A law unto himself

From humble beginnings in a children’s home, Andy Law carved out a jet-set career in advertising with all the Eighties’ trappings – including white Porsche. In the Nineties he recanted and set up the ‘ethical’ St Luke’s. Now he’s planning another surprise – to turn around Springer & Jacoby UK. Lucy Barrett reports

It’s a surprise that Andy Law has the time or the inclination to launch another advertising agency. After reading his two books, Open Minds and Experiment at Work, you’d be forgiven for thinking the former chief of much-hyped advertising agency St Luke’s was too busy. After treading the world stage swapping “21st-century business lessons” with the likes of Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, it must all seem a bit of a comedown.

But needs must, and Law – after being booted out of the agency he founded – has dusted himself off and in partnership with Interpublic Group (IPG) is preparing to relaunch the so far uninspiring agency Springer & Jacoby UK and The Reef as a single agency called Boymeetsgirl (MW last week). Law’s task of reinvigorating and rebranding a moribund agency could be considered akin to the poisoned chalices examined in The Lion’s Den (page24).

Law is more than happy to be photographed during our meeting, and has perfected a stance similar to that of a film star who has the knack of convincing lesser mortals that they are genuinely nice down-to-earth people. Except Law is not a Hollywood star, nor is he that famous outside the advertising world. Some of Law’s contemporaries and former colleagues, indeed, say he has an “unreasonable interest in himself” and that he has a somewhat misguided belief that St Luke’s is a famous global brand.

The adopted son of a vicar and a social worker, Law spent the first part of his advertising career being the archetypal ad man and, according to his former colleagues, changed a lot during the Nineties. “He’ll be the first to admit he was a complete prick in the Eighties,” says WCRS business development director Julian Hough, who worked with Law at CDP. “He even had the white Porsche.”

Early in his career Law preferred people to believe that his dark looks were down to being half Italian when he was, in fact, half Indian. Later he would confess this, along with the fact that he spent the first three years of his life in a children’s home, to all the St Luke’s staff at an away-day – an episode he describes in full in his book Open Minds. Law now has a genuine love for India and all things Indian and we have a five-minute diversion in which Law talks about Indian spirituality and the entrepreneurial spirit of Indians.

Law seems to have experienced a road to Damascus-type conversion in the early Nineties while at Chiat/Day. After that, he became a caring, sharing, ethically minded leader of the people, and started an agency that “empowered” all of its staff by making them co-owners – St Luke’s.

The agency’s formative years are well documented but coverage reached a crescendo in 1999 when the team let in the Channel 4 cameras for an excruciatingly embarrassing documentary. The programme portrayed people’s worst beliefs about ad agencies. The film was skilfully edited to highlight scenes of Law and co-founder David Abraham looking tired and exasperated with the ingratitude of the people they had “empowered” and spectacular staff rows over the sending and receiving of flowers for overtime.

But the agency was still a success. Some say this was as much (if not more) to do with Abraham’s vision than Law’s, but Law does seem to have a genuine talent for hiring good people. Many from his days at CDP have gone on to become major players in the ad industry. “He’s like a great football team manager. He may not be the best player, but he has a great team,” says WCRS’s Hough.

Others say Law is an inspirational leader. “There is a visionary element to him,” says Lowe & Partners managing director Jeremy Bowles. “The agency he started was revolutionary in that it was non-hierarchical, and his vision attracted a lot of jealousy from the rest of the industry.”

“Andy is a challenging person,” says Ogilvy & Mather executive planning director Mark Earls, who worked with Law at St Luke’s. “He is a very funny man and injects a great deal of fun into work.”

Earls also believes that Law’s strengths could have contributed to his downfall and ejection by the St Luke’s board in March: “When you are as well established [as Law], people assume you know all the answers, but they also think there is no place for their own opinions.”

In its past few years, St Luke’s billings have dropped from &£64m in 1999 to &£43m last year. Insiders say the 2002 figure coincides with Abrahams’ departure in April 2001 to join Discovery Networks Europe, and Law distancing himself from the day-to-day running of the agency. A former colleague believes it was Law’s own irresponsibility that led to the agency’s decline: “In the beginning [Law] didn’t have to do much except make inspirational speeches,” he says. “As time went on he became more irresponsible, diverting agency money into new businesses without any thought.”

Now Law hopes to recreate the glory days of St Luke’s – only better – with Boymeetsgirl. Along with St Luke’s former creative chief Kate Stanners and her husband David Plemsal, he has formed a liability partnership with IPG, which will see the stakeholders directly liable for any losses the agency makes.

The agency won’t officially launch until September, but Law is convinced there will be outfits of Boymeetsgirl all over the world: “I can see Boymeetsgirl popping up in South America or India,” he says. “But the concept will only work with people who believe in it.”

Law says he has “two or three mentors” including an Oxford professor – Dr Theodore Zeldin – and his good friends Body Shop founders Gordon and Anita Roddick. He claims to come into continual contact with people who inspire him and mentions an editor called Satish Kumar, who in the Sixties walked 8,000 miles barefoot from India to Moscow and then to London in the name of peace.

Law lives with his wife and three children in Sussex and also own a house in Sardinia, where he plans to spend as much time as possible before he starts at Boymeetsgirl – so named because of the “modern rules of attraction”.

Law claims he has a huge amount of respect for marketing departments and their changing demands, and believes he will have no problem getting his foot in the door with potential new clients – because of his high profile as an author and “a lot of people know me”. However, Law has few friends in the industry and out of the three he names, only one – Jeremy Bowles from Lowe – is happy to talk to me.

Some would say he is not at all popular among his contemporaries in advertising, who feel he considers himself above the majority of the industry. Many would even go so far as to say he has made a few enemies along the way. “I wish him lots of luck with a capital F,” was all one of his former colleagues would say.

Law admits he has been poor at networking but seems confident he can win them round: “I am back. Welcome back Andy!” he says. “I can promise I will be out there again.” However, after setting himself apart for so long from the industry he’s supposed to be part of, he’s unlikely to get the welcome of a prodigal son, and he may not find it so easy persuading advertisers to hand him their budgets.

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