One of these stories will change all our lives; the other most likely won’t. But the collision of one of adland’s biggest stories of the past few years with news of the most dramatic political decision most of us will experience in a lifetime is worth noting. Just days after the country took its leap into the deep unknown, dragging our economic stability along behind, Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson and Natalie Graeme decided to jump into their own entrepreneurial vortex. That’s audacious.
Did the Grey breakaway trio have a moment of doubt about taking such a bold risk at a time of turmoil? After all, their collective remuneration packages are rumoured to nudge £2m – quite something to wave goodbye to as the pound stumbles, businesses issue profit warnings and house prices wobble.
On the other hand, if you have the fervour and the mettle to launch your own agency, then you’ll do it no matter what. To bastardise Peter Cook: two blokes (and, sadly, in agency land they’re still likely to be blokes) sit in a pub over a couple of pints and a shared bag of crisps. One bloke turns to the other and confesses: "I’m going to launch my own agency." The other answers: "Yeah, neither am I." There’s no shortage of wannabe founders in our business, just a real dearth of people with the spunk and the steel to get on with it. So I’d bet the Brexit decision caused barely a heartbeat’s pause for thought over at Camp Grexit. These guys were never going to let the small matter of EU withdrawal stop them. Tough times call for disruption and nerve.
And history suggests that a turbulent economic climate is favourable to new nimble, flexible creative businesses. In our industry, Adam & Eve (the most successful start-up of our generation) and Bartle Bogle Hegarty (one of the most successful start-ups of the previous generation) both launched in the jaws of a tough recession and had an aggressive fighting spirit encoded in their DNA. If Leonard, Jameson and Graeme are as obsessively, bloody-mindedly driven as their predecessors, Brexit will be just another spur.
Agencies most open to change, most able to adapt, will find themselves more inoculated against the tumult of transition. This is not the preserve of a start-up company, but it certainly helps to be free from structures and conventions when new ways of doing things are called for. Agencies that can flex to apply creative thinking to more than just communications – agencies that can help re-engineer their clients’ brands and businesses – these are advertising’s visionaries. And these are the companies best-placed to exploit the shifting political and cultural climate. What a great time for a new agency to launch.