The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010: Engine

Clients want an agency that can act as a portal for many specialist talents, Debbie Klein says.

The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010 is a Campaign advertising supplement published for thenetworkone.

Six years ago, Engine did not exist. I was part of the management team of a slumbering mid-sized advertising agency that, like many others, was owned by a big holding company, and delivered conventional advertising campaigns.

Even then, we could see that clients no longer wanted to have conversations about advertising alone. In every sector, they were seeing their markets ripped apart by huge, technology-driven changes, and with many businesses and organisations bleeding badly as a result, our advertising-only output was a sticking plaster at best.

There were two ways to respond and the ostrich approach had little to recommend it.

To stay relevant, we'd have to reinvent every aspect of our company, from our structure, to our skills, to what we delivered for our clients.

So we did a management buyout and set about creating a future-facing communications company built for this century, not the last one. Not a one-stop shop full of Jacks-of-all-trades, but, rather, a portal for many talents. Capable of offering best-in-class, single-discipline expertise to some clients and delivering joined-up multi-discipline campaigns for others.

Today, Engine is helping clients with everything from digital to direct, sponsorship to public affairs, PR to promotions. And the days when our only answer was a TV campaign seem rather more than six years ago.

How we built it

No client wants to hire people who are "quite good" at everything. Clients pay for expertise, for specialists with depth of knowledge, for people with outstanding analytical and creative skills who aren't found within their own organisations.

That is why we remain committed to the ideal of specialists working together, and have rejected the generalist model.

We call our model "best in class under one roof".

It's quite a claim and yet, in 2009 alone, Engine's specialists were named Direct Agency of the Year, Sponsorship Agency of the Year and the UK's Most Innovative Management Consultancy. Our PR agency delivered the PR Campaign of the Year and our events company the Best Experiential Event.

Through a mixture of start-ups and acquisitions, we have built Engine into a company of 550 people drawn from deliberately diverse backgrounds, extending far beyond the traditional remit of marketing communications.

Having gathered these "best in class" people, we needed to find them a common home in order to live true to our "under-one-roof" proposition. We are now all in Great Portland Street, perfect for those corridor conversations and coffee-table updates that move projects along so much faster than laboriously organised, formal meetings. It's a model that clients have been quick to embrace, and already we are working with one in five of the UK's top 100 marketing spenders.

What we offer

The reason most new clients walk through the door is that they're looking for help to navigate the huge changes sweeping through their industries, from technological advances fundamentally altering their marketplace to media developments making customers ever harder to reach.

In trying to deal with these challenges, most client companies have changed far more than their agencies. Marketing directors know that their customers have changed and that the ways in which they are communicating with them are becoming less effective, so they need advisors who live every day in the new communication environment.

Clients need people who see change as an opportunity, not as a threat to be denied or deflected. Who don't fear change, but love it. Which is why our internal rallying cry is "love change".

We've built Engine to help businesses understand, navigate and create change. That takes a wider range of specialist talent, working together flexibly to provide clients with the answers they need now and the questions they should ask of the future. Visit our Love Change blog at to read or contribute to some of our discussions on the latest changes in everything from technology to sport, politics to social media.

The results so far

When a bunch of bright people with different talents start bubbling around in one building, new ideas start to flow. Ideas which go where the audience already is, creating content that entertains, intrigues or rewards the recipient to increase the depth of engagement with brands and messages. The world's first 3D disco. A house decked out entirely with carpet. A waterproof book for bathtime reading.

For Transport for London, we helped reduce the number of cyclists killed on London's roads by one-third using a short awareness test ( It was launched with a handful of television spots, then flew virally around the world, appearing everywhere from Good Morning America to YouTube, where it was viewed more than 15 million times. We had more than 26 million people "do the test", with more than half of these achieved at zero media cost.

Our work for Santander ranges from a mass public-awareness programme announcing the name change from Abbey, to niche targeted campaigns for students. Santander was the first financial services brand to use Facebook. With a prize draw mechanic and incentives to invite friends to join, the campaign gained more than 20,000 student Facebook fans in days.

To encourage youngsters to consider the new Diploma qualification, we worked with the British grime artist Kano to release a music track and video. Kano wrote and recorded a new track, More Than One Way, and Diploma students helped produce the music video, demonstrating that they were given valuable practical, as well as theoretical, experience. The track was named "Hottest Record in the World" by the Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe.

Search online for More Than One Way to see the work and download the track for free.

Or, create your dream music festival line-up by playing the Fantasy Festival game we created for Sony. By linking with Last FM, the game captures the level of real-world buzz attached to your chosen artists, enabling music fans to put their musical instincts to the test. Create your own festival at battle it out with the 30,000 festivals already created.

So, looking back, we've changed beyond recognition in the past six years, and I fully expect us to do the same in the next six. We will continue to develop new skills, find new partners and work in different ways. We're Engine, and we love change.

Debbie Klein is the joint chief executive of Engine




Peter Scott, chairman and joint chief executive; Debbie Klein, joint chief executive; Robin Wight, president; Phil Andrews, chief operating officer; Steve Aldridge, executive creative director; Leon Jaume, executive creative director


London, New York

What would you like to see more of in 2010?
Change. We love it

Which country's creativity (other than your own) do you most admire?
We tend to admire individual agencies, rather than countries. When it comes to creativity, countries are like pop bands - some of them are one-hit wonders, some specialise in Euro Trash and others enjoyed their best time back in the 60s