the minimart: from Soho to SW11

When Tim Clyde and Ed Chilcott launched their own advertising business, they reckoned that success lay in rejecting everything they had learnt from some of the most successful agencies in the world. GrowthBusiness talks to two unlikely business rebels about their anti-advertising agency.

For many an aspiring advertising executive – particularly those with dreams of one day running their own agencies – stints at the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi and McCann-Erickson can prove to be an important stepping stone. But while the majority of these fledgling entrepreneurs subsequently seek to ape their former employers, Tim Clyde and Ed Chilcott opted to turn 180 degrees and march off in the opposite direction.

Since conception, the minimart has sought to be the very antithesis of its peers. Clyde and Chilcott formed the self-funded advertising agency two years ago following a frustrating stint at McCann’s youth agency Magic Hat.

The reasoning is straightforward. ‘We just wanted to simplify the whole process,’ says Clyde, ‘so we tried to set up as the complete opposite of the big agency.’ In this way they hoped to give better value to clients, without sacrificing creativity.

From Soho to SW11

Their start-up phase saw them turn to their former clients for advice on how to do things differently. Chilcott had previously worked for Saatchi & Saatchi on accounts like Adidas, while Clyde was based at M&C Saatchi, dealing with BA and others. ‘We found we had a lot of friendly ex-clients,’ says Chilcott, ‘who we could turn to and bounce ideas off.’

Eventually they were able to devise a list of the ten things they were determined to avoid in their new business, a list that ranged from the obvious to the more subtle.

‘The most noticeable thing to come from that process was there was no need for the expensive, lavish office in Soho,’ Clyde explains, referring to the marble-floored, contemporary art-lined, palatial headquarters synonymous with many in the advertising industry. ‘Instead, we just set ourselves up in a house in Battersea,’ a decision which equates to cheaper rent and better value for customers.

Other attempts at fat-trimming included charging people for what they actually need and not for a standard package. ‘By nature of the agency package, clients get a whole horde of resources they don’t actually need,’ Clyde explains. ‘So in a big agency one client will have individual teams assigned to them working on account management, creativity, production and the like. We have taken the radical decision to offer a more bespoke approach.’

Bringing it all in-house

Perhaps the biggest gamble Clyde and Chilcott have taken, however, is to establish the minimart as both an advertising agency and a production company – a move offering ‘massive client benefits’ according to Clyde.

Traditionally, advertising agencies outsource their production work to a separate production house, which then hires its own post-production team. But there are, of course, two obvious problems with this approach. Firstly, the costs (in terms of both time and cash) can spiral as the advertising agency is relying on the sub-contractors of sub-contractors to carry out work for it. Moreover, this method just doesn’t make sense creatively. ‘Most agencies employ photographers and then a production company, which in turn hires a post-production company,’ Clyde notes. ‘This means that the photographers and directors aren’t actually involved in the creative process at any point. Instead, the advertising agency pitches an idea to its clients and they just turn up and shoot what they’ve been asked for.’

Rather than sub-contract, the minimart aims instead to establish ‘a pool of collective talent.’ This ‘collective’ now consists of around 40 individuals with their own specialities, who work for the agency and enable Clyde and Chilcott to construct a virtually bespoke team for each of the projects they’re involved with.

‘We’re trying to create a different type of place to work,’ ventures Clyde, ‘and, perhaps more importantly, [to build somewhere] people just like to hang out and bounce around ideas. Quite often we’ll be trying to come up with a concept for a new project and then one of our ad directors will pop in for a chat and come up with the kernel of a great idea.’

Identifying new talent is also important and a risk worth taking, says Chilcott. ‘We’re trying to engender young design teams coming out of college. We’re showcasing the work of five designers on our site and it’s strange that when you go along to see student exhibitions there are some great ideas but no ones knows about them. Many may never be suitable for adverts, but the creativity itself is fantastic.’

Hitting the right notes

From a client perspective, the minimart’s approach appears to be appealing, with those in the music industry particularly keen on Clyde and Chilcott’s unorthodox way of working.

‘I don’t think we’d been working as much in the music industry if we didn’t do things the way we do,’ Clyde says of the company’s key relationships with the likes of Sony BMG and Universal Music.

Contracts have flooded in from other markets too, some coming from less well-known brands looking for a leg up to the big leagues – Rubicon Exotic Drink and being two such examples. A further four projects have been picked up in recent months and sales are expected to top £500,000 this year, with that figure expected to double 12 months on.

Of course, both the company’s founders concede that growth will bring its own problems. ‘Having taken the plunge and gambled on doing things differently in this marketplace, we’ve proved it was possible and would work. But as we grow we’ll obviously have to think about how we evolve while staying true to our guiding principles,’ concedes Chilcott. For now, however, it seems their determination to be different is really starting to pay off.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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