08 November 2006
Creative Review staff
Creative Review staff

In an increasingly fluid creative marketplace, some are learning to make the most of their skills and knowledge as spin-off fever hits.

The dominant trend
In the creative industries at the start of the new millennium has been the blurring of boundaries: photographers who illustrate, designers who photograph, copywriters who direct and so on. Now that erosion of previously strict demarcations is increasingly prevalent in the way that creative businesses are set up. Many of those who once bought creative services have now crossed the divide to become sellers as well.

One could argue that, in the case of advertising agencies, this has always happened - buying the services of, say, directors on the one hand, selling on those services to clients on the other - but there seems to be an increasing fluidity in the creative industries at large, as illustrated by the companies profiled on these pages.

Last month, we featured Wink Media, a spin-off creative agency from Wallpaper magazine which, as the current jargon goes, leverages the knowledge of those working on the magazine and its brand to supply creative services to other clients. There are a lot more companies doing variations on the same thing.

Visionaire, the luxurious style magazine, has, if anything, even more enviable brand qualities than Wallpaper. This has led to considerable interest from advertisers keen to bask in some of the magazine's reflected glamour. Thus, Visionaire Design was set up, which has worked on catalogues and advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein and Shiseido.

Similarly, design consultancy Big Active have set up their own agency to represent illustrators and photographers that they use regularly while one of the editors of the illustration book Scrawl have set up an operation, the Scrawl Collective, to represent those artists featured in the book (See Creative Review, September).

Likewise, the founders of fashion magazine Tank were recently signed to production company Douglas + Jones in order to apply their respected vision of glamour and fashion to the moving image.

Such spin-offs, however, can leave companies open to criticism of favouritism or a compromise of quality. The photo agency PYMCA has tackled this by totally separating from its mother magazine, Sleazenation. While images from the photolibrary and the photographers that PYMCA's agency arm represents are often used in the pages of the magazine, there's no formal agreement between the two and usage is conditional on the images being, a, good enough and, b, relevant.

Where consultancy spin-offs work for a parent magazine's advertisers or sponsors things can get tricky. Where does editorial objectivity go when your sister company has a major contract to produce an advertising campaign for a company that your magazine wants to run a feature about? Then there's also the question of time: a new company can take up so much time and energy that the original, successful product suffers. But the original is the engine that drives all the other parts. It establishes the brand that draws clients to the spin-off. Damage the original and you damage everything.

Whatever the pitfalls, the opportunities are proving too tempting to resist in this entrepreneurial age. For the traditional suppliers of creative services it means yet more competition, albeit on an, as yet small scale. But with the benefit of cool "mother" brands behind them, these businesses are an intriguing addition to the creative services marketplace.

Scrawl Collective
When Scrawl: Dirty graphics and strange characters, a survey of graffiti and street-inspired graphics, was published by Booth-Clibborn Editions in July 1999, street art was already becoming an increasingly commercially viable art form. Six months after its publication, Ric Blackshaw, who compiled Scrawl with writer Liz Farrelly and designer Mike Dorrian, decided to form an agency representing some of the designers and illustrators featured in the book. Judging from the influx of both UK and international calls to the Creative Review office after we published a news story on the collective in September, this type of agency could not have been formed at a better time.

Among the first work commissioned through the Scrawl Collective were US in-store graphics for Nike ACG by Mr Jago and four large scale paintings for the launch of British musician LSK. Other clients thus far include Nike, Swatch, Canal Satellite, Sony and Osaka-based T-shirt company Satan Arbeit.

Five artists are currently signed: Mr Jago, Will Barras (also represented by London-based production company Bermuda Shorts for his animation work - see CR June), Nick Walker, best known for his comic insert for Dope Dragon's Wayz Of The Dragon album (CR August 98), Steff Plaetz and Cat. While they are signed to the Scrawl Collective permanently, these artists are all free to work on their own personal projects and sell artwork independently of the agency.

The agency also promotes the work of the other talents represented in the book on a one-off basis. "We put companies in touch with these cutting-edge practitioners," says Blackshaw. "The Scrawl Collective aims to support edgy, young talents that are often overlooked simply because they defy easy definition. The attitude that unites them comes from the street."

"People love the ideas and spirit that go into Visionaire and the fact that we change all the time," says editor Stephen Gan of the hugely luxurious fashion title he co-founded in 1991 (CR, March 2000, passim). Unsurprisingly, many brands would love to incorporate that spirit into their own communications programmes. Following frequent approaches from potential clients, Gan and his team set up Visionaire Design as a spin-off consultancy.

It's a tricky balancing act: an exclusive reputation and editorial integrity must be maintained within the pages of both Visionaire and - in particular - its own baby spin-off, V Magazine which launched in September 1999 as a less expensive magazine focusing on creative issues and talents suggested by the mother title. Gan is also astute in recognising the difficulties inherent within a fashion industry made up of notoriously fragile egos: tact and diplomacy are of the utmost importance when becoming involved in a project involving in-house or established designers. Nonetheless, Visionaire Design has worked on exhibition catalogues for various international shows, campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein, and with photographer Mario Testino - most recently with Gan as consultant creative director on a global campaign for Shiseido.

Gan remains insistent that nothing will interfere with the production process of the two magazines themselves. Projects are only undertaken if the designers involved have enough time - and if the project is challenging enough. "It's important to be selective of the brands that you'll work with to ensure it's something you're proud of and feel good doing," he says. Meanwhile, their increasingly prominent profile has led to offers of work away from the print medium, including exhibition design, film and product design. "I feel like there's a big world of possibilities out there," says Gan.

Big Active
London-based photography and illustration agency (or artist management, as they like to be called) Big Photographic was formed in 1997 as an off-shoot of Big Active, an art direction and design studio founded in the early 1990s by designers Gerard Saint and Mark Watkins. "Big Active's work focuses primarily on print design for music, publishing, editorial, fashion and the arts," explains Saint. "By its very nature this has led to strong relationships being formed with many leading imagemakers, who have collaborated with us and who share our visual direction. We have always aimed to keep our operation tight and focused; the natural way to expand was to create an "extended family" amongst many of those associates who were being commissioned by us and working with us regularly."

Headed by Richard Newton and Greg Burne, Big Photographic's client list includes the likes of Volkswagen, Adidas, Wallpaper and The Face. The first major job commissioned through the agency was Blinkk's work for the worldwide launch campaign for Audi TT in 1999: the English, French and Lebanese film and photography trio won awards from both the AoP and Germany's Art Directors Club for this project. Also represented are photographers Daniel Stier and Merton Gauster whose clients include Gucci and Nike. Among the illustrators signed are Kate Gibb (see CR DVD01), best known for her work for the Chemical Brothers Surrender album designed by Blue Source, who has just completed a project with photographer Ellen Nolan for a forthcoming Dries Van Noten fashion campaign and Jasper Goodall, who has created work for Bernard Butler through Yacht Associates (CR October 99), Nike, BMW and Levi's amongst others.

Magazines are notoriously strapped for cash, especially those titles at the more fashionable end of the spectrum, which rely on the enthusiasm and generosity of contributors willing to donate their time and services in return for negligible cash but valuable exposure. So when Jon Swinstead, publisher of cult magazines Sleazenation and Jockey Slut asked Sleaze art director Steve Lazarides to try to save some money on photographic costs, there was really only one thing to do: start up their own photolibrary and try to make some money at the same time.

After all, Lazarides had been regularly using the work of young photographers who were capturing the spirit of their times, so why should they not all try to make some real money out of the images? "I was having to tell students that no one ever pays for editorial photography, which never goes down very well," says Lazarides wryly. "But the one thing I wanted to do is to earn them some money for the pictures that they've taken. So much of it is written off by the big libraries because it's not perfectly lit: 'it s not commercial,' they say. 'Look at the composure.' But they're not right: you have to look at the content."

Hence the birth of PYMCA three years ago: a Photographic Youth Music and Culture Archive (when Lazarides called BAPLA to register the name, he discovered that no other library held those crucial words in its title: words which invariably feature regularly in searches by potential clients.) PYMCA now holds over 30,000 images, representing the work of about 70 photographers and Lazarides is totally passionate about the quality - and content - of the images he sells. "I genuinely wanted to make a cultural archive," he says. "There's been a real gap for the past 15 years with the advent of digital photography and CNN: we've been stuck between photojournalism and style photography, which has covered everything. But in 20 years time if you want to see normal life you'll either be presented with riots or pictures of people looking stylish. Where are the pictures of people in Birmingham listening to drum and bass?"

At the end of 1999, Lazarides gave up work on Sleazenation to devote his time to the library, which has now officially totally separated from the magazine. But of course the links between the two are still strong, with the magazine regularly using images from both the agency and from some of the photographers Lazarides has taken on in a spin-off from the spin-off, PYMCAgency. "There weren't that many agents for portrait photographers," he says. "The balance was either towards traditional advertising photographers shooting still lives or towards fashion photographers, and I just thought there was a great gap in the market for photographers like Ewen [Spencer], Neil [Massey] and Darren [Regnier]. The main basis was that I think they're all great photographers." It's genuine enthusiasm like this which should ensure the company's continued success.

Mo Wax
Record label Mo Wax has taken to limited edition merchandising in a big way. Having always produced a few more T-shirts and stickers than other companies in its field, its first official extra-curricular activity was an event to showcase some of the director/designer Mike Mills' work, called Dolce Visualis. Mo Wax then produced a sampler containing posters, cards and stickers of his work. They planned to continue with samplers featuring work from legendary US graffiti artist Futura and Massive Attack's 3-D, only these projects in turn spiralled to make up a monograph on Futura published by Booth-Clibborn Editions (CR, October) and more toys for big kids: an International Traveller edition of former Beastie Boys keyboard player, Money Mark, complete with plaid travel slacks and gold-rimmed shades; a 12" Futura 2000 action figure and 3D models based on drawings by, um, 3-D. The label has also commissioned sculpture and toys from skateboarder and artist Mark Gonzales while they have now formalised their activities under the banner of Mo Wax Art (also cunningly known as MWA).

"James Lavelle, founder of Mo Wax] and I are obsessed with ephemeral oddities, not just promotional things but action figures, posters: a whole wealth of imagery," explains the label's art director and head designer, Ben Drury. "There's a whole culture surrounding record labels, and when people see a promotional item and realise that it's not actually available to them, it's really frustrating. People want to own ephemeral things: well, we do, and the punters are just like us."

It's all happened extremely organically: indeed, initial hesitancy to exploit their brand's potential meant that Mo Wax didn't even push for a credit on the skateboarding book Dysfunctional. But a realisation of their own potential seems to have dawned, and Drury promises great, organised things for 2001.

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About this article
The following article by Creative Review staff originally appeared in the January issue of Creative Review (Volume 21, No. 1) and appears here with permission. 2001 Creative Review.

About Creative Review
Creative Review is a leading international monthly magazine for the communication arts. Each month it covers the best new work, analyses the latest trends and profiles the hottest names in graphic design, advertising and the related craft industries. Annual subscriptions (12 issues) cost 46.97 (UK), US $130 (US, Canada), $95 (elsewhere). In addition to the magazine, subscribers receive a DVD twice a year and a free subscription to Creative Review's website. For more details e-mail .