Y&R rocked as trio quits to form agency

James Murphy, Ben Priest and David Golding in shock resignation ahead of plans to launch new-model agency in January.

James Murphy, Ben Priest and David Golding are to launch a start-up agency early next year, despite frenzied efforts by WPP top brass to retain the Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R senior management team.

Murphy, Priest and Golding, the chief executive, creative director and planning director at the WPP-owned agency, tendered their resignations to the Y&R European chairman and chief executive, Massimo Costa, on Monday. A senior Y&R executive is thought to have informed key clients about the departures at a meeting in Cannes.

Costa, however, denied their departure was certain, and said: "We are in discussions with them. The talks are very much about what we can do together and they are going to take some time."

According to a source close to Y&R, such talks are thought to include lucrative new contracts for the three, or even the possibility that WPP seed investment in their start-up.

However, the source added that Murphy, Priest and Golding are likely to reject any investment offer, and will push ahead with the launch of their new agency when their six-month notice periods come to an end in January.

So far, no clients have been linked to the start-up plans, which are understood to be based around a new agency model that will boast digital creativity at its heart.

Sources have pointed out Murphy's close ties with RKCR/Y&R's Virgin and Marks & Spencer accounts, suggesting either could be launch clients.

Such plans, however, would fall foul of what are believed to be six-month non-compete clauses in the trio's contracts, and could end up pitching Murphy, Priest and Golding into a legal battle with WPP. This would be similar to Sir Martin Sorrell's fight with the former Y&R European chairman, William Eccleshare, when he decided to quit the agency to join BBDO in 2005.That case went to the High Court, but was settled during an adjournment in the initial hearing.

- Perspective, page 19.