"We've never been a company that's been driven by anything else besides the quality of the work, so maybe that's why we never really thought about it from a business standpoint," notes director/partner Hank Perlman. "We were never going to have a monument in Soho and say, 'We're from America! Here we are!' We just want to do the work that makes us happy, and a lot of that work happens to come from the U.K. When I was a creative on the agency side, we would always look at stuff from the U.K., and always, some of the freshest, smartest, funniest stuff was British. British advertising, in my opinion, is the gold standard, so it's fun for us to be part of the process."
"It happened very naturally," adds London managing director Matt Buels. "Which is what we hoped would always happen. Let the work speak for itself, let it be a natural process rather than having to inform people about what you were doing." Indeed, no grand strategy led to their burgeoning overseas business. The floodgates started to creak open in 1998 when Mother called in Hank Perlman's reel, leading to a successful spot for Batchelors Pasta and Sauce. The rest of the community there started to take note, and boards haven't stopped pouring in since. Moreover, the shop has been fortuitously linked with Buels since its initial overseas efforts. The first run-in dates back to that very first job for Mother, for which Buels was a freelance producer - after which he not so quietly encouraged them to keep at it abroad. He continued to work with them in ensuing years and now takes the reigns at the European headquarters.
"He's like this young, entrepreneurial gunslinger," New York-based managing partner Steve Orent explains. In the last eight months, the London office has generated business to the tune of roughly $100 million. Buels also has helped to steer relationships with a host of other noteworthy agencies there, including St. Luke's, Clemmow Hornby Inge and Abbot Mead Vickers.BBDO. The reach has even extended to other European countries like France, where Buckley and Perlman have already shot. Ultimately, "the goal for that office is for it to be a stand-alone, so it's not just an outpost for directors in the States," says Orent. And the shop is well on its way. In the last year, Buels has worked closely with head of sales Lauri Aloi and the rest of the crew to build out the roster with new European talent, like in-house producer-turned-director Owen Harris, Finnish helmer Mikko and four shooters from Swedish shop Camp David: Robert Jitzmark, Bjorn Stein, Sebastian Reed and Christoffer von Reiss. The newcomers lend distinctive flavors to the lineup; their work is inflected with Euro-cinema and art house sensibilities, yet, for the most part, they still seem to bear the Hungry Man watermark of humor.
Most important, the new recruits' business mindset has to remain on a par with the founding fathers' - especially since European budgets aren't typically as generous as those in the U.S. "When we started the company, we weren't just looking for comedy directors," notes Orent. "We were looking for people with similar sensibilities professionally and personally, in which it's always about the creative work. Always do the great work and the money will come. We just try to find the best creative boards, whether we have $20,000 or $2 million, and that never changes. So its' about finding directors that subscribe to that as well. They can't just be chasing the dollar, because that's the quickest way to end your career. It's always about your reel and what have you done lately."