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

By Stephen Lepitak | -



Dentsu Group article

September 11, 2012 | 3 min read

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.

The latest marketing news and insights straight to your inbox.

Get the best of The Drum by choosing from a series of great email briefings, whether that’s daily news, weekly recaps or deep dives into media or creativity.

Sign up

“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.

Content created with:


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +