In London - About a shop: Clemmow Hornby is red-hot among U.K. startups

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Ask anyone in London who's hot in advertising and the answer inevitably will be Clemmow Hornby Inge. Even in a market known for turning startup agencies into stars, the agency has had an amazing year.

On its first anniversary this month, Clemmow Hornby won the prestigious U.K. Heineken beer account after longtime agency Lowe, London, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., had to relinquish Heineken to keep another beer brand, Interbrew's Stella Artois. Although almost any agency in the city would have happily pitched Heineken, Lowe Chairman Frank Lowe flew to Amsterdam to recommend to its owners that Clemmow Hornby get the business.

After 30 years of working with Heineken and a close friendship with the late beer magnate Freddie Heineken, Mr. Lowe wanted to entrust Heineken to Charles Inge, Lowe's former executive creative director, and his new partners. Last year's tug-of-war for Mr. Inge between Mr. Lowe and Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby-the former chief executive and joint managing director, respectively, of Omnicom Group's TBWA, London-was forgotten.

a benign smile

"Frank is always very supportive of startups and smiles benignly on them, because he did it himself," said Tim Lindsay, Lowe's international president. "We happen to think [Clemmow Hornby] is a very talented group."

The agency expects fee income of more than $5 million this year. Clemmow Hornby is pitching for Safeway, one of the U.K.'s biggest supermarket chains, Daewoo cars, and Bacardi Martini's Bombay Sapphire Gin and Dewars brands-a sign of its red-hot status. "There's not a pitch list they're not on," said Brett Gosper, co-chairman of Havas' Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, London.

The Clemmow-Hornby-Inge trio are phenomenally well-connected. For instance, Mr. Hornby's older brother Nick Hornby, best-selling author of "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy," supplied 70 tickets to the recent London premiere of Universal Studios' "About a Boy," where Clemmow Hornby clients and prospects hung out with the cast. "Clients enjoyed it," Mr. Hornby said. "They got to meet Hugh Grant."

It was during a Caribbean cruise on the yacht of his friend and TBWA client Charles Dunstone, owner of Europe's biggest cellphone retailer Carphone Warehouse, that Mr. Hornby was inspired to start an agency, with Mr. Dunstone as his first client. "He said you don't get all this by working for someone else," Mr. Hornby said.

He and Mr. Clemmow, 46, a former planning director who was a partner in a 1990s startup, quit their jobs last year the day after the Labour Party's election victory. TBWA was the Labour Party's ad agency and Mr. Hornby ran the campaign.

talked into it

After leaving TBWA, the pair cold-called Mr. Inge, 41, one of London's top creative directors and gradually talked him into the job, despite a counterattack from Mr. Lowe. Mr. Inge, a painter, entered the ad industry by accident when his copywriter wife, Jane, asked him to fill in for an art director. He ended up spending 15 years at Lowe.

Mr. Dunstone moved his $18 million account to Clemmow Hornby and housed the agency for six months free. Since then, Carphone Warehouse's sales of about $1.6 billion have held steady but market share has grown, even as sales of handsets in Europe fell 40% last year.

Its latest TV campaign from Clemmow Hornby stars an animated pet-like cellphone with arms and legs. In one spot, the phone is ridiculed by bullies for being old-fashioned, because its owner hasn't taken it to Carphone Warehouse for an update.

"We wanted big ideas for big clients, not just for the creative community to win awards," Mr. Hornby said. "We wanted to do work Mum would see."

Chances are, Mum is also reading about them. In London, popular startups are often media darlings, portrayed as fun, daring and trendy in the trade press. One weekly had a graphologist analyze Mr. Hornby's handwriting, pronouncing him "one of the most original thinkers I have ever encountered." Another regularly chronicles the agency's escapades, such as the time Mr. Hornby, on foot and late for a client meeting, spotted the chauffeur of a TBWA executive parked in front of the Connaught hotel and commandeered the agency's car.

"Sadly, all these things are true," Mr. Hornby said.

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