Reports that Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R’s three top executives are quitting to launch a start-up shop have triggered speculation about the future of the UK’s sixth largest agency.
Chief executive James Murphy, planning chief David Golding and creative director Ben Priest are said to be leaving to form a breakaway agency.
Some believe the exit risks ripping the heart out of RKCR/Y&R, which has £220m billings and clients such as Marks & Spencer, Virgin Media and Virgin Atlantic and Lloyds TSB. Others play down the negative effects on the agency, pointing out that chairman and creative chief Mark Roalfe remains.
Details about the start-up are sketchy, and RKCR/Y&R, owned by WPP, has denied the departures to MW. Murphy is credited with keeping a hold on business which looked shaky before he took charge in 2004. He has been with the agency since it was founded in 1995 and was groomed to take over from Kelly following the agency’s 1999 sale to Y&R. In 2004, he brought in Golding from WCRS and Priest from TBWA.
One source says: “They are a brilliant triumvirate. James is one of the best account men in London and learned very well from Jim. David Golding gave the planning department a sense of collective endeavour and purpose. Ben balanced the necessities and practicalities of being a Y&R office for Land Rover with a creative vibrancy for brands like Virgin.”
The key question, however, is whether the new agency would be well placed to pitch for key RKCR/Y&R clients, given how close the executives have been to them.
As ad agency bosses gather at the Cannes International Advertising Festival over the next few days for another annual round of networking and industry parties, conversation will inevitably turn to the week’s big news story.
Some see the timing as fortuitous if the story is true – what better time to announce the launch of a start-up agency than when ad executives are assembled at the industry’s biggest bash?
It is unclear how RKCR/Y&R would replace the departing trio. One suggestion is that Tony Harris, head of international business, could take charge in a holding position until a replacement chief executive is found. Chris Hunton, a former chief executive of McCann Erickson runs the Land Rover account and could be considered for a leadership role. Meanwhile, newly recruited managing director Richard Exon may be taken aback by news of the departures.
Some see this start-up as another nail in the coffin of multinational agencies. One observer says: “Entrepreneurial agencies live by the sword and die by it – RKCR was originally formed as a breakaway. You don’t get breakaways from Ogilvy, Grey or JWT.”
But the launch is risky. With non-compete clauses in place, Murphy, Golding and Priest may have to wait until next year to set up their shop. Alot could change by then.