Leagas Delaney is on a roll. The agency has won five out of five pitches in 2007, including VTech and The Body Shop, and observers believe the 27year-old agency, which has five international offices, has the feel of a start-up. Some add its famously “difficult” co-founder Tim Delaney is mellowing and that a fresh, hard-working management team has added new dynamism to the London agency.
Yet others think the new business blitz is merely a temporary renaissance rather than a trend; the latest high on a turbulent journey even Delaney himself admits has been a “rollercoaster” ride.
For now, says Delaney, the agency is riding high on confidence and the dark days – such as the collapse of a lucrative takeover deal by Canadian marketing services group Envoy Communications and near-bankruptcy – seem long gone.
The AAR’s director of advertising Martin Jones says: “They’re very compelling. They have got a tight, dedicated team of people – it’s as simple as that.” One advertising executive suggests that central to the agency’s recent success is a shedding of its “luxury” image. “It is moving more mainstream over time,” says the source, who believes Leagas Delaney lost traction to younger, “trendier” agencies such as CHI & Partners, Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest.
Yet he feels it is reaping the rewards of sticking to its principles: “They are not trying to be funky, instead they are almost classic. Success breeds success and hopefully they won’t burn out.”
There can be few, if any, other examples of an agency defined so completely by one person. Delaney’s reputation precedes him – alternating between the brilliant, maverick creative and the passionate, no-nonsense, intolerant boss.
One source says: “There is no clearer agency in town that couldn’t exist without one person.”
But Delaney wants to change such attitudes and is adamant that he is creating an ethos that will succeed without him. He puts the recent success down to “truly valuing” an integrated approach, including working with clients at the pre and post-ad stage. He delights in the view of Leagas Delaney as a start-up, pointing out that senior management have very client-focused, hands-on roles. He himself still writes every day.
The agency’s managing director Elliot Moss describes Delaney as the “Gordon Ramsay” of the advertising world; someone who “refuses” to play the game. Delaney admits: “I don’t mix with ad people if I can possibly help it.”
While he is undoubtedly a polarising figure, most believe Delaney is “passionate”, first and foremost, about advertising. That passion has been rewarded with a call-up to the US advertising Creative Hall of Fame in Sep tember, an accolade enjoyed by just three other Britons: David Ogilvy, David Abbott and last year John Hegarty.
It is indicative of a long and hardworking career, says another source: “He has been through really difficult times, nearly selling, not selling and there’s been some years where quite a lot of money has been lost, but he has just stuck in there.”
Envoy had originally valued the agency, independent since a management buyback from Abbott Mead Vickers in 1998, at £62m, with plans for international expansion effectively thwarted when the deal fell through in 2001. Most people involved were “heartbroken” at the time, admits a “pragmatic” Delaney today.
In the words of one of its most high-profile clients Reebok, Leagas Delaney is what it is.