Following a disastrous 2007, many industry observers said it could not get any worse for the once creatively revered DM agency Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel.
Now, just three months into his role as chief executive after leaving Claydon Heeley, where he was managing director, Mike Welsh continues to battle it out.
The agency has most recently lost the Gap account (MW last week) and failed to make it on the shortlist for Boots, despite being the incumbent. Instead, its sister-Omnicom agency Proximity will pitch, for reasons of “scale”, according to one source.
The blows come in addition to the losses this year of Diageo-owned gin brand Gordon’s to Tullo Marshall Warren; its failure to nab the DM component of the £75m anti-obesity brief handled by the COI, which went to EHS Brann; and its fall from the Virgin Trains shortlist, an account for which it was the incumbent.
But it has not all been bad news for the agency. Under Welsh’s watch, it is believed to have won a place on the Capital One and RAC rosters, as well as the business for online retailer ASOS. In May it won the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity account, just days before Welsh joined.
But whether such wins are enough to bring the agency back to its former glory is far from a foregone conclusion. To put its current state into perspective, 2007 saw the loss of its flagship £18m Orange account to Wunderman – the account shifted to Chemistry Communications this year – and the Land Rover account, which it had held for 16 years. Both were the consequence of global consolidation.
This has triggered a domino effect within its senior ranks, with the departure of chairman and last remaining founding partner David Watson; chief executive Fiona Scott; managing director Jackie Stevenson; and creative director Mark Buckingham among the key losses.
But the agency that has spent most of its life setting the creative bar in the DM industry appears to be refusing to go down without a fight. Welsh spends most of his time out of the office, building relationships with existing clients and speaking to other prospects.
For now Welsh is keeping quiet about just how well Craik Jones is progressing, refusing to confirm any wins or discuss its losses.
‘Relief’ from Boots
Tony Spong, the AAR’s head of direct marketing, sales promotion and integration, says rather than being a nail in the coffin, the loss of Boots after five years may give the agency some much-needed “relief”.
“Boots is one of the last of the original pieces of businesses and, to some extent, it was inevitable with all the changes occurring within Boots. What’s being created now is on a blank sheet of paper,” Spong says. “Mike [Welsh] doesn’t have to worry about what’s gone on before, and in a way I would think it’s almost a relief.”
George Bryant, founding partner of The Brooklyn Brothers and form-er managing partner at Omnicom-owned agency Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, voices much of the commonly held view of Craik Jones: a “fundamentally good company” with a “great creative product and good track record”.
“It brought creativity to a sector that wasn’t renowned for it. Good companies can bounce back and they’re not the only ones having to take stock right now and thinking about how they can be more innovative,” Bryant concedes.
Spong adds that, together with its creative clout, it has a history of strong planning credentials. Welsh’s challenge will be to use its strong heritage and combine it with a new vision.