Mother watches closely

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[London] If you're looking for an easy life, don't hire Mother. At this city's hottest ad agency, clients are constantly challenged, and creativity is built into the DNA. Robert Saville, 42, a former creative director, runs 6-year-old Mother with four other partners.

"We have creative principles, not a creative department," says Mr. Saville, showing as much dedication to the Mother brand as to the agency's clients.

Unusual for a local start-up, Mother quickly picked up multinational marketers like Coca-Cola Co. and Unilever, along with some of the U.K.'s most coveted brands. Mr. Saville likes to say that the agency doesn't work for Unilever or Coke, but for a few like-minded individuals at those companies who are brave enough to hire his agency.

At Mother, there are no account executives. About half of the 85 staffers are creatives, and a similar proportion are non-Brits, as people from all over the world line up for a job at Mother. Everyone works at long tables in an open space that was once a clog-making factory. A battered trailer serves as a meeting room. The site is simply a Webcam that watches the agency at work.

The advertising that results from Mother's agency-client brainstorming is funny and bold. Besides creative awards, Mother delivers impressive statistics: Its ironic "What's the worst that could happen?" campaign for Dr Pepper boasts the highest awareness ever recorded by Coca-Cola Great Britain, which markets the soft drink in the U.K.

Even recession has had little impact. In 2002, Mother was the No. 1 new-business winner in the U.K., raking in $120 million, including the hotly contested $60 million Orange cell phone account.

"For us, recession means that we have to stop clients being nervous," says Mr. Saville, who previously did stints at GGT, Publicis and Saatchi & Saatchi. "We are not prepared to do crap work and spoil our brand."

Mother's own whimsical branding is reflected in its kitsch promotional mailings, including a "Bible" portraying the partners as prophets, and a board game that openly ridicules the royal family-which notably did attract the attention of Queen Elizabeth's lawyers.

The agency fastidiously nurtures its culture, rejecting advances from multinationals eager to buy up a slice of Mother magic. Independent expansion is more likely, and Mr. Saville has already scouted setting up a U.S. office, probably in New York.

"It's about finding like-minded individuals who will make us better as a business," he says. "Is there space in the market for us? Would people be responsive to us?"

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