101’s Phil Rumbol: how clients can create great ads

Phil Rumbol is a founding partner of 101. As marketing director at Cadbury he commissioned the most popular ad of the last ten years, Cadbury Dairy Milk’s ‘Gorilla’ from Fallon.

The truth is great ads don’t just ’emerge’. Sure, there will always be the exception – the lucky shot that effortlessly glides down the runway towards greatness – but personal experience and ‘war stories’ from other clients also involved in iconic ads, tells me that certain conditions need to exist for great ads to be born. There are many stars that need to align, but below are five of the most important elements…


Reply if you please. A good brief should feel like an invitation to a party that the agency really wants to go to. I’ve seen too many briefs that feel more like an appointment for a dental examination, which really isn’t very exciting. A good starting point for great work is a brief that is designed to motivate and stimulate. Juan Cabral, the creative who wrote Gorilla, wanted to leave the room just 10 minutes into the briefing because his imagination had already been fired.

2. Just Imagine

Great creatives see magic in the smallest of details and great clients need to do the same. When talking to Craig Inglis about the Always a Woman script, he struck me as a man who could take elements others might dismiss as executional detail, and use them to imagine a technicolour film rather than just some words on a page.

3. Shut The Fxxk Up!

The discussion in most corporate meetings is full of jargon, acronyms, and over-intellectualised management-speak. To buy great work you need to tell that voice in your head to STFU! You need to be your mum, your wife/husband, or your most cynical friend and imagine how they might react to it; because great ideas get bought on empathy and instinct, not analysis and logic.

4. Heart in Your Mouth

Great ads attract the “Can I have a Surfer/Gorilla/John Lewis?” phenomenon, but what people don’t realize is the ‘price’ attached to such a purchase. Any great idea worth its salt requires a leap into the unknown. So if you’re not prepared for a heart-in-your-mouth, bungee jump-type feeling, then don’t even ask.

5. Muck and Bullets

Great ideas usually attract naysayers like moths to a flame. So as a client, you have to be prepared to own, sell, and defend it like your life depends on it.

In short, getting a great ad isn’t just about ‘getting a great agency’. That’s a good starting point, but the chances of a great ad being born are increased if you’re a client with a brief designed to inspire and have the imagination, instinct, and tenacity needed to spot and drive the idea through to execution.

Phil Rumbol is a partner at London agency 101.

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