Naked Founder John Harlow Is Dead At 45

With Jon Wilkins and Will Collin, He Started Agency That Revolutionized Communications Planning

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John Harlow, 45, best-known as one of the trio of founders of Naked Communications, passed away at a hospital in East Sussex near his home in the U.K. His death was announced Monday.

John Harlow
John Harlow

Naked was founded in 2000 in London by Mr. Harlow, Jon Wilkins and Will Collin, all former top executives at Omnicom Group's media agency New PHD. Naked, which described itself as an independent creative communications agency, was one of a handful of U.K. shops specializing in media strategy at a time when agencies either did media buying and planning, or just media buying, but never simply media strategy.

On Tuesday @NakedNY tweeted "With great sadness we lost one of our founders and brilliant misfits John Harlow... RIP."

Mr. Wilkins, Naked's founder and chairman, said in an email, "John Harlow was a truly exceptional talent; he had drive, creativity and strategy all bundled into one explosive package. On his day John could wipe the floor with anyone. He was the smartest guy I ever worked with and also the most charismatic. When we started Naked we wanted to be a home for the most brilliant of misfits in marketing services -- we went some way to achieving this. John was always the most brilliant of the misfit global collective we built."

Many well-known industry execs have worked at Naked over the years as the innovative shop pioneered the concept of media neutrality. Ivan Pollard, a Naked global partner who joined the agency's client Coca-Cola in 2010 and is now VP global connections, tweeted "Rest peacefully, Mr. Harlow."

As a hot independent with blue-chip clients, Naked surprised the ad industry by selling to Photon Group, an Australian holding company little known outside its home market, in early 2008 for an upfront payment of $37 million. (Photon Group changed its name to Enero Group last year).

Mr. Harlow was a force behind Naked's ambitious global expansion, moving to New York in 2007 to help develop the U.S. business. The agency had launched a New York office the previous year, with M.T. Carney, Paul Woolmington and Neal Davies as the founding partners.

He later resided in the Australian city Perth with his family, and did a brief stint last year as director of communications planning at local shop Brand Agency before returning to the U.K. in late 2012. In his last Facebook posts, he mused about the Rolling Stones at the Glastonbury music festival, his love for Australia, and his garden by the beach.

June 30: Rolling Stones playing for the first time ever at Glastonbury tonight. Never bought an album by them, but have seen them before, just like I saw Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra, I do have some of Frank's LP's. But can't wait to watch the Stones. Glasto is an amazing festival.

June 19: I love West Australia. Architecture, forests, beaches, cattle stations the size of the UK, and as the UK Sunday Times rightly said, the most sophisticated food in the world. My mum still drools about a simple meal at a beautiful little beach cafe. Just prompted by a fascinating doc on Aus -- used to be part of Antarctic, now drifting north to merge eventually with Indonesia.

May 31: My beach garden is modest as is my little house. But the garden is just a blaze of herbs and wildflowers leading to the sea. I've got into gardening. Planted 20 herbs from a nursery today. Am I getting old before my time? I just love the sea and the butterflies ...

In the U.K., Brand Republic posted tributes today to Mr. Harlow from industry execs who worked with him, and noted that anyone wishing to make a donation in his memory has been asked to contribute to Cuckmere Ward, the unit that cared for him at a hospital in East Sussex. Checks made out to Cuckmere Ward can be sent to the funeral director Payne & Sons at 143 Seaside, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN22 7NN.

In a guest post on Australian website Mumbrella, Mike Wilson, former chairman of Naked Australia reminisces about Mr. Harlow.

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