“I think I’m right in saying that the entries for the Roses Advertising Awards have just closed for this year. I also hope that if any of my crew are reading this we remember to book a table,” he wrote.
“I’d like to go, if only to see if there is any hope of a decent creative scene here in the North West. Last year it was rubbish. A lovely tarted up night in the Hilton which, to a newbie like me, was exciting enough with lots of new people to meet, but the work was depressing.
“I often wonder why this city settles for creative mediocrity when there’s so much rock and roll in it’s veins. Maybe the suits crush the life out of it or encourage their clients that OK will do. Maybe it’s this insistence that ‘hardworking’ stuff means no imagination, I don’t know.
“Youthful exuberance, risk taking, failure, open mindedness, these are some of the things we need.”
The article was published as the nomimations for the Roses Advertising Awards 2008 were published at www.thedrum.com. The results again show that one place which continues to do disproportionately well is Scotland.
It may not have the big accounts, or the big agencies. But for some reason agencies north of the border continue to churn out some of the best work in the UK. It is an enigma – how can the Scottish David consistently batter the Manchester Goliath?
Last year, of the 35 companies nominated for Roses awards 12 were Scottish, a remarkable hit rate, greater than one in three, which included The Bridge, Dog Digital, GRP – who took the Grand Prix – The Leith Agency and Newhaven, amongst many others.
Guy Robertson attributes the strong showing of Scottish creative agencies to a collective will on the part of the creatives to express a stronger sense of identity.
“We felt last year’s Roses reflected a very strong advertising and design community in Scotland. Aside form the sad demise of 1576, the majority of agencies in Scotland, are enjoying a better year this year than last year,” he said.
“What we certainly do have in Scotland is a very strong identity and a strong feeling of togetherness. We all want to represent Scotland. Manchester is sort of in between, and I don’t think there is necessarily an identity for the Manchester agencies.”
The atmosphere in Manchester is certainly unlike comparative creative markets such as London or Edinburgh, according to Pete Armstrong, creative director of Iris, who has experience working in all three. The Roses Awards are the most prestigious awards gongs in the industry outside the London conurbation, he says, and a good indicator of regional trends.
“I think Robert Harwood-Mathews has a fair point about Manchester. It is not like Edinburgh, Glasgow or London. There is not a competitive vibe about the city amongst the creatives.”
The reason for the lack of inter-industry interaction is principally down to cultural networking factors peculiar to the Mancunian scene, he argues.
“It is as much of a social thing as anyone else,” he says. “You’ll know what bars you can walk into in Edinburgh and Glasgow and meet friends who work in other agencies. You’ll talk about work and have a healthy competitive vibe. There is a lot of banter. That doesn’t happen in Manchester. The agencies don’t tend to mix as much as they do in other cities. There is not that ‘we’re going to out-do you this year’ vibe.”
The result of the absence of a competitive face is an accidental complacency, fostered by the lack of knowing a desperate competitor is snapping at their heels, threatening to out-do one another at every pitch.
“I don’t think they push each other as much as the agencies do in Scotland,” he adds.
Ian McAteer, MD of The Union also attributes the creative success to the strong creative culture borne out of proximity and shared competition in the Scottish scene.
“The trend has always been for Scottish agencies to go down to The Roses and win. There is a healthy creative culture in Scotland, certainly in Edinburgh and increasingly in Glasgow. Perhaps because we are a smaller community, the competitive edge is quite strong,” he says.
“There is a strong competitive spirit that exists in the Scottish agencies that, because the regions of England are more distant from each other, people don’t feel as much.
“You also have a centre of creative excellence of people that have moved around a group of agencies, a lot coming out of Halls in the 1980s and that has spawned a consistent creative culture, so that the ethos of creativity in, say The Union, Leith, Newhaven and The Bridge, is very similar.”
“Where a community is more dispersed agencies don’t have a common culture and the creative culture is not necessarily something that everyone buys into.”
“You do tend to get agencies whose culture is frankly not creative, It is a retail culture or a strategic culture.”
Harwood Matthews has been undertaking something of a southern style revolution since joining TBWA a year and a half ago, instituting a reinvigorating raft of personnel changes which indicate that he means business and is determined to sweep with a new broom.
The chair of last year’s Roses judging panel, Billy Mawhinney agrees Manchester may benefit from this controversy. “In the spirit of taking positive out of this, it is a rallying call. Manchester, like Scotland, has always responded to those kind of challenges.
“What would be worse would be to say “it is all bloody fantastic and brilliant.” A wee bit of Roy Keane-ness never goes amiss. You have to take it on the chin.
“Great stuff is undoubtedly getting harder to do. It is much thinner on the ground, all over; in Scotland, Manchester or Wales. There is a lot more dross out there. But things like The Roses are there to stimulate, not masturbate. A bit of controversy now and then creates a lot of determined people [for next year].”