Haystack is an agency search company that also consults on other aspects of marketer/agency relationships. It ran the two biggest global pitches handled from the U.K. in 2005, for Unilever and British Airways. Ms. Thompson, 37, says Haystack will handle nearly $1 billion in business this year, making it the U.K. leader in its field despite being the newest entrant.
"There was an obvious gap in the marketplace that was cultural," Ms. Thompson says. "It's a generation thing. My view is that advertising is important but that the world is about integration, and I'm equally interested in branded content and digital ... As well as running the Unilever pitch we have been advising the company on how to change to get to where they want the business to be in 10 years' time."
Farah Ramzan, chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, says Ms. Thompson "has an intuitive touch. She is good at reading situations, she's phenomenally professional and she's very blunt. Candor in business is a very effective weapon."
Ms. Thompson worked in the theater before becoming an account director, but she says, "I was too impatient and aggressive." So she moved into new business at TBWA until Alan was offered a job running DMB&B in Asia, where she became a headhunter in Hong Kong.
The couple returned to the U.K. in 1998, Ms. Thompson had her first child and she set up her own gin company, Bunker's Gin, using her maiden name. Her great-great-grandfather started Beefeater Gin and, she complains, "All the men in my family worked for Beefeater. Not the women." So Bunker's Gin proved a point and helped her discover that although fun, "It's not what I love."
That is when Ms. Thompson came up with the idea for Haystack. "I like being in control-I love the sense of freedom," she says. "Each quarter we discuss what new things could we do and start new initiatives." Recent efforts include Scan, a Europe-wide alliance with similar consultancies. A U.S. link is also in the cards.
Being in charge lets Ms. Thompson balance family and professional lives. She takes her two kids to school each morning after an hour doing e-mail. This year she even ran Friday afternoon drama workshops for 7-year-olds, keeping them as happy as her clients.
Ms. Thompson "has an amazing grasp of individuals and personalities, and a happy knack of assessing clients and what will turn them on or not," says Ken Wood, chief executive of Weetabix, the U.K.'s No. 2 cereal marketer.