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Top gear: Driven agency start up

Ex-TBWA team put the pedal to the metal

Much has been made of the TBWA\Manchester revolution. Since the Morrisons account left for London in 2006, the personnel changes at the agency have made for fascinating viewing.

Among those made redundant, first due to the Morrisons decision and later due to a restructure of the company, were chief executive Neil Griffiths, BDH\TBWA’s managing director Nick Brookes and creative director Chris Lear. Griffiths exited in 2006, while Brookes and Lear departed last September along with the BDH moniker.

Since leaving, the north west market has been awash with theories on where the trio would turn up. Griffiths, who was strongly linked with a move to Oakbase, has in fact been running his own consultancy, Cornergate. While Brookes, who was on gardening leave until January, and the freelancing Lear were rumoured to have held talks with a number of north west agencies.

However, few would have predicted that the three would join forces to launch a new agency. So when messrs Brookes, Lear and Griffiths met with The Drum to first announce the launch of Driven it came as a shock to many. In addition, the trio will soon be joined by a fourth partner – TBWA\Manchester’s ex-brand director Graham Drury, who until earlier this week was working his notice period at the agency. When Drury handed in his notice before Christmas, it was with the intention to join Griffiths at Cornergate, while Brookes and Lear had also formed a working partnership.

Tight-lipped

“The two teams were almost thinking in parallel, but were going off in separate directions,” explains Brookes. “It was only when we started talking this year that we realised the similarity in what we were doing.”

Griffiths has hailed the start-up as “the most significant agency launch in the north west for nearly a decade” and the team has already revealed that gardening firm Westgate has appointed the agency to replace, wait for it...TBWA\Manchester.

Brookes has remained tight-lipped over the possibility of further TBWA\Manchester clients migrating to Driven, although speculation continues. Perhaps most surprising, though, is that Drury had continued to work at TBWA rather than going on gardening leave, while the agency he part owns won business from his then current employers.

The partners have a clear idea of the type of firm they want to run, formed in part by their experience of working for an agency which is part of the TBWA global network.

“When you become part of something bigger, the agenda is set elsewhere,” he says. “By definition, how you service your clients has therefore been set elsewhere too. You’re having to adhere to a set of numbers or principles, which haven’t necessarily been constructed with your own local clients’ best interests at heart.

“If you look at any client survey, the number one priority is return on investment. It’s not creativity – although creativity is a great driver for effectiveness – it is getting back more than they’ve spent. If you look at our backgrounds, driving effectiveness has always been central to our beliefs.”

As Brookes sees it, the market is split into two camps. “There are the agencies that talk about process and creativity, as if to force it down people’s throats, and then there are those that don’t talk about it at all. It is the latter that tend to be the most creative and effective agencies.

“You can probably guess that I’m alluding to Disruption [the TBWA network’s famous approach]. If used in the right way, it can be great. But if used in the wrong way, it can be an enormous straight jacket. It’s not only that though, there are plenty of other agencies that offer one process for all clients – even if it’s not suitable.”

Lear says the four partners will be hands-on with their clients and are keen to “get back in the trenches”.

“The bigger the infrastructure, the more talented people rightly or wrongly rise to the top and get more tied up with managing the business rather than working on their clients,” he says. “At Driven, the people that own the agency will work on the clients’ business.”

Lear admits that, despite his initial instinct for Driven to be based in the city centre, it was on the advice of potential clients that the team opted for an out-of-town premises in Wilmslow and that consultation with clients will take place for all of the key decisions that are made going forward.

These promises, along with the combined experience of the partners, will undoubtedly be an attractive prosposition for clients, and Brookes and Griffiths say Driven will work with other suppliers to deliver the best possible results.

“Every agency claims to be integrated. They’re multi-disciplined; they offer everything from above, through, below, back and side of the line. They claim to be able to do absolutely everything, but I don’t buy it.”

“As a network agency,” adds Griffiths, “you often find yourself trying to sell what is perhaps a second rate service just because it’s under the umbrella. To get the best of breed, you have to go to the agencies that work in that discipline all the time and that’s what we will do.”

Some might argue that with the calibre and profile of the partners, too many cooks could spoil the broth. But with clear objectives outlined from the off and clients continuing to arrive through the door, there’s little question that the north west marketing scene will be keeping a very close eye on its newest competitor over the coming months.