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The & Partnership (UK)

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CHI & Partners has been one of the most consistently successful independent agencies launched in the UK since the early 2000s, earning the admiration of clients and other agencies for effective creative work and an enviable new business record. Significantly, it bypassed the cult status that traditionally nurtures start-up agencies (for example, St Luke's, Mother, Naked and others), but set itself up from day one as one of the big boys. Its key strength has been a fearless support of "big ideas", an approach usually considered over-ambitious for a small independent agency. Unlike some other powerhouse start-ups (such as Adam&Eve for example), CHI & Partners remained notionally independent, although WPP acquired just under 50% of the company in Spring 2007, leading to the launch of a New York office. Five years later CHI established an extensive presence across Asia as well by joining forces with WPP's Bates Asia micro-network to form Bates CHI & Partners. In 2013, umbrella company The & Partnership was created to consolidate all CHI's various affiliated units, and the London agency adopted that umbrella name at the beginning of 2018.

Clients

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Competitors

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Brands & Activities

CHI's key strength since launch has been a fearless support of "big ideas", an approach usually considered over-ambitious for a small independent agency. That have-a-go spirit has been welcomed by marketers, all the more so since CHI's ambitious campaigns have also delivered solid business results for its clients. Creative work, initially generally workmanlike at best, has improved steadily. The breakthrough came with a series of lovely and imaginative ads for Talk Talk, and there has been increasingly strong work for other clients as well, especially since the arrival of executive creative director Jon Burley in 2010. However, the long-running Argos campaign featuring, inexplicably, a family of aliens, defied all logic. Memorable it may have been, but it also qualified as one of the more irritating campaigns on British television, despite its bizarre popularity with the British public. The aliens were finally dumped in 2014 after three years.

Following the sale of a minority stake to WPP in 2007, the agency absorbed its various existing satellite units to form a fully integrated service under the name CHI & Partners. CHI & Partners entered the UK's Top Ten agencies for the first time in 2014, with estimated billings of £185m from Nielsen (in Campaign). Nielsen's estimates of billings have declined since then - to £127m in 2016 - but that represents only UK spend. The addition of Toyota and Lexus across Europe has significantly increased the agency's total revenues. Other key clients include Argos, British Gas and TalkTalk.

Since the deal with WPP, several new services have been added or acquired, resulting in the creation in 2013 of a new holding company, The & Partnership, to serve as an umbrella for the group's growing collection of separately branded agencies. In addition to direct and digital services, CHI also offers inhouse media planning and buying through a joint venture with WPP's GroupM. This was originally known as MCHI, but adopted a new name of M/Six in 2012, and has a growing international presence. A new unit, The Social Practice, was launched jointly by CHI and MCHI to offer social media services, and the group also houses a dedicated branding & design agency, as well as The Box, a more specialised advertising production unit focused on fast-turnaround retail advertising (primarily for Carphone Warehouse). AllTogetherNow is a specialised digital content developer, while Muster is an experiential and event agency. The group added consumer PR to its offering in 2013 with the acquisition of a majority stake in London agency Halpern.

In 2012, the group rescued rival integrated agency Rapier, following that company's administration. It acquired the goodwill and assets of Rapier for an undisclosed sum. The new Rapier Communications continued to operate under its own name as a 50/50 joint venture with chief executive Jonathan Stead. That partnership continued until the end of 2017, when Stead reacquired full control of the business.

CHI opened a New York office in 2008, mainly to assist the local joint venture between Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy. Now operating as The & Partnership New York, it is a joint venture with WPP's Ogilvy group. At the end of 2012, a bold new development was unveiled in which CHI joined forces with the Ogilvy-aligned Bates Asia group to create a fully global network under the name Bates CHI & Partners. That joint venture links CHI's existing outposts in London and New York with Bates' 14 offices across the Asia Pacific region.

Financials

The agency's main corporate entity is The & Partners Group Ltd. The original founding directors between them own 50.1% of that business via CHI Partners Holdings; the balance is owned by WPP's Cavendish Partners investment vehicle.

The & Partners Group reported revenues in 2016 of £235m. (The previous accounting period was 15 months making year-on-year comparisons misleading). Gross profit (net revenue) was £52.3m, with net profit of £3.7m. There were an average of 486 staff during the year. The main CHI & Partners agency reported revenue of £60m, gross profit of almost £15m but a net loss of 36k. MSix reported revenues of £150m, gross profit of £9m and a net profit of £650k.

Background

The agency was originally formed in 2001 when Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby, respectively the chief executive and MD of TBWA\London, broke away to set up their own agency. Controversially, they took with them the account for major client Carphone Warehouse. A few weeks later they persuaded Charles Inge, then creative director of Lowe London, to join them as third partner in what became Clemmow Hornby Inge. An astonishing string of further new business wins followed. Key among these was the capture of the highly-prized Heineken account, which had been resigned by Lowe. (Frank Lowe reportedly flew out to Heineken's Amsterdam HQ to lend his personal support to the start-up agency's).

CHI's rapid growth continued throughout 2003 and 2004 as it picked up an unrivalled succession of new accounts, winning almost every account it pitched for and topping the new business league for both years with additional billings worth more than £100m, an astonishing achievement for a single-office independent start-up. In 2006, CHI even opened a small US office to support client Carphone Warehouse's move into that market in partnership with local retailer Best Buy. Rumours began to circulate towards the end of 2006 that CHI was in talks to sell a large minority stake to French group Havas. Those negotiations ended without agreement in Spring 2007, and instead CHI sold just under 50% of its equity to WPP.

The deal with WPP also provided the catalyst for restructuring. Following its own launch, Clemmow Hornby Inge had backed the creation of several partly independent marketing services satellites, including Naked Inside, a media planning joint venture launched in 2002 as a partnership with Naked; and direct marketing shop Hall Moore CHI, launched in 2004 as a partnership with former Proximity heads Simon Hall and Warren Moore. (A PR venture, Freud Inside, a joint venture with Freud Communications, was shut down in 2005 after the latter was acquired by Publicis). Hall Moore CHI and Naked Inside were absorbed into Clemmow Hornby Inge in 2007 to form a new integrated agency, CHI & Partners.

Last full revision 11th January 2018

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