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Manchester Focus: Are the days of big agency dominance over now in Manchester?

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.

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.

Saul Peake, Managing Director, Nimble Jack Intelligent independent agencies – those who are sharp and ‘nimble’ – have just as much chance as the BDAs to win work these days. If your model or your pricing is keen and adaptable and, as always, if your last bit of work, your creds, are up to it then creativity and costs are now more important. Or at least that’s true for those clients who don’t need a big name for them to feel big themselves. Garry Byrne, MD, Reading Room Manchester I think there's always going to be room for the big agencies. That said it's probably fair to say that it's not as easy for them to dominate as it has been historically. The main difference is that we're seeing the smaller players collect some big contracts because they're focusing on a particular area and doing it very, very well. The bigger boys will always be able to bring a much more holistic, considered approach to a contract that will see them continue to have a place. Steve Peters, Code Computerlove Yes, but I don’t think this is a Manchester thing though. Those agencies were classic advertising agencies and have had to weather a perfect storm. Digital has altered consumer behaviour forever; the media landscape upon which they were built has changed beyond recognition and all this is occurring at the same time as one of the worst economic down turns in history. Simon Landi, MD, Access Advertising These agencies still dominate the Manchester market – but their client base is more national/international with work coming from ‘networked’ clients – the majority of regional work is distributed to smaller agencies, whose hunger and independence provides them with the ability to pick up decent-sized pieces of work. Paul Casey, Internet Marketing Manager, 11 Out Of 10 Large agencies will always be a dominant force in the Manchester market place because of their vast experience, knowledge and track record with big brands. The difference recently is that there are smaller agencies with more specific skills and experience that are able to compete in the digital sector. Small to medium sized clients can’t always afford to go with the top agencies but they can get a great R.O.I. from a specialist company. Nick Rhind, Managing Director, CTI Digital They are still the key players in advertising but when it comes to digital those times have changed. The digital agencies in the area are growing quickly, as clients know the work is probably outsourced. They visit your offices and know that they can’t supply that particular part and will bring in the resource. There’s been a massive shift into bringing in partner agencies or an outsource partner to help pitch and win the work by using joint creds. CTI are regularly used by agencies as a partner to help ring fence their client base but still get a deliverable. Karl Barker, MD, Cube3 This depends on what the BIG agency service offer is! Traditional big agencies are generally media channellers, and usually exploiting traditional channels. There has been a huge shift towards digital media over the last few years, which it appears the larger agencies have had difficulty adapting to. Smaller agencies are agile enough and are showing evidence that size in digital media is not important. Google's business model in particular is focused on an even playing field, not allowing buying power to dictate business. The large agencies are awesome commercial beasts; they get the work because they are good at what they do. Having said that, this doesn't mean that smaller agencies are inferior whatsoever. In many ways smaller agencies are more agile, more customer-focused and more effective. Let's hope the larger spenders are becoming more understanding of this. Reuben Webb, Creative Director, IAS B2B The times they are a changing and on the whole big ain’t as big now. 50 people is very big whereas it used to be 100. The reason is that since trackability and accountability has increased, mediocrity has found less and less places to hide. Things have got sharper and that means leaner. Back when clients just wanted a big safe campaign that no-one could measure effectively they went to a big safe agency with 100+ people and got the mediocrity they were comfortable with. Suddenly ROI and the digital means to prove it turn up, and clients want effectiveness on their CVs. And with the playing field levelled by new technology, smaller agencies have often proved quicker to excel. So it’s a more open game now, and all the better for everyone involved. Mike Moran, MD, MojoFuel I would say the dominance is becoming less apparent as brand marketing spend is increasingly directed to a number of specialist agencies rather than one-stop shops. We find ourselves increasingly collaborating with other agencies, some of the big ones too! I don't think it has got any more or less competitive - clients are still looking for agencies that can provide creative and dynamic cost effective solutions that work hard for their brands and deliver results. In my experience the big agencies, because of their size, sometimes struggle to move with the speed that is necessary or at a cost that suits the client budget. That said, I think some clients keep shareholder peace of mind by going with the long established, credible and recognised big agency names. They will always have their place. Wayne Silver, Director of New Business, One Marketing Communications I don’t think you can apply a general rule as there will always be clients who feel reassured by, at least, putting some of the ‘usual suspects’ on a pitch list. However, as marketing disciplines have fragmented and converged, this does provide a real opportunity for flexible and more integrated agencies to offer services across a wider range of channels. Gone are the days where clients think of their marketing services in terms of unconnected ‘silos’ and many are recognising the benefit of working with an agency which offers real joined up thinking where each marketing solution dovetails into the next and the result is genuinely greater than the sum of its parts. So, perhaps, famous big name agencies who are known for one discreet area of expertise or another are at least being considered alongside smaller more truly integrated agencies where advertising, PR and digital specialists have always worked together. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking! Julian Gratton, Managing Director & Creative Director, Red C Face facts. Big agencies will always be here. I don’t think they’ve ever scooped up ‘every brief’; they’ve just been better at playing the PR game and making it seem that way. Maybe they have lost out to smaller agencies recently because of costs, but you can’t argue with the fact that every city that wants to foster a great creative community needs big agencies. We should celebrate that they are here in Manchester, because in their own way, they tell us we are working in the right city and they make us raise our game (you listening Leeds?) Paul Heaton, Creative Director, Reform Creative Big agencies will always dominate a sector of the creative business and every now and then we see a new agency start up with heavy handed force and dominate to take over, but usually it’s the same type of clients that go to the big agency because they are connected to the same type of creative staff. Thus nothing has really changed except a shuffle of ownership. There is now a new sector of really good smaller agencies (Usually a creative team of 5 to 15) that have been established for around the last 10 years, and have proven that smaller does not mean weaker. Phil Marshall, Owner, Shoot The Moon It is competitive; there is far more commercial influence on marketing teams in general and ROI is top of the agenda. That’s not to say that clients are prepared to compromise on the creative – more that they have been willing to consider other options, see new agencies, and are looking at more efficient ways of working. Fergus McCallum, CEO, TBWA\Manchester It's always been competitive so I don't see any difference in that sense. New players in the marketplace can only be a good thing though - the more successful agencies there are in Manchester, the better for everyone in the sector. In any case we never see our competitive landscape as simply being Manchester - our competition is in Amsterdam, London, Sao Paolo, Edinburgh, anywhere. If there's a great brief that happens to originate in the City then we're up for it, if not then it's onwards and outwards. Gareth Wright, Director, The Little Black Book Agency Most certainly. Just look at the likes of Driven, Music and LOVE. There is superb creative talent across many of the agencies in Manchester now and no longer does the cream just hop from one network agency to another. Clients now have a far greater choice when it comes to their creative partners and decisions now rest a lot more on culture fit and brand understanding – not just on who else an agency works with! Christian James, Managing Director, The If Agency Absolutely. Clients are looking for intelligence AND action and are happy to manage a roster of agencies to get the best thinking around. There have been some quality start-ups in the last 5 years who are delivering best in class ideas in a more focused and cost-efficient package. Philip Armitage, Director, Refinery Marketing Communications Whilst there are briefs that the McCanns of the world will always still get, I feel that the days of the “big agency” being the automatic choice are indeed over. But it’s a delicate balance. Marketers increasingly want to deal with the agency principals and with senior staff – they want the brains without the baggage of the big agency. They want to feel that they are important to their agency and that they’ll get the best possible service, so they might choose a smaller agency. Smaller agencies can be more responsive and lighter on their feet – critical to marketers working in today’s retail environment. But you also need to have the infrastructure and resources to handle large clients effectively without being swamped. Small agencies can become too dependent upon one major client with the result that the client gets into trouble (such as Homeform recently) it takes the agency down, too. For these clients, the middle way is often the best. Naturally I’m going to say that, but we believe it to be true.

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