No one is likely to mistake The Martin Agency's Mike Hughes for Lee Clow. Hughes would probably look funny in a beard, we doubt he's ever worn shorts to the office and the surfing on the James River is simply terrible. This is not to say that Hughes is a stick in the mud; its just that he's an East Coast guy. His sensibilities seem coolly sophisticated in a classic, urbane sort of way. You know, intelligent, classy, elegant. Edgy? Well, maybe, but not particularly radical.
Are we talking personal style here or advertising style? The answer is a bit of both, an observation not lost on Hughes himself. Hence the recently announced formation of Martin Creative L.A., a creative satellite office being fleshed out even as you read these words. Headed by former Stein Robaire Helm partner and co-CD Jean Robaire, the office will function as an extension of Martin's Richmond, Va., creative department, intended to imbue the agency's work with a bit of West Coast attitude.
The idea behind the L.A. office had been bubbling at Martin for a while, Hughes says. Specifically, the agency was interested in opening a satellite office so that it could
develop an ad-junct talent pool that would help broaden its creative palette. Over the years, Hughes admits, "I've been in-credibly anal about having all the work done here, where I could see it." While that's understandable-BBH in London works the same way, it's worth noting-it does limit the agency to working with people who want to live in Richmond, and not everyone does.
That Martin's debut creative satellite is in Los Angeles and not, say, San Francisco, is more due to Robaire's interest and availability than anything else, Hughes says. He adds that the office is intended to function solely as a creative outpost: "This is not client driven. We're not going after an L.A. car account, and besides, we couldn't," since the agency still works for Mercedes-Benz.
More to the point, the satellite idea is a response to Hughes' concern with where advertising is going conceptually these days. His goal is to merge what he calls the more contemporary West Coast style-typified by the best of agencies such as Chiat/Day, Ground Zero and, in its time, Stein Robaire Helm-with the more classic East Coast style that Martin embodies.
"Where these styles have met is on Joe Pytka's reel," Hughes contends-that's where you'll find the idea-driven, classic approach of BBDO/New York co-existing gracefully with the more attitudinally image-oriented work of agencies like W&K and FCB/S.F. (for Levi's). Hughes believes that no agency has successfully done this stylistic mind-meld, even those with offices on both coasts.
That Robaire, who joins Martin as a senior VP, is seen as an accomplished practitioner of the West Coast style made the decision to debut the satellite concept in L.A. all the easier. A former Chiat/Day art director, the work of Robaire's now defunct agency on accounts like Day Runner, Ikea (which they launched on the West Coast), Clarion car stereos and Roland music instruments was both award-winning and widely admired.
The structure of the office will be simple, Robaire says: four or five creatives, supported by design and production people, and that's it. The office will work on any and all of the agency's Richmond-based accounts under Robaire's supervision. At times, according to Hughes, teams in Richmond may work under Robaire's direction as well. Hughes says he wants to keep the structure loose at first, and let the process of how it works out define itself.
Robaire, who has already made his first hire (Sally Hogshead, a copywriter who leaves Fallon McElligott Berlin in New York), says decisions on what assignments will go to the L.A. office will be made on a per project basis. The office won't initially be assigned to any specific Martin account, but will do basically anything that Richmond needs done, "from TV spots to matchbook covers."
So why L.A. and not the Bay Area? Hughes says they talked to "lots of good people there, but we felt their work was much in a similar style to our own. Jean's work is very different." Aside from the stylistic shift, there is also a benefit seen in having a senior creative director Ý32 Roabaireó18 based in Los Angeles, someone who can supervise the younger creatives the agency sends out on commercial shoots.
From Robaire's point of view, the Martin gig is just what he was looking for. Two years ago, reeling from account losses despite its strong creative reputation, SRH merged with Kresser Craig to become Kresser Stein Robaire. That union lasted a little under a year, until Robaire and John Stein left over what Robaire calls "creative and management differences." The agency then became Kovel Kresser & Partners, when Lee Kovel came in from Lord Dentsu; Stein, meanwhile, formed a creative service called Band of Gypsies.
Robaire has spent the ensuing time freelancing for a number of agencies, including Pagano Schenck & Kay, Goldberg Moser O'Neill and Fallon McElligott. Not just laboring as a freelance AD, he'd put together teams to handle specific projects, often working, he says, with people he had worked with at SRH. While Martin Creative L.A. has yet to produce its first ad-at presstime Robaire was still hunting for office space-the experiment should be interesting to watch. There are relatively few precedents, aside from Y&R's Minneapolis office of a few years back. Currently, FM has a team based in New York that works out of the offices of Andy Berlin, but Hughes differentiates Martin's outpost by noting that it's more than just a team or two reporting back to group heads at the main office.
As for where this might go if successful, Hughes says Martin may open satellites in other cities, like London, Singapore and, yes, even New York. And while the current plan calls for no accounts to be based in L.A., what if some juicy piece of local business should go into review? Robaire says "we'd be open to it," but for now the operation intends to be strictly creative, so he can "focus 100