Attik co-founder James Sommerville walks away from Dentsu agency after 26 years

James Sommerville, co-founder of design agency Attik, has left the business after 26 years, The Drum has learned.

The Dentsu-owned agency has wound down the final pieces of its business in the UK in London and has chosen to focus instead on San Francisco and Los Angeles, but its founder will not be at the helm.

Sommerville, who was group creative director of Attik UK, co-founded the agency with Simon Needham in Huddersfield in 1986 before selling it to Dentsu in 2007. The deal included a five-year-earn out clause.

Speaking to The Drum, Sommerville explained his reason for walking away from the business that he grew from his grandmother's attic bedroom, saying: “When you’re independent there are lots of great things about selling to a global network, and you adapt to their way of working. I just felt the time is now right to go back to being a creative entrepreneur and see great opportunities over the next five years."

He added that he felt the idea of an advertising company buying a design agency was never one that was likely to last in the long-term, in his view, either.

“The traditional advertising model is based on a particular formula, and when they see a non-traditional agency, which I think we were, there feels like a rush to swallow these. There’s a distinct lack of alignment of thinking. We were very different and it was almost like they were trying to turn a design shop into an advertising agency,” he added.

Part of Somerville's plans going forward include advising advertising and creative agencies that wish to sell or buy a business: "Although this can make a lot of sense for both parties at the time, it also needs very careful consideration on both sides, for the long-term relationship to work. Going from a small independent and joining a large global network needs to be thought about and simply becoming part of the group, isn't enough.

“Because our industry is changing so fast, many global networks see a non-traditional creative agency, that has a special quality and track record, as an obvious acquisition target. They quickly rush out and buy them, bolting a new capability onto their network and offering it clients. This to a degree works, but is also very fragile relationship, especially when there’s a lack of strategic alignment and future brand and business thinking.

"Attik used to be very unique, with its heritage grounded in British design, but slowly it's turned into something very different. This is OK from a growth perspective, but that's not where I want to be.”

He has also founded 'Bonafide Guests Only' a new design collective seeking to collaborate with global designers. Other interests including holding talks with a global technology brand and a recognised internet entrepreneur to build a mobile app VC, along with investments in European pico technology, preparing products for global markets.

At the time of writing The Drum was awaiting a response to its request for a comment from Attik and Dentsu.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.