CHI New York? Best Buy taps U.K.'s hot indy shop

If work for retailer goes well, 5-year-old agency could open U.S. office

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ehall@crain.com

[london] U.K. shop Clemmow Hornby Inge hopes its U.S. debut-a campaign for the New York launch of Best Buy Mobile stores-will have as much impact as its telecoms work in the U.K.

For TalkTalk, a U.K. fixed-line telephony service, CHI's campaign recently played a key role in growing the number of customers from 200,000 to 2 million in just two and a half years.

During the past few months, a crack team from CHI, Best Buy and its U.K. partner in the new venture, Carphone Warehouse, have been meeting in a New York apartment to plan the late-November launch of 10 Best Buy Mobile stores in Manhattan. If the project is a success, a national launch will follow.

That likely would lead to the agency setting up a U.S. office, although its founders are reluctant to overplay their hand at this stage. "We are helping out Charles [Dunstone, CEO of Carphone Warehouse] in the U.S.," is all partner Johnny Hornby will say.

The ads highlight the choice and individuality Best Buy Mobile offers through its new stores. Those ideas are conveyed through photos of New Yorkers on the streets of Manhattan.

"We are trying to bring choice and customer empowerment to the U.S. market," Mr. Dunstone said. "[CHI] understands that because we work so closely in Europe. Ours is a complicated business, and they really understand the market, our customers and our company."

CHI's five-year history is linked to Carphone Warehouse, its first client. The three partners at CHI even worked out of Carphone's London headquarters before finding office space. Now the agency has 160 employees working for clients including Toyota Europe and Toyota GB, Britvic's Tango, Anchor Butter, The Daily Telegraph, and British Gas.

fast ascent

The CHI Group also includes direct-marketing unit Hall Moore CHI, Digital CHI and media planner Naked Inside. CHI claims to be the biggest U.K. independent agency and was ranked as one of the U.K.'s top 20 shops in terms of billings within four years of its launch.

CHI's three partners claim that what makes the agency stand out from rivals is their shop's rigorously applied "big idea" approach.

When CHI was appointed to launch Toyota's Aygo (called Scion in the U.S.) across Europe, the agency immediately set up a "big ideas" session. Unable to convene a meeting in their London office, where they have a whole floor dedicated to these sessions, they replicated the setup-complete with four "breakout" rooms-at Toyota Europe's Brussels headquarters.

Fourteen Toyota marketing directors from different countries spent the day brainstorming together using CHI's four "big idea" cornerstones: product interrogation, consumer research, company-culture audit and company-ambition audit.

"The idea is to spend a disproportionate amount of time working with clients on the idea," Mr. Hornby said. "We want all the key decision makers in there, including the finance director and the chief executive-it makes so much more sense than us thinking alone and then trying to sell the idea back to the client."

The three CHI partners, who still share an office, are planning ahead. "CHI mark two" is at the forefront of their minds, with full integration of the group a distinct possibility.

Charles Inge, the creative partner, said many younger clients are used to doing everything for themselves online, so the current media-buying model doesn't make sense to them.

Simon Clemmow, the planner of the three, said, "Our dream would be to create a new model full-service agency and build it into a micro-network."
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