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M.T. RAINEY AND JIM KELLY MAKE AN EXCELLENT double act. They're the managing partners in Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, Britain's first genuine agency startup in four years, and though neither could be described as a prima donna or an egregious self-publicist, they've created a resonant amount of noise since launching their venture last fall.

For example: in a recent assessment of total billings gained in a month, published in the British trade magazine Campaign, the agency came in fourth behind such dauntingly mainstream names as Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Lowe Howard-Spink and Saatchi & Saatchi with a formidable figure of $15.7 million.

Or how about this: It secured the $3 million Virgin Atlantic Upper Class account by running a one-off newspaper ad that delivered a sharp riposte to the airline's keen rival, British Airways, which is famously handled by Saatchi. Frankly, that's not bad going for a neophyte.

But the primary reason why Rainey, Kelly and the creative team of Robert Campbell and Mark Roalfe are finding themselves so widely discussed here is not because they're winning blue-chip business at an accelerating rate, but because they have a simple, singular and newsworthy modus operandi: they deal in, and charge for, ideas. Forget commissions, markups and the other myriad charges that clients are heir to. At RKCR, the idea's the thing.

While creative-only agencies are cropping up like weeds in the States (see Creativity, December, 1993), the corporate philosophy of Rainey Kelly is something of a new twist in the U.K. Says Rainey, "Network agencies like McCann deal in the four R's of advertising: representation, real estate, resource and repetition. We deal in the four I's: intelligence, intimacy, innovation and idea creation. They're about the hardware of the business; we're about the software."

Rainey Kelly is small-it has a full-time staff of just 11-and the partners intend to grow very carefully, hiring account managers and traffic personnel on an ad hoc basis. They want to work with like-minded companies in areas such as design and they're interested in forming associations with sympathetic agencies in other countries, but they have no intention of constructing a formal network. "We're never going to be a big company," says Rainey. "We want to be regarded more as a consultancy. Our profit will be contingent on delivering something of value-and that's not empty rhetoric."

Though none of the four principals talks about revolutionizing advertising, which is an enormous relief, all of them take the view that the contemporary agency business is based on "false premises." According to Kelly: "Agencies in general are paid too much for producing advertising and not enough for their ideas. Creativity is being undervalued-though, having said that, no creative director is worth $300,000 a year. When a client buys an agency, he's buying a whole panoply of people and resources. We want to change all that and destroy the bureaucracy of advertising. All the partners are in the business of problem-solving, not stewardship."

Remuneration is based purely on the perceived value of the agency's ideas and bears no relationship to media buying. Clients are encouraged to take an active role in the advertising process, coming in to discuss the development of strategic ideas before the creative execution.

"We want to charge only for what is valuable to clients," says Kelly. "They pay for what they used to get free-ideas-but not for what's unrelated to their needs, such as commissions on media spending. Better relationships are created between the client and the agency because we both profit from the same things.

"We're not doing this just to set up an agency that is paid differently," Rainey adds. "We're saying: 'Where do agencies really add value?' We might end up making the same money. It's just that it will have been obtained more honestly."

All four partners are seasoned advertising hands. Rainey-in an earlier incarnation she was Maria Theresa rather than the more ascetic M.T.-worked for Chiat/Day for 10 years, first as a planner in California, then as head of planning in New York and finally as managing director at the London office. Kelly was with Gold Greenlees Trott for 12 years, lately as managing director. Campbell and Roalfe, who have worked as a team for more than a decade, were at Abbott Mead Vickers, where they produced the award-winning Volvo "Cages Save Lives" campaign, and then at the Banks Partnership.

All of them also have enviable reputations in the business. Rainey is widely seen as an expert planner, and the fact that she reportedly had abrasive relationships with some of the top creatives at C/D in London doesn't bother Campbell and Roalfe in the least. Says Campbell: "We share a vision of what the agency of the future should be."

It is far too early to assess the agency's creative work, but the ad (seen here) that won it the Virgin Atlantic business was an attention-grabbing counterattack to a full-page ad British Airways had been running for several months. Headlined, "For once, we've found someone better than Saatchi & Saatchi to do our advertising," the BA ad comprised such flattering, though anonymous, quotes from passengers as "Refreshing," "I felt born again," and "Excellent."

The agency's other clients include the ultra-high profile British Telecom, which has given it two slices of business, EMAP Magazines' Just Seventeen, which is mounting a TV campaign for the first time in four years, Thornton's chocolate and Smith & Nephew's Lil-lets, a feminine care product. Its first commercials, breaking in the summer, will be for Virgin Atlantic-shot by Jeff Stark, who was once closely associated with both Saatchi and British Airways.

Will Rainey Kelly finally make it? Well, nobody can say it isn't a nice idea.

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