Media: Creative couples, singular ads

Meg Carter looks at three of the advertising world's double acts to find out how professional partnerships benefit an agency
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The Independent Online
It is a truth universally acknowledged that admen - and women - hunt in pairs. Look to the top of most agencies and you will find partnerships. There are joint chief executives, joint managing directors and joint creative heads. Tales of odd couples and fiery professional marriages ending in tears are legend. One long-standing senior creative pair even divorced and remarried each other's wives. So what is the power of two?

Get the chemistry right and a professional coupling can last decades. Graham Hinton and Tony Douglas, former joint chairmen at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, first worked together as graduate trainees in 1969. By 1985, they were appointed joint managing directors at DMB&B. Last week, the marriage ended when the agency's international partner restructured themanagement. Mr Douglas is now leaving the agency.

At Saatchi & Saatchi, the industry's most famous pair - Maurice and Charles - ended abruptly last year when Maurice left the agency he and his brother founded. Like Kellogg's without cornflakes or Colman's without mustard, few could imagine Saatchis without Maurice. But he was gone, and with him several top clients and senior executives. Such is the power of the personal bond in advertising.

For perhaps more than in any other line of business, an ad agency has only one true asset - its people. And like Laurel and Hardy, or Batman and Robin, success depends on balancing complementary talents and using one to spark off ideas. Now a number of agency personnel are forging new working relationships, Nineties-style.

Carol Reay, chief executive, and Tim Mellors, chairman/creative director - Mellors Reay & Partners.

Mutual trust, respect and the ability to inspire each other are key ingredients for a fruitful and long-term advertising partnership, say Carol Reay and Tim Mellors, advertising's newest professional couple. Their agency, formerly Reay Keating Hamer, relaunched as Mellors Reay & Partners in January.

"Marriage is an inevitable analogy, especially as we're a man and woman," says Mr Mellors who joined from Gold Greenlees Trott where he was creative director with credits including the "Ariston-and-on-and-on" ad for Ariston and ads for Red Rock and Cadbury's. "While Carol performs the traditionally more masculine strategic role, I'm more `touchy-feely'. If she is the head, I'm more heart. But together we're a complete person."

Their union surprised many colleagues when announced just before Christmas. But Mr Mellors stresses it is anything but a rushed affair. "It took a year of talking as we got to know each other," he says. "We didn't want a shotgun marriage and then learn about the downsides. Too many new agencies are detonated by a time-bomb of unresolved relationships."

Mr Mellors was driven by the desire to have his name on the door. "It is certainly about ego. But it is also about ownership," he says. "Carol has steadfastly built an agency into a strong business. She knows how to make it work. This is not something creative people are renowned for. I was looking for the other half of the equation."

As chief executive of RKH, Ms Reay was widely credited for turning the agency into one of the most profitable in the business, with £70m-worth of billings and clients including Boots Opticians, HP Bulmer and United Biscuits. The agency created the Kleenex campaign and stylish advertising for Spanish sherry. Yet RKH lacked a strong creative identity, so Ms Reay began her search for a new partner.

"Partnerships make for a broader approach," she says. "An agency built around just one person can be the kiss of death because it is inevitably limiting. Advertising demands more than one skill."

Time spent getting to know each other was critical, says Ms Reay. "An ad agency has a natural position in the market according to its partners. Often this can be overlooked as people invent peculiar things that their particular agency will stand for. This is mainly an indication of panic - the fear that what a traditional agency can do is no longer wanted.

"We accept and know our position depends on the two of us. So we have worked on that to make sure it is right."

Anthony Simonds-Gooding, chairman, and Richard Hytner, chief executive - SP Lintas.

Anthony Simonds-Gooding and Richard Hytner have been described as one of advertising's "odd couples". Mr Simonds-Gooding is the former chief executive of British Satellite Broadcasting. Mr Hytner, more than 20 years his junior, has been described as his hyperactive and sober foil.

They have worked together for less than a year as chairman and chief executive respectively of SP Lintas, whose recent campaigns include the "Bit of an animal" ads for Peperami and Milky Bar and Brooke Bond.

"Advertising has always been a people business because what clients buy is people's advice. The credibility of that advice depends on faith in the staff," says Mr Hytner.

Steve Henry and Axel Chaldecott, creative partners - Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury & Partners

These two have one of the longest current partnerships in advertising, having worked as a creative team for the past 15 years. In 1987, they decided to place this on a more serious footing with the launch of HHCL. The agency has established a reputation for witty and innovative ads, with credits including the "You know when you've been Tango'd" campaign and ads for Mazda and Mercury.

To become an agency creative, aspiring art directors and copywriters must find a partner to prepare speculative work to get a job. Once appointed, such partnerships can flourish or falter, and should one team member leave, an arranged match is often made by the creative director. "It comes down to trying out different combinations," Mr Henry explains.

"When Axel and I met, we were thrown together but found we had much in common. Of course there was far less riding on it then, so we just thought `let's give it a bash". The partnership continues thanks to "mutual trust and respect more than liking, although we do still get on". He adds: "There came a time when it was necessary to introduce a degree of distance socially to keep our sanity, but we are still friends."

Unlike Mellors Reay & Partners, HHCL believes the names on the door are less important than the culture of the agency, although one is inevitably influenced by the other. "We are keen to establish our points of difference," says Mr Henry.

"HHCL is built on collaboration. We work without a huge hierarchy. There are no fixed departments. People are all mixed together."

Personal chemistry is not limited to agency personnel, it extends to agency/client relations. Unsurprisingly, some Saatchi clients are concerned by Maurice's departure, not least because of defections lower down. But any industry's evolution is marked by a move away from an emphasis on the individual, Mr Henry believes.

"As advertising grows up, it must be about a vision, a way of thinking that is more deeply ingrained and allows the business to grow from generation to generation rather than simply relying on a single guru."