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Red Brick Road

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The Red Brick Road (or TRBR) is the typically unconventional name that was given to the creative agency launched in January 2006 by Sir Frank Lowe following expiry of a two-year non-compete agreement with his former employer, the Interpublic-owned Lowe & Partners network. Within a matter of weeks, the new agency had poached Lowe London's flagship client, supermarket giant Tesco. Although Lowe himself later retired from the agency, Tesco remained its biggest account by far until the beginning of 2012. In Spring that year, following a tough year's trading, the retailer announced a review of the business. TRBR decided to resign the account rather than repitch. There was a complete overhaul of management later the same year, as TRBR's founding directors handed over the business, now very much smaller in size, to a new generation, who have continued to make steady progress ever since.

Clients

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Competitors

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Brands & Activities

Frank Lowe selected the name of his new agency in 2006 from the original novel of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy chooses to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City. However, there is also an alternative route, the Red Brick Road. The agency claims to pursue a similarly "alternative" path, the road less travelled.

Soon after launch it also captured Heineken, a brand long associated with Frank Lowe, and those two accounts propelled The Red Brick Road straight into the Nielsen/Campaign rankings of the UK's leading agencies for 2006, at #22. However Heineken and another major client Sky later departed as Tesco's business steadily grew. Despite several attempts to broaden its client base, The Red Brick Road remained heavily reliant on founding client Tesco. For 2011, Nielsen (in Campaign) estimated total billings of £163m, of which at least two-thirds was supplied by Tesco.

The review announced in Spring 2012 created a significant watershed for the agency. It was told it would be retained for the supermarket giant's small B2B business, and was invited to pitch for the rest of the account. After a short pause for consideration TRBR took the decision to decline that offer and resign the entire account. For 2012, billings fell to £111m - the account didn't depart until later in the year - but that figure plunged to just £22m for 2013. The agency clawed its way back into the top 30 agencies ranking once again in 2015. Nielsen (for Campaign) estimated billings of almost £47m that year.

The loss of the Tesco account and subsequent handover to a new and comparatively inexperienced management team might have killed a lesser agency, but in fact The Red Brick Road has made steady progress, turning out solid and entertaining creative work for a collection of mid-level clients.

Financials

In accounts filed for 2014, the first full year since the management buyout by its current directors, TRBR Ltd reported turnover (billings) of £12.4m, up 46% on the previous year. (At the height of the Tesco partnership in 2010, turnover had been over £36m). Gross profit (net revenue) was up by a third to £5.7m, and net profit by 46% to £1.2m.

Frank Lowe stepped down from an executive role at Red Brick Road at the end of 2009 and resigned as a director the following year, although he remained a shareholder. Tesco's decision to review its account in 2012 prompted agency chairman Paul Weinberger, who had handled the business for more than 20 years at Lowe London and TRBR, to leave (eventually ending up at TBWA). Further management changes followed towards the end of 2012. The two remaining founding partners, Paul Hammersley and David Hackworthy, left the business, transferring day-to-day control to the former management team of Ruby. All the existing directors sold their shares during the course of 2013.

As a result, TRBR is now run and jointly owned by David Miller (CEO), Matt Davies and Richard Megson (executive creative directors) and Ben Mitchell (planning director).

Background

Frank Lowe is best known as the founder and former leader of the Lowe Worldwide advertising network, owned by Interpublic. The relationship between Lowe the man and Lowe the agency, or at least its parent company Interpublic, soured badly during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Frank Lowe finally severed his ties to the US group in 2003, and he was barred from re-entering the industry for two years under the terms of a non-compete agreement. At the end of 2005, however, he announced his return to the fray to launch a new shop. Even before Lowe's new project had a confirmed name, it had already caused one of the biggest seismic upsets in the London industry. The first senior executive to join the team was Paul Weinberger, then UK chairman and account director on Lowe London's flagship Tesco account. A few days later, Tesco confirmed that it would follow Weinberger to the new shop. Interpublic subsequently issued legal proceedings against Frank Lowe in January 2006 for "violation of contractual and fiduciary duties" as a former employee. Sir Frank retaliated with an angry denial and a counter-suit for defamation. (The case was eventually settled a year later, with both sides agreeing to drop their claims).

Other agencies also ran scared as speculation soared over which executives might jump ship to join Sir Frank. The most senior proved to be Paul Hammersley, previously head of DDB London, who became the new agency's managing director. David Hackworthy was appointed as the fourth founding partner.

In 2008, the agency gave its financial backing to Ruby, a direct and digital start-up, in return for a 51% shareholding. In early 2011, Red Brick Road and Ruby were officially merged to form a single agency. There was talk that the combined shop would adopt a new name; in the end it remained Red Brick Road. At the same time, TRBR's managing director Karen Buchanan left the company to join Publicis, and Ruby's David Miller was named as managing director of the merged business.

Last full revision 12th April 2016

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