The news that James Murphy, Ben Priest and David Golding are quitting Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R is the best thing I've heard all year. For lots of reasons.
First, it's proof that big salaries and comfy lifestyles are not the most important things to the industry's brightest, most confident executives; the sheer adrenaline, house-on-the-line rush of going it alone and doing it differently still has appeal. How exciting is that?
Second, it's proof that there is room for a new type of agency that offers a real alternative to the big, lumpen networks or the semi sold-outs who are now juggling their own aspirations with stringent holding company demands in a climate of wholesale change.
Third, it's proof that people still matter in this business, despite the relentless focus on costs, processes and holding company-level deal-making: the best clients buy (the best) people.
So what sort of agency will Murphy Priest Golding (or whatever) be? They're not saying a thing, so this is pure speculation, but my money's on something akin to the Anomaly model in New York: an agency that has multi-faceted creativity and strategic thinking at its core. It's the sort of approach that dispenses with traditional hierarchies in favour of ideas-led, media-neutral, integrated solutions. And it's an approach that requires experience to make it work, but the sort of experience that is keen to learn, change, remould.
Adland's newest breakaway team has the blend of wisdom and freshness that is the necessary spark for the best sort of new agency. Many start-ups from recent years have had the freshness (or naivety) and the experience (or ennui), but few have combined the two. So it's almost impossible to imagine that Murphy Priest Golding will launch with anything other than a new model. Of course, the most recent new model launch, Hurrell and Dawson, opened its doors ten months ago also with a determinedly different proposition. But being different clearly isn't so easy, despite the general feeling in the business that the old model is broken. H&D has yet to sign a heavy-weight creative or its media thinker; and its clients (IPC Connect, Euro-star) so far seem to be buying decidedly "traditional" work.
What Murphy Priest Golding will definitely need is an eclectic line-up of talent: yes, a great media thinker (if they can find one); yes, a shrewd direct communications/CRM/database strategist; yes, a digital specialist; but also a polished PR professional? A designer? A rocket scientist? A journalist? A new model needs a new mix.
Meanwhile, what of the agency they leave behind? There are some decent people there (the newly recruited managing director, Richard Exon, the global business director, Chris Hunton, the chief operating officer, Tony Harris, the vice-chairman, Alison Hoad, and, of course, the invaluable Mark Roalfe). But who of that lot would you put your money on to keep dragging the UK office above the mediocrity of the Y&R network? Or will we soon see Clemmow Hornby Inge Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R?
There's no doubt that RKCR/Y&R has been something of a jewel in the WPP UK crown over the past couple of years. Ogilvy is gathering strength, but still lags behind RKCR/Y&R in the superficial, indefinable yet somehow important "fashionability" stakes. As for JWT and Grey, well they are both corporate headaches; Y&R now represents another one.
Of course, it's not just WPP that is having management problems in a talent-sapped market. Advertising's best people should bail out of the holding company straightjacket, change the world, make their fortune and, as is the way, rejuvenate and reshape the big groups by eventually selling back to them. After all, that's what Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe did back in 1999. Where would Young & Rubicam be now without that?