OPINION: Profile - True believer/Juliet Soskice, Marketing and new business director, St Luke’s

Anyone who saw the Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall programme about ad agency St Luke’s a few months ago, might remember Juliet Soskice.

Anyone who saw the Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall programme about ad

agency St Luke’s a few months ago, might remember Juliet Soskice.



At the time, she was the agency’s marketing manager and had the

difficult task of surveying the views of St Luke’s shareholders - its

staff - and relaying them back to the two most senior figures at the

agency, Andy Law and David Abrahams. It was clearly a tough job,

acting as a go-between for the many agency staff, who complained St

Luke’s was failing to deliver on its promises of a different kind of

place to work, and Law and Abrahams, who were trying to reconcile the

reality of managing an agency without wanting to be seen as ’the

bosses’.



Soskice came out of the programme well, being honest and upfront with

everyone she dealt with, and managing to defend St Luke’s and its

achievements, without becoming a management mouthpiece.



Soskice says the agency has no regrets about letting the Channel 4

cameras in. And although many of the scenes might have been a little

painful, overall the agency emerged as a brave experiment, which is

genuinely trying to do something different in the way people work and

think about their jobs. From its employee-owned structure, to its

liberal work practices, to its refusal to enter industry creative

awards, the agency has created a new, and closely watched model for an

advertising agency.



Announcing that it is to spin off a St Luke’s management consultancy

could be its most closely observed venture yet. It’s a move into what

some still see as enemy territory. David Abrahams will play a key role

in the consultancy, which means more responsibility for 31-year-old

Soskice, who is now the agency’s marketing and new business

director.



I meet Soskice in the agency’s foyer. She is not smiling, which given

my naive impression of St Luke’s as an agency full of happy-hippy

workers, is surprising.We greet, she smiles. Dressed casually, Soskice

still carries the air of a professional. She is polite and

confident.



I had promised myself I wouldn’t ask about St Luke’s corporate

structure, but I can’t resist: ’So does it really work?’ It’s a

question she has been asked countless times but still answers with

enthusiasm. ’You only have to look at the way we are growing to know

that it does,’ she replies. ’As a model for business I cannot think of

a better company.’ I look for a knowing wink or a shoulder shrug to

suggest that the whole thing is a publicity stunt, that it is falling

apart. It isn’t.



Since its launch in 1995 the agency has grown in value from an

estimated pounds 1.5m to pounds 30m, and has achieved its ten-year

growth plan in four years.



Since February it has taken on pounds 60m in new business, which has

placed it at the top of the new business pile and emboldened it to

announce it will further double in size in the next four years.



St Luke’s is the brainchild of Andy Law who, disenchanted after seeing

his then agency Chiat/Day sold from beneath him, led its London office

to break away from its US parent. At the new agency’s core was the

idea that people who felt secure and were trusted with freedom and

responsibility worked better. Believing that workers who owned a

business cared more for it, Law wanted to ’change the very DNA of

business’.



Soskice came late to the agency, joining in 1997 as ’a pretty crap and

unhappy account manager’ - her words. She admits her career until St

Luke’s was an uneventful tale. After graduating from Oxford University

in 1992 she joined Marks & Spencer as a marketing trainee. ’At M&S we

were expected to work as part of this fantastically efficient system

that left no room for innovation.’ Desperate to escape, she looked to

advertising: ’I had always been fascinated by why people buy things

and decided that I wanted to be a part of the industry that pulled

those strings.’ In 1993 Soskice joined CM Lintas International, and a

year later left in search of a bigger name and more creativity. She

joined J Walter Thompson.



’I wanted to work on a chocolate brand and JWT had Nestle Rowntree.’

There she met Martin Jones, the agency’s then new business director

(now heading the AAR), and the mentor she credits with infecting her

with the business development bug. After three years at JWT, Soskice

joined St Luke’s.



’I felt I needed a change and I wanted to work with David

Abrahams.’



The move triggered a period of career soul searching for Soskice. ’St

Luke’s pretty quickly exposed me as an average account manager,’ she

says.



’Everything is so open that people tend to know exactly what you are

doing and how good you are.’ Soskice told Law that she really wanted

to work with new business, and he agreed.



The move has worked for both her and the agency. This month her title

was changed from marketing manager to marketing and new business

director.



Soskice remains a true believer: ’I am the brand manager for St

Luke’s. We have a unique proposition, a unique message and a very

strong brand. The whole company has a responsibility to the brand, to

make sure that the message is consistent. It is my job to make sure

that we remain true to that message.’



BIOGRAPHY

1992-1993

Graduate trainee Marks & Spencer

1993-1994

Account executive, CM Lintas International

1994-1997

Account manager, JWT

1997-1999

Account manager, St Luke’s

Present

Marketing and new business director, St Luke’s



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