Phil Rumbol’s new agency 101 launches with French Connection and Mr Kipling

It’s not just former Cadbury marketing director Phil Rumbol’s agency of course, the other partners are Fallon refugees Richard Flintham, Laurence Green and Mark Elwood plus financial director Steve Waring from Saatchi & Saatchi.

But Rumbol, the marketer who commissioned Cadbury’s Gorilla ad (from Fallon) and before that earned a huge reputation as a brave client at Stella Artois among others is the stardust at the agency, the most eagerly-awaited in years.

And 101 has got off to a flyer with three accounts, French Connection, Premier Foods’ Mr Kipling and charity The Art Fund.

Not just that, it’s been awarded the accolade of a big exclusive article in the Financial Times, which will have them gnashing their teeth at UK ad industry paper Campaign.

Only the really big agency launches get such treatment, Saatchi and Saatchi launched that way in the Sunday Times (with a full page ad too) and so, I think, did WCRS.

It’s traditional in these circumstances to say that the new agency will do things differently from all those other no-hopers. Both Saatchis and WCRS said they would do without account men, those impediments to unbridled creativity even though the S in WCRS was account man Peter Scott, now boss of Engine Group.

101’s manifesto seems to be a variation on back to the future. Rumbol told the FT: “Most people would recognise that the relationship advertising agencies have today with clients is different to that of 10 to 15 years ago.

“As a function of many things including the explosion of different marketing tools, as a client you are suddenly dealing with seven or eight agency partners rather than just one or two. There are so many conversations about execution and joining-up and not as many – not enough – about strategy and business problems.

“In many respects, 101 is a return to the sorts of relationship enjoyed in the past.”

In other words a seat at the client top table, the kind of status the best creative agencies used to enjoy in the heyday of Frank Lowe and Saatchi’s Tim Bell.

Laurence Green described the new agency as “a free range creative company” that would draw on “an extended family of freelances and partner agencies” so that it wouldn’t have to offer everything in-house, leaving the partners to conduct the orchestra and schmooze clients presumably.

“Part of the business model is not to accumulate so much resource that you end up giving the wrong advice,” Green said.

In part this is pragmatism of course, even the most lavishly-funded new agency is hardly likely to spring up fully formed with 60 staff. But if it all works it will rapidly acquire them.

But there is a sense that London is overdue some more independent creative powerhouses that can give the networks a run for their money. Rumbol, Green and co will be aware of the achievements of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (now part-owned by Publicis Groupe) and Clemmow Hornby Inge (ditto WPP). A better example then might be Mother which is still resolutely independent, highly creative and in New York too.

And firmly perched on the top of the heap is Portland Oregon’s Wieden+Kennedy, which is cheerfully challenging the network giants and winning.

First of all though 101 has to knock out a few decent ads.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.