Japanese offering.
So were the changes an open admission that Naked UK had lost its mojo? After all, 2007 saw it lose some flagship business (notably its 118 118 client) and there seemed to be less buzz in the market about Naked. This is, perhaps, partly explained by the fact that London began to work on increasing amounts of international business for the likes of Nokia, Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark, but its profile seemed to dip by alarming proportions.
Green says: "Commercially it was working fine, but perhaps culturally there was a danger of losing that buzz there is around the place. And from a product point of view, we have moved from core communications planning to a more diversified offer - it's important that this is driven and this requires the founders and senior people to do it."
Green, who joined Naked in 2005 from the consultancy Branded, having previously worked as a publisher at Dennis and Emap, jokes that, in addition to working on Nokia, he is the "spreadsheet man". He adds: "I run the business, looking at growth from a commercial point of view, Ivan and Will focus on the work and the people. It's all about growth, but they'll be increasing our reputation and helping key individuals here to grow."
The bid to re-energise Naked UK will allow Collin and Pollard, both with formidable client and planning reputations, to spend greater amounts of time with clients and the agency's staff. They both previously spent a proportion of their time helping Naked businesses in other markets. As Pollard, who joined Naked in January 2006, puts it: "There will be a greater focus for me on the product and on bringing people on. Instead of flying to conferences in Singapore I'll be flying off to conferences in Solihull."
There are signs that the greater focus of senior people on clients is paying off. Collin has already won back the lost 118 118 business and will also work closely on Naked's COI business. Pollard will continue to work closely with clients such as Coca-Cola, but is fired up at the prospect of being more involved in the training and motivation of the agency's staff.
Collin says: "When we launched in 2000 the intention was to shake up the industry and, by coming back into the cut and thrust of the UK market, it gives us the opportunity to continue to innovate and not stand still. We stood out with a point of difference and by challenging the status quo, but you can't stop."
Collin says of his ambitions for the Naked offering: "It does mean the product is evolving - we're not just a strategy consultancy issuing pronouncements to be followed, but a partner working alongside to make sure recommendations happen."
While critics could argue that Naked has "sold out" from its origins of steering clear of execution, Collin believes that the wider group offering, providing data analysis and experiential marketing to clients for instance, will help to make Naked an increasingly valued partner with clients.
And the "new" UK team has the belief that the fresh ownership can only benefit its UK ambitions. Pollard says: "We want to bring a little of the excitement back into the UK office and excite the market about us again and challenge the people inside the company to take the next step. We have good people, a good product and some great work, and I can only see this becoming better and stronger."
NAKED UK TIMELINE
July 2000: Naked Communications is launched by Will Collin, John Harlow and Jon Wilkins
September 2003: Appoints the former Starcom director Tracey Darwen as managing director
January 2006: Appoints Ivan Pollard as its fourth partner
March 2006: Restructures in the UK with three managing partners: Niku Banaie, Geoff Gray and Jo Pearce
September 2006: Nigel Long, the former Euro RSCG chief, is appointed as group chief executive, having worked as a consultant for Naked
February 2008: Naked sells to Photon Group. A UK management reshuffle sees partners Collin and Pollard return to the UK business to work alongside the new managing director, Chris Green.