Gary McCall Poulter Feature

The Last Stand

By The Drum | Administrator

July 10, 2008 | 6 min read

Saying goodbye to an old friend

Later today the last remaining staff at Poulters will leave for pastures new, as the 39-year-old business closes its doors for the last time.

The 42 employees that were made redundant as Bezier announced its decision to shut down the company have been leaving in installments since last Friday, the day after a party was held to commemorate the agency’s achievements spanning five decades.

The festivities began with an internal award ceremony at the office, where the agency’s awards from over the years were re-labelled as humorous accolades and handed out to the staff, before more than 120 guests headed into the heart of The Calls - a short stroll from the agency’s Rose Wharf home - for the party itself.

Attended by friends and former colleagues, it was the perfect opportunity to put the harsh realities of the closure to one side for an evening and celebrate the good times and successes of the agency.

David Bell, Poulters’ former creative director, says: “There was a lot of money put behind the bar and lots of friends and colleagues - past and present - turned up, including some of the agency’s older faces. It was just a really nice do, without any bitterness. Everyone seems to think the same thing - what a shame it came to this.”

Mick Craven, a senior creative with the agency, adds: “The mood was pretty good.

I think people have come to terms with what has happened and just wanted to have a good time and celebrate what it meant to them.

“It was upbeat and I think it’s a testament to this place that so many people showed up. It’s one of those places that had that draw to work at and former colleagues keep in touch.”

Bell continues: “I’d like to say a big thank you to those who came along - particularly the strong representation we had from other advertising and design agencies in the north. It was a good night and I guess all that’s left to say is ‘good night’.

There have been numerous theories as to Poulters eventual demise and while many in the scene put the blame at Bezier’s door, one rival agency’s chairman put forward a very different view in a letter to The Drum.

Propaganda’s Julian Kynaston has watched Poulters developments closely over the last few years and believes the problems go further back.

Taking a punt

“If it weren’t for Bezier taking a punt on Poulters in the first place, the agency would have gone to the wall two years ago. Its demise and ultimate departure from the scene is hardly the fault of Mark Shaw and Bezier.

“To my mind the blame must be put firmly on the MBO team post Graham Poulter – and certainly before the tenure of Gary McCall. I actually believe that Gary McCall showed incredible devotion and resilience in keeping the ship afloat.

“My view is that Richard Lewis and co failed to make the change from being an old school ad agency at the time they needed to - with too much mooting of token planning and ‘interactive’ - but underneath was an old school-thinking business convincing itself that it wasn’t.”

Responding, McCall believes it’s time to move on and is understandably keen to keep his eyes on the road ahead but acknowledges the highs and lows of the agency he was once steering.

“My focus has to be the future and making my new company as successful as I can.

“I would however like to say that the experience I have had at Poulters and in particular the tough times will be invaluable going forward. We made mistakes along the way and the aim will be to learn from those mistakes. We did lots of great things and I aim to repeat the great things.”

“Poulters was a special brand with special people. Having Poulters on your CV opened doors. Most people are sad to see the demise of this great brand, others just see it as an opportunity.”

As someone on the inside during these last few months, Craven’s analogy paints a clear picture. “The last couple of years at Poulters has been like turning up to an Amy Winehouse concert, loads of talent on show, but behind the scenes the wheels had come off.”

So what next for Poulters 42 staff?

McCall, who left the business in February, along with Nick Goring, who exited in June, are the first to announce their plans, with the launch of Banana Kick.

The agency, which will specialise in the leisure and sports sectors, will start life with as many as five ex-Poulters staff and it’s believed some of their former clients have also joined the new agency.

Much attention has now turned to the likes of planning director Darren Hawkins and Bell, who remains tight-lipped over his own plans. Then there’s Poulters’ highly regarded creative teams, including Gary Delaport and Craven – who says the pair are likely to freelance in the immediate future and expects splinter agencies to form over the coming months.

“Nobody was really saying what they’re going to do,” he says, “but I got the impression things are going to happen on the start-ups front.”

Choking up

The talent he refers to has been put to good use while under the Rose Wharf roof, creating Poulters’ last ever ad - carried exclusively in the centre spread of this magazine weeks magazine.

Both Craven and Bell were among those to have worked on the piece and believe it represents a poignant sign off.

Bell says: “I think the ad sums up how I feel about what’s happened. The creative team have worked very hard on it and it may have one or two people choking up; I know that’s been the case with some of the team here.”

Craven adds: “It was a tall order, trying to come up with something fitting after nearly 40 years in business, but hopefully we’ve done it justice.”

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