THE LEITH AGENCY
spend junk-food giants by spoofing their big-dollar lines. An
anti-smoking campaign for the same client provoked 140,000
people to cali a helpline provided for ihe purpose.
All along, Denholm has sought to nurture, protect, and
extend the agency's creative reputation. He knows the busi
ness is built on the ability of its creative department-current-
ly twelve strong—and of its creative directorship.
That post is lilled and indeed overllows with the enthusiasm,
skills, and experience of Jim Downie—held by many to be one
of the top art directors in Britain—and described by
Campaign when he moved to Leith's in 1989, as "the creative
colossus of the Scottish advertising scene."
At the breakaway shop at the time, Rodger Slanier-creative
director lor a season yet—had heen amused by the irony of
hiring his oíd boss. Yet Downie had made that inevitable
move reluctantly. Just as he had always resisted the lure of
London, for the stability of his wife and two daughlers.
As creative director of Hall Advertising, he was clearly pre-
pared to go down with an overburdened ship. He and every-
one else knew how strongly he had become identified, not to
say intertwined, with the success of what had become a leg-
end in the annals of British advertising. Founded in 1962 by
Bill Hall (llave you noticed how great admen are often called
Bill?), it was bought írom his widow in 1969 by three men
who later sold out to two brothers called Saatchi Saatchi.
Downie joined in 1972 when it was billing £180,000. With his
talents and his magic markers, he helped to take it to where it
was billing tens of millions sterling as Scotland's largest
agency. He took it proudly onto the podium at the Designers
Art Directors' awards ceremonies, then the only agency oul-
side London to win Lou Klein's yellow pencils.
He took it badly when daily he watched the legend trashed by
the voracious greed of the 1980's, by "restructuring," and
remote-control management. Understandable when you
count the 17 years he gave to huild that greatest provincial
agency ever, which sadly is no more. He takes pride still when
he recounts the many people in British advertising who spent
time with him atthe hallowed Hall's.
Yet the "colossus" started out very humbly as a litho-artist's
apprentice with the printers' Waddie's. "The íirst year,"
Downie can recall, "all 1 did was make the tea, and change
people's water-jars...and get them sandwiches, and keep the
place tidy...and lile artwork."
rhe lifth and linal year he spent studying graphic design at
Edinhurgh College ol Art on an Andrew Grant scholarship.
"What you were doing was 'freeing-up' after you had learnt all
the rules." He worked as a designer in the print industry
before quitling to join McCallum Advertising (then the best
place creatively) as an art director in 1969.
His beginning in the advertising business was strange and
auspicious. He remembers he went for the interview on a
Friday afternoon with McCallum's creative director Archie
Sinclair, who telephoned .lim's mum before Jim got home,
telling her to tell him he'd got the job. Yet that night, before
he got home himself, Sinclair, coming back through fog
from a gig playing jazz, was killed in an accident. "When l
read about it in the newspaper the next day I was devastat-
ed,Downie was quoted in a 1992 prolile in Tlie Scotsman.
He confessed to me, "I would never have been in advertis
ing if it hadn't been for him."
What would Archie Sinclair make of his young discovery, and
the enterprise that is The Leith Agency? Since Downie carne
on board, exciting developments have taken place.
Denholm, his fellow-directors, and non-executive chairman
Roger Newton have placed The Leith Agency under the
umbrella of the Silvermills Group, which consists of lour
companies, each of them with their own offices, their own
leadership, and the expeclation that they will generale their
own business, while being able to pool talent and resources to
service clients held in common. Administration is centralized
under a financial director, Campbell Shirlaw.
(Left) Pete Mili, Founding Partner and Sénior Copywrlter. (Right)
John Denholm, Founding Partner and Managing Director.
This allows typographer Steve Ford, who runs artwork service
Department S, to keep abreast of new technology, which
instead of being threatening, he finds thrilling. it enables
Gary Smith and Jan Young, whose direct-marketing company
One-to-One joined the group in 1990, to cut a bigger slice of
the reputed £17 million Scottish direct-response market.
And it suits graphic designer Ian Mcllroy, who in 1992 left
his cumbersome design consultancy Mcllroy Coates to
return to creating work in the quiet, intimate context of EH6,
named after the zip-code. "There are eight people here,"
Mcllroy tells me, "of which five are designers." What attract-
ed him? "The whole philosophy," he answers, "with The
Leith Agency fiercely maintaining its independence. Also the
way they thought about the work—the quality of the work—
that was what allracted me. And Jim Downie."
Creative director Downie is currently involved in putting Leith
on the global Communications rnap, having sought to network
with a number of agencies worldwide.
Meanwhile, managing director Denholm will be returning to
Harvard to further expand his horizons: "Until the Harvard
course, we'd been afraid that a lot of our success might have
been a combination of luck and 'muddling-through'," admits
Denholm in his rnodest office, "but in fact I discovered we
were doing a few things right in Edinhurgh, after all."