Serendipity and generosity by way of rapping farmers: 10 years of Electric Glue

Serendipity and generosity by way of rapping farmers: 10 years of Electric Glue
The Yeo Valley rapping farmers that started it all…

Born from an idea crafted on a stained napkin, Electric Glue reflects on media firsts, trusting clients, Ziggy Stardust and more as it turns 10. Just don’t mention that Runcorn train.

So, an Englishman, an Irishman and a Mancunian* go for lunch. A good lunch. Gavi flowed, as did the conversation, and as lunch became dinner a plan for a business was formed. Ever practical, said idea was carefully crafted lest we forgot it the next day — in Biro on a restaurant napkin, coffee stain included.

And lo, a decade ago, the concept of Electric Glue was formed.

The name was suggested by our chairman, Sir John Hegarty, based on his observation that “you are the guys who glue screens together”.


But we still do get occasionally mistakenly referred to as Electric Blue, a movie of some ill repute from 1982. More appropriately, it is also akin to the chorus in David Bowie’s Sound and Vision. Weirdly to that point, Ziggy Stardust once lived next door to the very restaurant where the napkin-scribbling took place.

Electric Glue napkin

Rapping farmers

Serendipity has been a recurring theme throughout our journey. No more, possibly, than in the fact that we are 10 years old. And the Latin numeral for 10 is, of course, X.

And our story really began in a show with that aforementioned numeral in the title, The X Factor. A journey from a farm in Somerset to rapping farmers in the show with a two-minute TVC in (and only in) every live episode, with extensions via licensing and the then relatively nascent social media following.

And thus the principles of our business were born. Fantastic creative brought to life through a powerful, focused media ecosystem. A “fewer, bigger, better” approach to media partnerships. It was unique at the time, as no media agency was involved in the Yeo story — just Kevin Brown, then at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and little old me at ITV.

We almost accidentally invented barter at the same time when Tim, the owner and founder of Yeo, offered us at ITV his new Aston Martin in exchange for an extra ad break. We declined. Transparency is important, we told him, and is another vital ethos in Electric Glue’s approach to this day. Truth is indeed the best policy.

More laughter than tears

This month, we are getting together with friends, family, supporters and partners to celebrate this 10-year milestone. To say thank you to those who have been such a key part of the journey — and to look forward to its merry continuation.

What a journey we have been on so far. And what learnings we have had along the way.

Kev is not just the best media strategist on the planet, but also an Irish musician of high repute — though nothing to do with another Irish muso, Ronan Keating. However, Ronan’s song Life is a Rollercoaster does sum up the journey of an agency.

Of course, there have been highs and lows, but fortunately more of the former than the latter. More laughter than tears, more fun than boredom and definitely more Gavis raised than spirits lowered. And, I like to think, we’ve never lost the knack of being grateful for our good fortune and to all we’ve worked with along the way.

John Bunyan famously described generosity of spirit as: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” It’s something we appreciate more than we can say. Experiencing the generosity of people towards us without whom we wouldn’t be here now, we can certainly never repay them except than with our eternal gratitude.

Generosity such as the fantastic Iain Kennedy who, as chief marketing officer at Rightmove, appointed us when we had only just launched as a three-man band with no clients (or even track record). A decision that he described as going with his heart as opposed to his head.

We hope that, as we have grown and flourished, we now score highly under both of these headings when clients choose to work with us.

Fantastic clients and partners

Fantastic clients have been such a key part of our story.

From Scott Wilkinson at Virgin hiring us in the first 15 minutes of meeting to Simon Lee at Matalan trusting us to create the Denise van Outen chat show series, even though half the pitch team failed to get off a train at Runcorn just as we were due to present the idea to the board.

To Gill Green at Charlie Bigham’s, who has hired us multiple times. To Rachel Kerrone at Starling engaging us on Pippa Glucklich’s first day as our new CEO. To Laura Graham at Caffè Latte supporting numerous media firsts in Love Island. And everyone else in-between. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

The list goes on. Not least with the fantastic people at our media partners, with whom the traditions of attritional agency/media owner relationships have never existed. We refer to them as partners as their willingness to buy into our approach has been crucial in delivering the promises and ideas we have created.

From Dags (Simon Daglish) at ITV to Lillian Betty at Time Inc (both of whom will remember the Runcorn train well) to Dan Bixby at Channel 4 to Bazza (Paul Barrett, who has now become even closer to us by becoming a Gluer in his own right) at Sky. From Talon to Global, from the Financial Times to Digital Cinema Media, and many more besides.

Of course, assembling a great team to work with and support all of the client initiatives has been vital. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to attract some of the best talent in the industry, placing their trust in us when they could have picked any other agency in the land. From our first hire Tim Heden (now our managing director) to Pippa, they take on the unenviable task of trying to control me and Kev (“trying” being the operative word).

The art of loitering

I must also thank our chairman John, who has shown us, and especially me, unwavering support and advice along the journey. Never missing a cup of tea and a natter every Wednesday at midday. Providing a roof over our heads (literally) in the coolest office in town and who famously described our new-business policy as one of “loitering” — every time he came out the front door, Kev and I would be there gabbing away to someone in the street.

Finally, our families. As people will know, running a business is a 24/7 thing. “Don’t take your work home” is an impossible mantra. But the knowledge that this was the reality has never been an issue with our better halves, the importance of which has never been lost on us. Always supportive, inevitably the providers of great advice and always encouraging, no matter how mad some ideas may have been. Incredible and heartening in equal measure.

Finally, thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read our little story. There are so many other things I could have written about. So many more people to mention, fantastic moments to acknowledge and things to look forward to over the next 10 years but, if I did so, we’d be here all night and miss our party.

And we’ve never been known to miss a good party.

* Younger readers made not recognise the comedic structure referenced here. Suffice to say, the Three Musketeers in question were, respectively, Simon Orpin, Kevin Brown and Nick Kendall.

Simon Orpin squareSimon Orpin is co-founder of Electric Glue

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