Karmarama burst onto the advertising scene with the memorable Van den Puup campaign for Ikea, but in recent years the agency has made as many headlines for its management changes as anything else.
The latest appointment is a move to rectify that. One of the advertising industry’s best-connected executives, Nicola Mendelsohn, is joining Karmarama as chairman and fourth partner with a brief to be the agency’s cheerleader. It is a role for which many believe she is well suited.
Mendelsohn will join Karmarama in April, having stepped down as deputy chairman of Grey earlier this month after four years in the role. AAR chief executive Kerry Glazer says: “The agency has had all its building blocks in place and Nicola’s hiring is the final piece of jigsaw that will help drive new business and profile.”
Karmarama, a breakaway from St Luke’s, was launched in 2001 by creative partners Naresh Ramchandani and Dave Buonaguidi and joint managing partner Ben Bilboul with Ikea as the flagship account. The agency then went on to win business for the likes of Unilever-owned Colman’s sauces and Heineken’s Amstel brand.
The year it all went wrong
But 2005 saw the shock departure of its high-profile founding partner Ramchandani and in the same year it also lost the Ikea business. An insider says: “It was the year everything started going wrong for Karmarama.” In early 2005, a new Danish chief at Ikea decided to move the account into Danish agency RBLM. The source adds: “Money was tight, which led to a fracture of the relationship between Dave and Naresh.”
However, it was not long before the agency found its feet again. In 2006 it won an outstanding 14 out of the 18 pitches, including Pipex, the Conservative Party, Kickers and Costa. That was also the year that it hired former United London managing director Sid McGrath as the planning partner. Karmarama has since got itself onto Coke’s roster and won Nintendo’s UK advertising account.
One industry source says: “Nicola’s hiring will complete the line-up for the agency and give them the gravitas and confidence to attract bigger clients and also pitch alongside the big boys.”
But not everyone is convinced that Mendelsohn, who has been “spoilt rotten” by big agencies including Bartle Bogle Hegarty and then Grey, will find Karmarama an “easy ride”.
Karmarama says it has a “no wanker” policy and never enters creative awards. It also has a reputation for not being “sniffy” about clients’ needs, unlike some of its more fashionable rival agencies.
The right experience
Bilboul says: “We had been looking for a fourth partner for a year or so and did not feel that any of the 55-year-old golf types fitted the brief. But with Nicola, and her background at BBH, Karmarama gets experience and new business drive that is second to none. She will bring all the experience, ability and the vigour that the agency needs.”
Mendelsohn, with her strong ties to the Labour Party and Gordon Brown, will not have to put her beliefs on hold to work for the Tories, as the agency says it no longer works for the party.
Mendelsohn admits that there will be an “adjustment period” but adds: “I have always wanted to run my own agency and now that I have found the right partners, it all feels very right. I would be disappointed if in a year’s time we are not on bigger pitches than Coke and Nintendo.”