Profile: Johnny Pitt, Launch Group

Johnny Pitt believes he is running the ‘world’s first’ project agency for integrated marcoms. The well-groomed 33-year-old is fresh from rebranding youthful consumer agency Launch PR as a group – to reflect its diversification into experiential marketing, online comms and design.

Pitt claims Launch is unique because it will work only on projects. He is ambitious and does not mince his words: 'Agencies such as Launch are going to scare the shit out of the likes of Weber Shandwick and Hill & Knowlton – we're slowly stealing more and more business off the big boys.'

He adds: 'I've always wanted to run an integrated agency with PR at the core – that's the way the market is going. Too many agencies are in the comfort zone.'

Pitt lambasts 'stodgy' standard retainers, while those who dismiss his project-only philosophy are 'talking bullshit'. The Launch website even boasts: 'We have no "down time", no "off days"... Every client is a project client, whether they are with us for three months or 30.'

Clients include BP (consumer PR for its retail operations and Ultimate fuel brand), Tesco (community initiatives) and Universal (DVD releases).

The agency, which has 32 full-time staff, does not only promote launches: BP has been a client for three years. Why, then, the name? The answer is simple: 'I genuinely believe Launch is a brand that has something unique.'

Some are unconvinced. One rival agency head insists: 'Launch has an odd positioning – I think this stuff about "projects only" is perhaps more of a philosophy than a reality.'

Given his plans for Launch, it comes as a surprise when Pitt says that after five years at his previous agency – Biss Lancaster – he thought of leaving the industry to set up a chain of juice bars.

He also previously worked at The Rowland Company, which he joined in 1994 and where he 'worked bloody hard on new business'.
Past campaigns include – for Rowland – the Smirnoff International Fashion Awards ('we flew all over the world') and, for Biss Lancaster, Ballantine's Urban High ('we had [dance band] The Prodigy and snowboarders in Moscow's Red Square').

Beverley Kaye, now a freelance, was then Rowland MD. She recalls Pitt as 'very proactive and diligent. He stood out in the female-dominated consumer area; he could also handle corporate work'.

Pitt sees Launch as 'a bit light on the corporate side', blaming this for defeats in recent pitches for Eurostar and Air Miles. 'I'm 70 per cent a consumer guy and 30 per cent corporate. I need a corporate director: I've got three names on a shortlist,' he reveals.

Pitt was educated at top independent school Shrewsbury and Durham University (he gained a 2:2 in Ancient History and Archeology). One brother is MD of Axa Private Equity UK, the other is a director at bank UBS.

His first job was 'flogging' corporate hospitality for a company in Banbury: 'Eighty calls per day, it was miserable. But it was a great learning process with respect to cold calling.'

Brought up in Macclesfield, he had the accent 'beaten out of him' at private school: he is now more Chiswick than Cheshire. Kaye says: 'Johnny is the epitome of the English gentleman. We used to say he was like a junior James Bond.'

A consumer rival reflects: 'Johnny's very suave – he's got that LA smile.'  Pitt is married to the head of PR at Butlins (an agency client – 'we pitched competitively'), whom he met at Biss Lancaster. He made his wedding speech in a red Butlins jacket.

Launch's new four-storey offices in Soho have room for 70 staff – Pitt is characteristically confident this will be achieved before the five-year lease expires. He also wants to open in the North, while a presence in the US and on the Continent is on the agenda.

He will not be rushed – 'If you're going to do something in business, you do it well' – but he is worth watching closely to see if his faith in a project-based integrated future is rewarded.

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