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Business breakout

By The Drum | Administrator

May 29, 2008 | 22 min read

Everyone likes a new baby and here The Drum gives an insight into some of the cutest new launches in town.

There is no doubt that if entrepreneurs did not throw caution to the wind to set up shop, then quite simply this industry would not have a future.

Every agency, from the largest global giant, to the smallest local shop, had to start somewhere. Even those who prefer to acquire, than get involved in start-ups, would accept that they would have nothing to buy, if people lost the compulsion to start agencies from scratch.

So to try and get a glimpse of what the future might hold The Drum has been reviewing all the firms which have been launched within the last 18 months to bring you this list of The Top 20 Start-Ups.

Some agencies were included because they have enjoyed early success. Other simply because of the pedigree of their founders.

Either way the businesses on the list will give some insight into the DNA of the next generation of agencies.

An Ideal World

Having unveiled itself only a couple of weeks ago, ad firm An Ideal World is comfortably the newest agency in our list, or so you’d think.

In fact, the Manchester venture had originally launched as If Creative in December last year; the moniker perhaps wisely dropped given how it tallies uneasily with that of 2006 north west start-up If Agency.

Despite the false start, and the fact that it’s a little too early to size up An Ideal World’s client list, the agency remains a start-up worth keeping an eye on given the previous of its protagonists. Creative director, David Milligan-Croft, was last seen in the same role at Propaganda; Fiona Lynch, meanwhile, has left Sale’s AWA to become client services director.

The man spearheading the operation is Flame Digital’s Dom Rodwell. He bills An Ideal World as a standalone agency, although in his role as MD across both the new venture and Flame, Rodwell will surely expect some client cohesion between the two.


The rise in significance of social media PR has unquestionably caught a number of the better established consultancies napping, so when former Brazen account director Jennifer O’Grady revealed the specialism would form a key part of her new start-up, it was always going to attract attention.

O’Grady was one of the first employees at Brazen, which launched in 2001, but quit the agency last year following the firm’s management restructure and began planning the January 2008 launch of her own company. One reason for the hype around the new business is O’Grady’s brand experience working with the likes of Lambrini, Phones 4u, Chicago Town Pizza, Shearings Holidays, Swizzels Matlow and Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank.

She’s also lined up a team of three advisors - Ross Brown, Patricia Heaney and David Bailey - all of whom were chosen for their skills in digital media and podcasting/vodcasting.

The agency missed out on the Lambrini PR brief to BJL, but was soon celebrating its first major win in the form of food giant Baxters, which has appointed Democracy to create awareness for its range of Jack Daniels Sauces, targeted primarily at the barbecue market.


Arguably the highest profile of all our start-ups, Wilmslow-based Driven boasts a wealth of experience that even some better-established businesses would envy.

Driven is essentially an off-shoot of TBWA\Manchester, with all four of its founding partners’ last roles being at the Omincom-owned group. Neil Griffiths (chief executive), Nick Brookes (BDH managing director) and Chris Lear (BDH joint creative director) were all shown the door at TBWA as part of wholesale changes stretching from summer 2006 through to summer 2007, while Graham Drury left his account director post in April to join his former colleagues in the new venture.

Since its inception, the agency has picked up the Westland account from its former employers, launching the brand’s new TV campaign; been appointed by retail business Footasylum; and supported Museum of Science and Industry’s Body Works 4 exhibition.

At the time of going to press, the agency is also understood to be in the frame for the Chicago Town advertising account, which was put up for review last month. Drury, Griffiths and Lear all worked on the Schwan’s-owned brand during their time at TBWA, which has declined to repitch for the business.

Driven being linked with big north west ad accounts, has got other agencies in the region talking, but it’ll be if the agency can start to bring in clients of a similar ilk from outside of the region, that will see the agency live up to the early hype.


When Paul Carroll completed his earn-out and departed Communique PR, the agency he founded and built into a £3m business, he left behind a team consisting of some of Manchester’s brightest young PR talent. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that in the aftermath of his exit (along with that of MD Nathalie Bagnall), there may be one or two of the team that might take the opportunity to reassess their own career plan.

One such individual was Jaime Markey. She had long harboured ambitions of launching her own consultancy, without the pretence and egos commonly associated with the industry, and so JAMpr was born.

Clients to date include the likes of DIY tools brand Avit, security brand Kasp, The Celtic Herbal Company, and designer Judy Holme.

However, it was at the end of last year that the agency won its biggest piece of business with Velcro - an account Markey managed during her Communique days. The agency has been briefed to support Velcro Ltd’s concentrated marketing efforts with strategic public relations activity, driving awareness of its product portfolio and handling a number of product launches planned this year.

Meanwhile, the agency is also gearing up to officially launch a new design division, JAMcre8tive. Details on personnel and account wins are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.


Last year was a tough time for Yorkshire’s direct marketing community, as both EHS Brann and WWAV Rapp Collins were forced to close their Leeds offices.

In the case of WWAV, a statement suggested that the Northern marketplace had “increasingly been an extremely tough one to operate in and revenues have declined significantly”, but five of its senior management team had other ideas and set about developing a new agency.

With a wealth of experience, both client and agency side, the agency has all the trappings of a solid player, but what sets Kanjo aside from other DM agencies is its quirkiness. Along with a strong graffiti logo, each of its five partners have been given ‘alternative’ job titles. The team consists of navigator (or digital and data strategist) Tess Critchlow; field captain (or client services director) Howard Masters; generator (or creative director) Pete Chase; the source (or production director) Jeanette Greaves; and reality checker (or commercial director) Philip Normington.

The team hit the ground running, starting life with a number of WWAV North’s former clients - including Bupa and Premierline Direct - and is currently developing campaigns for the likes of NHS, Ultralase and Wells Fargo Bank.

Ultralase is the most recent of the wins, with the agency fending off two other Leeds agencies to collect the laser eye specialist’s direct marketing business.

life pr

When Staniforth’s managing director, Emma Chadwick, and financial director, Paul Chorlton, handed in their notices at the Manchester agency in November last year, it was no secret that they’d soon be reappearing with a venture of their own in the city. Quelle surprise, Life PR has quietly surfaced over the last couple of months, with Chadwick and Chorlton joined by ex-Staniforth CEO Colin Whitehead, and PR consultant Joanna Simpson as partners in the firm.

Life has so far kept itself to itself, with what you’d call a very low-key launch for a PR firm. While it’s not shouted about any early client wins, Life has been quick to set its stall out; it is, according to its website boast, ‘a new kind of PR firm’. How that will manifest itself beyond bluster will be interesting to watch unfold.

It’s still very much in its infancy, but with the calibre of its protagonists, it’s hard to imagine that we won’t be hearing plenty more from Life in the coming months.


This Birmingham-based agency has become something of an enigma since its launch at the end of 2007. The key conspirators have remained silent and, appearing to be without a website, the agency is almost untraceable. However, good things are expected.

News of the launch was revealed in The Drum last November, as rumours of a breakaway from The Marketing Store were circulating the Birmingham scene. It is believed as many as 15 TMS staff may have followed managing director David Poole, director Ian Humphries and client services director Mel Herbert in the new start-up, along with clients such as Chicago Town and Spirit Group.

Although described as amicable at the time, sources suggest that TMS could now be about to close in Birmingham, with its remaining team and clients being absorbed into sister agency Boxer. However, an agency spokesperson denied the agency would be closing.

With such a large, although admittedly well-bonded, team to begin with, Life bears little resemblance to other start-ups, but represents important new blood for the Midlands agency scene and should be worth keeping an eye on over the coming year.


Recently crowned ‘One to Watch’ by peers at the North of England Design Lunch, Music is already furrowing a creative reputation among its circle of contemporaries nine months after launching.

Former Love creative director, David Simpson, set up the design firm alongside ex-Love production manager, Matthew Beardsell, and creative Anthony Smith, who relocated to the north west after 10 years in London with agencies including Uffindell West and Turnbull Ripley.

While Music is now firmly establishing its credentials, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Two weeks after opening, the start-up was a hit by a fire at its office in the Ancoats area of Manchester. It was, Music’s founders say, seeing their shiny new office blanketed in soot that affirmed their belief in the agency and fuelled their determination to make it a success. Ten weeks later, they were back in their office with only the slightest smell of burning plastic still lingering in the air.

Music’s founders are now revelling in what they call a ‘small is beautiful’ approach, which has allowed them to get more hands on with clients and suppliers than they have previously and, in turn, they say, form stronger relationships.

The agency is currently working on a book documenting the regeneration of north Staffordshire through the observations of 14 international artists. Also ongoing are CSR briefs for Man City FC, and the summer campaign for Chester Festivals. Other projects include titles and idents for a new series on Sky Arts called Songbook and a Joly Good TV production commissioned for the BBC.

One Black Bear

Coming up to a year old is Birmingham’s newest digital agency, One Black Bear.

The firm was formed by Gareth Brown and Ross Riley as a breakaway from WAA. The pair were originally part of the WebXPress team that was acquired by WAA in 2006, but a year on and the duo left for a new challenge.

They began talks with another Birmingham-based agency, Unsuitable, about joining forces to create a new digital offering that would steer clear of becoming just “another web agency”. With Unsuitable founders Richard Elwell, Steve Price and Jon Harrison all on board as partners in the new venture, One Black Bear was launched.

In February this year, the agency announced itself to the industry, successfully scooping Subaru UK’s national digital business by beating RBH Engage and London’s Tonic in a pitch.

With the emphasis on creating “beautiful, usable web applications” and providing services such as website design, web applications, user interface design and online marketing, the agency has managed to attract work with the likes of MensRoom and Bluewater Shopping Centre.

The team continues to grow and new premises are afoot.

Planning Express

Every now and then, a business comes along that perfectly meets the needs of a marketplace. In 2007, that start-up was Planning Express.

In truth, the concept of the company was first formed in 2005 by Liz Bielinska, upon her return from a stint with Martin Williams Advertising in Minneapolis. However the idea was shelved as she returned to BDH, the agency at which she began her career, to become planning director.

Like many of the individuals involved in this start-up list, though, Bielinska fell foul of the sweeping changes at TBWA and left the company in January 2007, allowing her to focus on the launch of her new venture.It was then that Bielinska teamed up with Katrina Michel – the chairman and head of account planning at CheethamBell JWT – and the pair developed the business proposition of an external account planning and brand planning consultancy.

Both individuals had earned excellent reputations in the industry prior to the firm’s launch and the combination of the two, along with the unique offering, brought no shortage of agencies queuing up to bring in that level of expertise as and when required.

The firm has also worked directly with marketing teams and, without making much noise, has a reputation which continues to grow.

Primo PR

The sleepy town of Rochdale, nestled in the foothills of the Pennines, doesn’t, on first glance, seem like the most obvious place for a PR start-up. You can understand why it appealed to Justine Stevenson and Cheryl Davies who established Primo there though; it must have contrasted pleasingly with the incessant din of change they were habituated to as directors at Manchester’s Communique, following its acquisition.

After being taken over by Burson Marsteller, much speculation surrounded the plans of Communique’s existing staff. Inevitably, breakaways emerged and as a product Primo was born in April 2007. It launched with both a pledge to only recruit PR consultants with a minimum of three years’ experience, and some early clients: Biloxi Southern Foods, and Lealta Benefits.

Primo has since been appointed by contemporary furniture retailer and rewards and incentive provider to the housing association sector, Countdown. Its aim from inception was to specialise in the food and drink, retail, financial services and benefits and lifestyle sectors.

Sixteen Hands

When Leeds behemoth PWLC went bump after a succession of client and staff departures last year, the firm’s MD, Neil Lockwood, seized the opportunity for a new start and fresh approach in the city. From PWLC’s ashes, Lockwood launched Sixteen Hands at the back end of 2007, sensing, he says, an opportunity to open a boutique agency “that loves, but challenges, its clients”.

Alongside Lockwood’s experience with clients as varied as M&S, Budweiser and Volvo, Julia Mulligan was brought on board as strategy director. Mulligan has worked on the likes of McKinsey & Company, Barclays and Mars accounts while in London, and also brings in commercial experience client-side.

So far, the agency claims to have won all but one of its pitches. Notable wins include NHS in Yorkshire and the Humber; White Rose Shopping Centre, which has 12.5million visitors a year; and Totaljobs Group in London, to launch its network brand, Job Journey.

On its website, Sixteen Hands describes itself as ‘the thoroughbred agency of the north’; a fanciful boast compared to the usually less colourful marketing agency spiel. Despite all thoughts turning to horse training, Sixteen Hands’ powers, we’re assured, lie in the fields of marketing and brand strategy, integrated campaigns, branding and design, and direct marketing.

slam pr

In 2006, the London office of Weber Shandwick took decision to introduce a new arm to the firm with the launch of Slam PR - a specialist lifestyle and youth culture agency, providing expertise in social media, buzz marketing, viral and online activity and guerilla marketing.

After a successful first year, the firm’s Manchester office opened Slam PR North and installed former Tangerine PR account director Ric Coggins to head the team

Over the last few months, SLAM has also been working closely with the NHS North West’s ‘Our Life’ programme, in planning what will effectively be the biggest ever regional campaign of its kind - the Big Drink Debate.

In addition, the agency has picked up the year-long contract with sports nutrition company, Science in Sport; The Linda McCartney Centre briefed Slam with managing the promotion of its ambitious Field of Women project; and All Saints and Ministry of Sound arrived as new clients.

The firm is predicting 47 percent annualised income growth in 2008, as well as a 100 percent increase in the number of clients in currently works with.


There’s an old yarn that in every agency in Newcastle and its surrounds, you’ll find someone who has worked for the city’s advertising behemoth, Robson Brown. Nowhere does that ring truer than at advertising and design agency StarkHartleyAtkinson; the firm established by former Robson Brown directors Helen Stark, Nigel Hartley and Daran Atkinson in Gateshead.

Its directors’ credentials were proven soon after launching late in 2007, pocketing briefs for Flymo, European garden product manufacturer Gardena and ING Real Estate UK, after just weeks in business. Since then, the agency has also worked with the likes of Leeds City Council, Newcastle Building Society and Zanussi.

With Robson Brown toasting its 25th anniversary this year, and showing no signs of stopping, it’s worth taking note of any start-up bold enough to step out of its ominous shadow. StarkHartleyAtkinson’s launch, and subsequent establishment, is all the more noteworthy as it has punctuated an otherwise barren spell of start up activity in the north east.

Stiff Rowlands

Small and proud. That’s the way James Stiff and Simon Rowlands describe the “virtual creative agency” they launched late last year.

The pair met while at John Moore’s University in Liverpool and, despite working separately throughout their careers (until now, of course), have remained good friends with a shared outlook on design and advertising.

Stiff was previously a head designers at IPC Media, working on titles such as NME, Nuts and Loaded, while Rowlands worked at Tequila\Manchester before freelancing. Although now working together, the pair remain in separate cities; Stiff in London and Rowlands in Manchester.

As well as working with a number of clients direct, Stiff Rowlands has already emerged as a favourite supplier for other agencies. Key projects to date have included work with Love on DeVere Deluxe’s early Christmas mailer; an identity for music promoter A&R’s Futuresounds showcase; advertising work for Planning Express; and branding for Singapore-based production house, The Deck.

Through Creative

The design and marketing firm was established in Macclesfield in December 2007 following the downfall of Cheshire agency Native, which collapsed two months previously. In the wake of redundancies, the defunct firm’s creative director, Paul Wilson, and group account director, Ed Beattie, started afresh as Through Creative.

Explaining the firm’s name upon its launch, Wilson told us that they’d chosen it because, “you really can make a difference through creative”; a noble mantra, but a year and a half on, how much of a difference is Through Creative making? Well, UK Sports & Event Management, which tasked the firm to create a brochure promoting its training camp services, only has positive things to say. The firm recently extolled the virtues of Through’s approach, saying it was the latest brochure which has helped court the interest of a host of new clients.

Busy on several fronts including a new trade advertising campaign for Manchester-based warehouse management specialist, Chess Logistics Technology, Through Creative has proved the bright spark to emerge from Native’s demise.

Transmission Creative

Recently celebrating its first birthday, graphic design firm Transmission has had an opening year worth toasting. It’s picked up new business in the shape of Martine Alexander Personal Styling Services, Muralis Fine Art Photography and Big Fish Business Improvement, while continuing to build on its blossoming relationship with Manchester City Council’s North Manchester Regeneration Team

Transmission has been driven through its formative days by Grant Mitchell, whose award winning design skills have previously been employed by the likes of The Chase, Graphic Partners and Creative Lynx. Recently commenting on the firm passing its one year milestone, Mitchell says he feels it’s enjoyed a “solid start” and that clients are receptive to the combination of big agency experience played out in “a small, committed and creative agency”.

Transmission has recently been busy creating an innovative bus shelter campaign for Manchester City Council’s North Manchester Regeneration Team, encouraging GCSE students to use music to inspire them to exam success.


Up until now, The Vivid Consultancy has been a relatively well-kept secret. But a little digging on the local scene revealed the agency to be something of a hidden gem.

Vivid was launched in April 2007 by former journalists Hilary Allison and Caroline Rawlinson. The pair met while working as journalists – Allison on the Citizen in Gloucester and Rawlinson on the Gloucestershire Echo in Cheltenham - in the late 1980s. Allison left to join Gloucestershire Police as its first civilian PR office and handled the Fred West case. She went on to join Thames Valley Police as the UK’s first ever head of corporate communications for a police service, before later leading the communications teams at Devon County Council and Gloucestershire County Council. Allison turned to freelancing in 2004, before co-founding the new agency three years later.

Rawlinson’s journey to Vivid was more agency focused. She worked for Powell Cooper Drew in Birmingham, before stints with three Cheltenham agencies. After two years with Anderson Ruffle Communications and four years at Gravitas, Rawlinson went to Montpellier, where she was latterly a board director.

The duo’s impressive background has been enough to catch the eye of local rivals, while recent client wins are with Kimberly-Clark Healthcare to promote the company’s range of infection control and digestive health products, Dorset County Council to help the authority with the PR challenges of a major change management programme and North Devon District Council to undertake a comprehensive communications programme including a re-brand.

Wonder Associates

Small and friendly is how the agency describes itself, yet since is January 2007 launch the agency has been able to snatch some highly sought-after briefs from under the noses of some of the bigger players.

The agency was formed by creative director Robert Fowler and client services director Lisa Gardiner, formerly sales and marketing director at With (nee WRG).

Specialising in arts, culture, heritage, leisure and retail, the Wilmslow-based agency has created the Horrible Histories campaign for Imperial War Museum North; handled various Selfridges & Co in-store campaign graphics; developed the branding and campaign design for Revealing Histories, an exhibition where seven museums and galleries remembered slavery; picked up several projects with the Arts Council England, including and Yorkshire Vybe; and created the branding and marketing design for Bradford Museums & Galleries’ Cartwright Hall Art Gallery.

The addition, the firm has handled briefs for the likes of Hyde Park Picture House, Arts About Manchester, First Word Records and Sound Group.

Zebra Advertising

As one of the youngest agencies in the list, Zebra may perhaps lack the awareness of its closest competitors. But the pedigree and ambition of its two founding partners suggests that could all be about to change.

Formed at the turn of the year by managing director Emma Jones and creative director Matt Marsden, the agency’s first briefs have included design and digital work for online glasses and contact lenses retailer; rebranding, design and digital activity for Flynn Construction; and the brand identity and advertising for fashion retailer

Jones’s background includes a five-year stint at SMRS - the education and recruitment sister company of Mediavest - where she worked on accounts such as HBOS, Manchester Business School, Salford University, The University of Teesside, Newcastle College and Montgomery, as well as a spell at online marketing company Latitude.

Marsden, on the other hand, began his career at BDH in 1995, before working for a number of creative agencies such as Psygnosis and Fanatic. During that time, he worked on projects for the likes of football clubs Arsenal and Aston Villa, AstraZeneca, Fujitsu and Reebok.

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