The design studio applauded when Imagination founder Gary Withers announced that Adrian Caddy had been promoted to creative director of Imagination, or so the story goes. And it is difficult to find any adverse criticism concerning Caddy either on or off the record among industry watchers, which is surprising given Caddy’s rapid rise to fame.
But the task of taking over the creative helm for a consultancy with a legendary reputation as a creative hotshop is daunting. Whether or not you like Imagination’s approach and output, its past solutions – and current work – have kept clients like Ford and Cadbury coming back for more. In part it is also reputation which clinched perhaps the most talked about project recently – the Millennium Festival.
Caddy sees the millennium project as a “ticket to build a great agency”. The high profile of the project will be used to inject fresh talent into the group, and Caddy plans to enlarge Imagination’s studio by at least 12 creatives this year and by the same number again next year. Given the prestige of the festival, not to mention the Imagination glamour cultivated by Withers and perceived among creatives in design, Caddy will have his pick of the best.
His ambition for Imagination is no less daunting than the task he takes over from Withers: “I want to make Imagination into a full service agency,” he answers cautiously, when asked if he sees advertising groups Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather as competitors. Certainly, Caddy has been working on developing close relationships with “a few respected ad agencies” as one way of developing Imagination’s core offer – a multimedia package called brand experience.
Caddy sells the concept convincingly, and says his promotion to creative director was a natural progression to take brand experience forward. But he was part of the think tank Withers put together in 1993 to develop Imagination’s next incarnation.
While Caddy and the think tank were working on strategy, tumultuous changes were afoot at the group and it was dogged by the departure of several high-profile names in a short time. Jon Turner, Paul Porrall, Richard Zucker and Dilys Maltby, to name a few, left either to set up alone or go to The Body Shop.
Substantiated rumour has it that a fake memo went around Imagination, supposedly from Gary Withers, announcing his resignation – also to go to The Body Shop. Amusing as it was, the memo was indicative of the hostility and discontent at the group created by shake-ups from the top.
Caddy says he kept away from the drama. But his appointment to Imagination’s board as deputy creative director in January 1995 came at a time when hostility hadn’t been forgotten. A close source says Caddy handled the situation “brilliantly. He hadn’t been known for his people handling skills and was seen as aloof. But he won people over and has really grown into the role”.
The same unbiased source adds he “earned the respect of the design studio by using his strength of knowing his limitations. He wasn’t didactic. When he didn’t know something he admitted it and asked people to explain”.
Some say hostility was bred by the “triptych” Withers created – himself, Caddy and Ardill, now Imagination’s marketing director, – to the exclusion of others. But Withers and Caddy do make an entertaining and persuasive double act. Although Caddy says he isn’t like Withers, common themes in both personalities make it conceivable that Withers should relinquish his grip on Imagination’s creative direction, for the first time in the group’s history, to Caddy. Both Withers and Caddy have an innocence which sees no limits, but which is in no way naive.
Caddy feels he is heading in the right direction by cultivating the “new school envisioned by Withers – developing an alternative offer”. He admits that design still doesn’t know how to define Imagination, and, by the same token, Imagination doesn’t really know its place in the design community.
But that community is watching how Imagination develops under Caddy with interest. And in Caddy’s own words, his success or failure will be measured by the consultancy’s work in times to come.
Caddy so far…
1983 Graduated from Central St Martins College of Art and Design
1983-89 Freelanced for The Tyrrell Company and Davidson Pearce
1989 Associate director at Design House
1990 Joined Imagination as head of graphic design
1993 Became part of Withers’ think tank on brand development
1995 Appointed to the Imagination board as deputy creative director
1996 Appointed creative director at Imagination