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Manchester Focus: Insider views on the 'second city' of creativity

Manchester is already regarded as one of the creative hot spots of the UK. But this reputation is growing – fast. And with the MediaCityUK development in Salford now almost fully operational, the creative kudos of the area is only set to grow. So, to find out more about what’s really going on in the city, The Drum put a series of pertinent questions to 20 different agencies that operate at the coal-face of Manchester’s creative industry.

In a series of feature pages, we look at the agencies' responses, to explore the varying industry perceptions of the city.

What do you think the general mood is among agencies in the city?

Julian Gratton, Managing Director & Creative Director, Red C
I think the general mood is positive. Whilst there is an acceptance that this year has been tougher, clients are spending, business is out there for the right agency and for those agencies that have adapted to the changing needs of clients, the future looks bright.

Philip Armitage, director, Refinery Marketing Communications
Speaking for ourselves, we’re in a great mood! I don’t think you can generalise about this – some agencies are holding steady, some are going great guns and others are going out of business. However, all are really focused on client retention, particularly those that have a reliance on one big client.

Paul Casey, Internet Marketing Manager, 11 Out Of 10
Many of the Manchester based agencies are getting more and more excited about MediaCity and the impact that that is going to have on the digital/creative industry in the local area. We are hoping it will turn the north-west and in particular Manchester into the creative hub for digital businesses in the UK.

Fergus McCallum, CEO, TBWA\Manchester
Speaking to other agency heads, I'd say the mood amongst agencies has an air of caution about it. Let's face it, we're still operating in tough times and you only have to walk down the high street to see that. The latest Bellwether report also highlights that the mood amongst client marketers is reflected in the cautious mood of agencies. But those that are honing their product, focusing on their client's problems and thinking smartly are feeling more optimistic - it's about confidence; so the challenge for some agencies is to maintain momentum in the face of a quite difficult trading
environment and keep people looking upwards.

Simon Landi, Access Advertising
Cautiously optimistic – we’re an optimistic bunch! But it’s going to be a long hard slog.

Nick Rhind, Managing Director, CTI Digital
The industry’s very positive on the digital side, with many agencies including ourselves massively growing over the last 3 years completely against other industries which have suffered. I believe some of the more traditional advertising agencies have been struck hard this year and struggled to get into digital sufficiently to pick up the briefs or adequately supply them. There’s lots of new business opening all the time, spinning off from the more established agencies, which is a great sign there’s lots of work out there, and keeps everyone on their toes.

Paul Heaton, Creative Director, Reform Creative
The general mood among agencies is upbeat and those that had contingencies for bad times are now beginning to reap the rewards of forward planning. However, the fight is not over and hard work will be required for many years to come.

Karl Barker, MD, Cube3
It does seem a little subdued currently, although it does seem that agencies with a digital offering or focus are enjoying a certain amount of demand.

Reuben Webb, Creative Director, IAS B2B
Our industry’s performance might be a good indicator of the economy, but let’s face it, economics isn’t our industry’s specialist subject. And why should it be when we’re just swirling in the wind of global market dynamics? So all things being blissfully equal, Manchester itself gives more cause for optimism than most cities. So, relatively, we’re feeling good!

Phil Marshall, Owner, Shoot The Moon
There have been a few casualties but in the main upbeat - there are a lot of opportunities out there, as with anything; you just need to get your proposition right.

Christian James, Managing Director, The If Agency
Manchester is as optimistic as ever in spite of the depressed state of the economy. Whilst we have seen notable casualties in the region, we have also seen great successes and unlike any other city in the UK, we still see the cup overflowing let alone half full.

Mike Moran, MD, MojoFuel
Generally speaking positive and forward thinking. There is no denying the last couple of years have been tough but I think as a city and a region we have a lot to look forward to. MediaCity is certainly going to be an interesting development and how it takes shape and potentially changes the Manchester agency spread is going to be interesting to watch.

Wayne Silver, Director of New Business, One Marketing Communications
They will undoubtedly be monitoring the wider economic picture across the UK and there are reasons for future planning to be cautious regardless of whether their client portfolios are based more in the public or private sectors. From a public sector perspective, government cuts can sometimes remove the funding for a client overnight, you’ve only got to witness the number of government QWANGOS which have disappeared recently. The sluggish rate of growth is also obviously suppressing consumer demand which is clearly the main engine for economic growth in
the UK hence the gaping holes on the high street which used to be filled by the likes of Moben and Habitat. To me, there seems to be an analogy with pension planning whereby those agencies which spread their client portfolio across a wider network of clients are probably more confident about the future. Here at One, as an integrated agency, we work with both public and private sector clients across the full spectrum of marketing channels so I hope that stands us in good stead as we, hopefully, move past the depths of the banking and economic crises.

Garry Byrne, MD, Reading Room Manchester
Positive - There's been a great upsurge in opportunities over the last 6 months as the region resettles following the recession and, positioned as we are as a very close-working, highly creative digital community, I think we know we're well placed to be considered not just in the North / Manchester, but throughout the UK.

And what is the general mood among Manchester-based clients?

Karl Barker, MD, Cube3
Clients still seem a little cautious. We see that there is never a better time to promote our strategic integrated approach. Clients must see the benefits of good strategic planning: long gone are the days of throwing money into campaigns with no understanding of which aspects are effective, and which are not. Digital channels have allowed for easily trackable ROI's, hence why digital advertising is more buoyant in today's marketing.

Paul Heaton, Creative Director, Reform Creative
Clients are still nervous when it comes to making firm decisions about their creative but I feel most are adapting to current conditions with positive attitudes rather than almost complete hysteria of last year.

Steve Peters, Code Computerlove
Positive, from what we are experiencing. The state of the economy has had some influence over our retail clients – they want better rewards for less spend – but then that should always be our objective.

Nick Rhind, Managing Director, CTI Digital
I can only speak of our clients but they are very positive. In fact they have been like that over the last few years. There’s so much potential and many opportunities in a recession environment and clients are just more wary to pick the right agency. The demand is still there as long as your product is right for your demographic, and it’s large enough for you to support your product then you will have success. You just need to show to clients you understand them and what needs to be achieved and clients will work with you. Our biggest contracts have been in the last 2 years, with clients spending half a million online in new developments.

Julian Gratton, Managing Director & Creative Director, Red C
Our Manchester based clients (like all our clients across the country) just want to know they are getting good value, great creative, sound strategies and ultimately… work that works!

Reuben Webb, Creative Director, IAS B2B
TalkTalk Business is our only client in the region and they are in a very good mood it would seem. They’ve got a visionary team and some audacious goals for growth.

Phil Marshall, Owner, Shoot the Moon
In general pretty optimistic - our client base is performing well, strategies have been realigned with the economic conditions and budgets are firmly back in place.

Simon Landi, MD, Access Advertising
It’s a tough environment - Clients are unwilling to invest without guaranteed results. They are also well aware that it’s become a buyer’s market. And we’re seeing an increasing amount of ‘in-house’ design teams cropping up – a very dangerous development. Overall, our clients are convinced that business will never return to the levels of success they experienced in 2007/8.

Christian James, MD, The If Agency
More realistic. Most of our retailer clients are working harder than ever but are outperforming their markets as a result. Those with a strong proposition, who are embracing multi-channel communications are very positive. Those who aren’t are quite rightly….worried.

Mike Moran, MD, MojoFuel
I'd say the same as the agencies, there is definitely a focus on making marketing spend go further and last longer, and digital does that.

Wayne Silver, Director of New Business, One Marketing Communications
Clients are obviously affected by the same factors as above. I speak to many existing and prospective clients every day however and there does seem to be a more optimistic mood. There doesn’t seem to be as much talk about marketing budgets being “frozen” or PR being “taken in house to save costs”. Whilst they may be comparing the situation to the real economic lows of 2008 and 2009, many clients are now saying that their own order books are looking more positive and, as a result, are more positively disposed towards taking new business calls from an agency. As New Business Director at One, that is very good news.

Fergus McCallum, CEO, TBWA\Manchester
I don't think it is any different from the mood of clients anywhere else - of course, some are doing better than others but everyone is operating in an uncertain economic environment. Clients are under a lot of pressure at the moment so it's even more important for agencies to be able look forward and help them navigate through the current choppy seas.

Garry Byrne, MD, Reading Room Manchester
Again, I think positive - Manchester is a great place to be for digital...not only do we have a fantastic creative presence in the city, but there's a lot going on in Leeds and Liverpool too and Manchester-based clients are slap bang in the middle of a pool of UK-leading talent, and they're starting to realise it.

Paul Heaton, Creative Director, Reform Creative
Clients are still nervous when it comes to making firm decisions about their creative but I feel most are adapting to current conditions with positive attitudes rather than almost complete hysteria of last year.

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