Talent search: London's Mother plots U.S. invasion

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London hotshop Mother is on the hunt for the creative talent to front a U.S. launch.

Three of the agency founders, Robert Saville, Mark Waites and Stef Calcraft, toured the U.S. last week talking to what Mr. Saville called the "like-minded individuals" who could help put Mother on the map in America.

They have met with, among others, Eric Silver, Cliff Freeman's creative director in New York - who said he has no plans to join them - and the directors' collective Traktor, a Los Angeles stop.

People close to the process said the partners are keen to open their first U.S. office in New York, "sooner rather than later," with a mix of new hires and Mother veterans.

But Mr. Saville stressed that there was no timetable. "We're just coming over and seeing people. There's a big pool of talent." He said it was not looking to acquire its way into the market. "We have our own brand and culture. It's not a checkbook turning up, it's about finding friends. We're not buying Cliff Freeman."

He did, however, admit that they would have liked to come to the U.S. sooner, but that the partners' time has been focused on new business. In 2002, Mother has won more U.K. new business than any other agency in London, a total of $120 million.

The agency picked up the $60 million U.K. account for cellphone operator Orange in October, and beat out Wieden & Kennedy in August for the launch in 2003 of a new Siemens global cellphone.

From the beginning, Mother has worked for multinational clients, including Unilever, Mars and Coca-Cola Co. Mr. Saville likes to say the shop handles more Coke brands in the U.K. than any other agency.

Mother's distinctive culture, and the irreverent and ironic advertising it spawns, has earned it considerable notoriety in Europe. Employees' business cards include photographs of their respective mothers. The huge-but-packed room where most staffers work at a few long tables can be viewed at the agency Web site (motherlondon.com) that consists entirely of a Webcam trained on the workstations. Instead of meeting rooms, there is a choice between an old trailer, a '50s diner and a raised platform with comfy sofas stuck in the middle of the main room. The staff is diverse, coming from many countries including Sweden, Australia and Argentina.

hatching creative

Creative includes an ongoing campaign for Egg, an online bank and financial-services brand with more than 2 million U.K. customers, featuring lunatic products from "Brilliant Industries," whose ridiculous ideas for consumers on how to handle their money contrast with Egg's extremely practical services. For the deeply indebted, Brilliant Industries suggests La-la-la I'm Not Listening Musical Fingers, as well as trained goats that communicate with consumers through brainwaves.

Egg, in fact, is going international. It launched in France with controversial ads that broke this month from another agency, Omnicom Group's BDDP & Fils, Paris, but with input from Mother. Egg Group Director of Corporate Communications Emma Byrne said, "We consider Mother to be our international agency." Egg is believed to be researching the U.S. market, but a U.S. entry would be a happy coincidence rather than an account Mother could count on as it enters the U.S. market.

"The only issue they might encounter, with the difficult business climate, is that clients are becoming increasingly risk-averse," said Cindy Gallop, president of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, a start-up four years ago by London-based Bartle Bogle, partly-owned by Publicis Groupe. "The brave and original work they do needs clients who understand it's a much bigger risk not to take one and stand out from the crowd."

A New York-based creative director for a global agency added: "I know their reputation in London, but I don't know if that attitude and style will fly over here. If they're opening an office, they better have some clients with broad minds."

contributing: bill britt and richard linnett

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