Starting Over: Launching an advertising start-up

Launching an ad start-up might be a dream for many, but what’s it really like? Here, creatives Jim Townsend and Oli Cole, who founded Made By Blah in 2017, talk through the ups and downs, and how a mix of creativity and luck led to projects with Nike and giffgaff

Many creatives dream of running their own show. No more account folks watering down your ideas, no more agency bureaucracy. Yet while the advantages may seem obvious, the challenges are equally clear – no more protection from the money stuff, and no-one to massage your ego if it all goes wrong.

There are many things that eventually push people to go out on their own, but one of the most commonly cited reasons we at CR hear is an increasing frustration and a lack of creative control in big agencies, and a desire to create more risky, unusual work that may not make it through the pipeline at a larger organisation.

This was the case for Jim Townsend and Oli Cole, who set up the start-up Made By Blah in 2017 and have since created projects for the likes of Nike, Beats By Dre, giffgaff, and Amnesty International.

Work for Beats by Dr

Townsend and Cole met while working at BBH in London, where Cole had been a Senior Art Director since 2007 and Townsend since 2011 (having previously worked at agencies including Fallon, RKCR Y&R and AMV BBDO). The duo speak highly of their time at the agency – with Townsend describing it as “a great agency, a great culture” – but realised after a year of working on projects together that it was time for them “to break away and go for it”, as Townsend puts it.

“At that point, for us to get from conception to completion, everything seemed to be taking so long. There were so many people in the mix and a lot of the time people that weren’t really qualified to be making the creative decisions and judge the work that we’d done – that’s how we felt,” he continues.

“We’d been working on a couple of freelance projects direct with clients and even though it was a bit of a headache doing various roles and wearing various hats, it was much more enjoyable because we could articulate what we’d conceived directly rather than getting second-hand information most of the time and not being kept in the loop for whatever reason. It’s way more streamlined.”

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