School Reports 2014: Karmarama

BBC Radio 6 Music
BBC Radio 6 Music

Score: 7  Last year: 8

Those hoping the departure of the networker par excellence Nicola Mendelsohn would see the wheels fall off at Karmarama will have been left disappointed in 2013. In fact, the agency went through a further metamorphosis that saw Caitlin Ryan named the first executive creative director across Karma Communications Group.

Drafted in from Proximity, Ryan brought with her an understanding of digital, which is key to Karmarama’s ambition for non-traditional campaigns to become the norm. Mendelsohn’s shoes, meanwhile, were filled by the Naked founder Jon Wilkins – an equally surprising hiring given his background in comms planning.

On a strategic level, Karma Communications acquired the social media agency Grape Digital, which created work including a BBC Radio 1 heat map that shows the songs teenagers in various cities are listening to in real time – a natty little addition to its suite of services. Karmarama also launched a Dragons’ Den-style funding scheme, Krank, which supported two new-business ideas from agency staff.

The quality of the work – an area where Karmarama has been inconsistent in the past – looked decidedly better. A charming "the 6 Music tree" spot and the moving first ad for Clydesdale Bank shone through.

There was also a pretty successful run at new business, with Grolsch, Cobra, Virgin Active, Sun-Pat, St Tropez, Jamie’s Italian and Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks giving the shop some creative opportunities for the coming year. However, out the door went the £30 million B&Q account after just one year.

There were some lighter moments too – Karmarama’s outlandish office appeared in The Apprentice and ideas were pitched in the BBC Two documentary Iceland Foods: Life In The Freezer Cabinet, in which it was heralded as "a trendy London advertising agency". Even though these ideas were not successful, there is a renewed confidence at Karmarama that should hold it in good stead post-Mendelsohn.

How Karmarama rates itself: 7

Karmarama's year in a Tweet: Innovation, independence, integrity: a year of proving that good works.

Type of agency Progressive multidisciplinary
Company ownership Independent
Key personnel Jon Wilkins executive chairman
Ben Bilboul chief executive
Dave Buonaguidi chief creative officer
Caitlin Ryan group executive creative director
Sid McGrath chief strategy officer
Nielsen billings 2013 £98m
Nielsen billings 2012 £73m
Declared income n/s
Total accounts at year end 33
Accounts won 12 (biggest: Clydesdale Bank)
Accounts lost 2 (biggest: B&Q)
Number of staff 189 (+11%)

Score key: 9 Outstanding 8 Excellent 7 Good 6 Satisfactory 5 Adequate 4 Below average 3 Poor 2 A year to forget 1 Survival in question

Footnote: *indicates where agencies claim the corporate governance constraints of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.


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