Happy 10th Anniversary to Venables Bell & Partners.
In celebration of Venables Bell & Partners' 10th anniversary, Paul Venables crafted a short piece on how VBP came into being. It's an awesome behind-the-scenes look and a must-read for anyone who cares about the history of Bay Area advertising. The story went out to VBP employees and they were kind enough to share it with us. Enjoy.
The official date was June 1, 2001. But it’s hard to say exactly when Venables Bell & Partners was born.
A week or two before The New York Times declared that our agency existed, we rented a couple of offices from a place that was going out of business called CrossCommerce (I still have one of their pens), who was subletting space from Goodby, who had snatched it up during the high and heady times of the late ‘90s. That could’ve been the start of our story. But, actually, before those days, there was a series of backdoor meetings involving our charter client, the agency partners and people who put our reel together on the sly. And even before that, there was a pivotal moment where Greg Bell and I sat in the 2 AM Club in Mill Valley, anxiously waiting for Bob Molineaux to come through the door and decide if he was bailing on New York and taking up with us. The only thing on his mind was whether we were serious. The only thing on ours was whether he would still have his ‘80s mustache (he had added an uber-modern goatee around it, much to our delight).
Even before that, the agency may have been born over drinks in the lobby of Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. Our old phone company client reconnected with us to lift a glass to the last campaign we did, which was on an award-winning roll. As the toasts increased in number and strength, so did the conversation about us opening our own agency to handle her new account, Microsoft’s UltimateTV. We pressed her—would she really fire her big agency and give us her account? She pressed us—we would really give up dream jobs at Goodby and set out on our own?
Perhaps the agency story really began the Monday morning following, when wheels were put in motion by sober people. Though, come to think of it, lots of folks could argue we weren’t a legitimate agency until those people were joined by a certain Lucy Farey-Jones.
Upon further review, you could really go back a year before that when I had gone in to quit Goodby in order to take a big job at a big agency on a big account, with the sole intent of socking some money away before I started my own place. Or was the conception in the subsequent conversations where Goodby and Silverstein convinced me to stay and promised to help me establish my own agency someday.
Of course if I must be honest about our beginnings, there was a memorable meeting between my first employer and me where she asked me about my career path. I matter-of-factly laid out my plan: to go from receptionist (my job at the time) to copywriter to senior copywriter to creative director to agency owner. She didn’t laugh in my face. Probably because the pity she felt was overwhelming.
Actually, in determining the day the agency was born, you could make a case for going back even further. To an eager, fresh-faced young ad executive (read: receptionist) taking the commuter train from Connecticut into The Big City (receptionists can’t afford New York City rent, generally). Sitting there, amidst a sea of sleeping old men in London Fog raincoats and Burberry scarves, I boastfully told my commuting companion to look past this telephone gig, because I would certainly someday have my own agency.
Funny thing is, she must’ve believed me. Because she married me four years later and has been at my side ever since.
So I really can’t peg the true moment that VB&P began, but I can tell you once those doors opened, the people started coming through. The amazing, passionate, talented, quirky, funny, good-looking, intelligent characters who have shaped and formed and made the place what it is today.
Ours is not a story of a launch date or the ads and awards and business that followed. Ours is a story of human beings.
Clients that, despite all evidence suggesting otherwise, took the leap and gave their business to us. Production companies that cut the deals, stayed the late nights and generally humored our fanatical approach to craftsmanship. Partner agencies that welcomed us, worked with us through challenges and celebrated with us in success.
And then there are the people who have had the greatest impact. You folks. The VB&Pers themselves.
From this day forward, the fate of the agency, my carefully chosen friends, is in your hands. Your passionate, creative, restless hands. I can’t help but imagine that the next 10 years will make the first 10 seem like a warm-up act. A fun, chaotic, well-intentioned, somewhat lucky prelude to the real story.
Go make it amazing.