Reg Lascaris, John Hunt and Graham Medcalf launched Hunt Lascaris & Medcalf in 1983 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jenny Groenewald, an art director and a fourth founding partner, stayed with the agency until her retirement several years later. Mr. Medcalf left the agency soon after its founding.
The shop's first clients were Nashua, a photocopier company, and Kelly Girl, a secretarial recruitment business. In its first year the agency won a third client, Big Jack pies. But the agency's breakthrough came when it was awarded the BMW account five years later, an account that gave the shop credibility.
In 1984, the agency affiliated with Paris-based TBWA, then a relatively unknown agency, at a time when South Africa was becoming an international pariah because of the government's policy of apartheid. TBWA initially took a 10% stake, then increased it to 20%. TBWA later gained equity control, but in 2001, it sold 25% of the equity to Millennium Consolidated Investments, a black-owned investment group, in response to pressure from the government. By signing that deal, the agency was able to qualify for the account of government-owned SA Tourism.
Early on, Hunt Lascaris built a reputation for flouting convention—and often for breaking the rules. While that helped it build public awareness, it also brought the shop criticism from competitors for undermining the ad industry's standing with a government many feared could easily be tempted to impose regulatory controls on advertising.
A marketing war between Hunt Lascaris client BMW and Mercedes-Benz for domination of the luxury car category in South Africa showcased the shop's creativity.
In one early salvo, Mercedes aired a commercial that re-enacted the true story of how a driver had survived a 100-foot plunge in his vehicle off a mountainous coastal road. Hunt Lascaris responded with a spot showing that BMW had the ability to negotiate the bends without accident. Voice-over was provocatively ambiguous: Did it say "beat the bends" or "beat the Benz"? The strategy positioned BMW as an irreverent alternative to the safe, staid Mercedes.
BMW was a sufficiently respectable brand name to open the doors of other big clients to the growing, young agency. The agency aimed to get 5% of its creative work from beyond South Africa's borders in 2001 and to raise that to 10% by 2002. International clients included Seychelles tourism, watchmaker Tag Heuer and Hong Kong's Shangrila Hotels.
The agency began to adopt a more strategic approach to advertising, positioning itself as a seamless all-around marketing resource. In an attempt to find new growth areas in a small marketplace, it began to diversify into specialized units, including direct response, retail advertising, promotions and sponsorships.
In 1999, it reorganized to move those non-traditional advertising activities out of the agency and into the local unit of TBWA's non-traditional marketing arm, Tequila, leaving Hunt Lascaris to focus on creative work. At the same time, Mr. Lascaris was appointed TBWA regional director for Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and was appointed the agency's co-chairman, along with Mr. Hunt. Richard Reast was brought in from TBWA's London office to take on the managing director role at the flagship agency.
In 2001, the agency, now known as TBWA/Hunt Lascaris Holdings, had billings of $199.9 million.
In February 2003, TBWA Worldwide named Mr. Hunt the worldwide creative director of the Omnicom Group unit.