When Mother London promoted Ana and Hermeti Balarin to executive creative directors on a sunny Thursday morning in June 2015, there was many a creative leader, and Mother alumni, who took a pause on seeing the news splashed across the Campaign front page.
It was the first time the creative hotshop had appointed ECDs to run the department. The founders and creative partners Robert Saville and Mark Waites had previously run it themselves (although that was with the help of Stephen Butler during 2010-2013).
At the time, one of those wistful creative bosses likened the wait for Mother to hire an ECD as the highest-stakes game of musical chairs any of them would ever play.
But, given the performance of the agency over the past few years, that joke looks even more apposite than it did then.
As equity partners of the London agency since August 2017 – alongside Katie Mackay-Sinclair and Chris Gallery – the Balarins have had an incredible run.
At the time, I questioned whether they would have the space to make it their own. The answer is a definite yes.
Mother has always had an extensive creative bench. Indeed, it almost has a Euro 2020-sized squad of creative directors (22) who run their own accounts. Then there is the omnipresence of Saville and Waites. And the fact the Balarins are also sticking around for the next six months.
So there is no rush. But it occurred to me that there are many qualified candidates running creative departments around the world. People who learned their trade – or honed it – in the Biscuit Building.
Ben Mooge – currently chief creative officer at Publicis Groupe UK –wrote a piece on agency culture for Campaign back in 2016. In it, he shared an image taken in Mother’s offices in 2004. In the image are (from left to right) Ben Middleton, Leon Wilson, David Kolbusz, John Cherry, Caroline Pay, Danny Bush, Laurence Thomson and Sam Walker.
Middleton is now chief creative officer at Creature London alongside Stu Outhwaite-Noel (who took the photo); Wilson was group creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Australia and now runs a branding agency; Kolbusz is chief creative officer at Droga5 London; Cherry is back at Mother freelancing; Pay is chief creative officer at mindfulness app Headspace and is recently back in the UK; Bush has had an extensive career in freelance production; Thomson is co-president and chief creative officer at McCann UK; and Walker is executive creative director at Uncommon Creative Studio.
Also at Mother at the time were Yan Elliott (now joint ECD at The & Partnership), Rob Potts (creative partner at Havas London), Andy Jex (chief creative officer at TBWA\London), Al Moseley (global chairman and CCO at 180), Kim Gehrig (superstar director at Somesuch), Darren Bailes (executive creative director at VCCP), Al MacCuish (co-founder and chief creative officer at Sunshine) and Rosie Bardales (executive creative director at BETC London).
Other creative leaders to have been through the agency include Danny Brooke-Taylor, founding partner at Lucky Generals, and Chaka Sobhani, global chief creative officer at Leo Burnett.
And, of course, there is the small matter of the creative chiefs in Mother's other offices, including the married couple Winson and Wanshi, who rejoined the family to be ECDs at Mother Shanghai from Wieden & Kennedy Shanghai, as it happens, in 2019.
As Mooge said in his piece, that is a “frankly ridiculous gang of talent”. But more than that, their successes are a testament to Mother’s role as a creative breeding ground.
As Saville said following the news that the Balarins were departing: "They're testament to the way that Mother nurtures and grows some of our industry’s greatest talent... Mother has always embraced what’s next and the opportunity that it presents."
Now, there are surely plenty of future ECDs among those 22 creative directors. But will they lead Mother in the near term? Or will that honour be bestowed on one of the many illustrious alumni the agency has produced?
Please write your answers in glazed pastry on the top of an apple pie.
Maisie McCabe is UK editor at Campaign