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Manchester Focus: What's happening with the city's leading advertising agencies?

The Drum talks to some of Manchester most prominent advertising agencies on the state of the creative sector in the North Western city and finds that the challenges of recent years haven’t eroded Manchester’s energy as part of the creative DNA of England’s north west, and those operating at the heart of the advertising industry in the city know that better than most.

To get a feel for the standing of Manchester’s industry today it makes sense to speak to BJL, one of the city’s most recognisable agencies and recent winner of the Grand Prix at the Roses Creative Awards for its work with Manchester Art Gallery. Managing director Nicky Unsworth tells us that much – and at the same time not that much – has changed since the Quay Street agency was formed in 1987: “Clients now have much more choice in the north west of England, which everyone can only benefit from.

For Love Creative – an independent agency that has expanded into Shanghai and more recently London – Manchester has been its heartbeat for more than a decade. “Manchester has independence in its bones,” says partner Dave Palmer, who as a native of the north east, has no in-built loyalty to Manchester. “That’s what makes it unique in the UK; it has fought to keep some semblance of self against the almost overwhelming gravitational pull of Planet London. If you think of any other European countries with a similar GDP there are none that heap their eggs in one giant basket quite as much as the UK. While other cities moan about this, Manchester doesn’t. For me, it has a self-confidence and Gallagheresque swagger that keeps it believing. I like that. Clients like that too.”

Clients, such as Diageo, do indeed like it. Love’s work for the drinks giant’s Johnnie Walker brand was frequently referenced by its peers as one of their favourite pieces of local work. But interestingly, Palmer says local clients have not bought in to the agency’s charms. “We have no local clients. That’s kind of sad isn’t it? It’s not that we haven’t tried. We just can’t seem to connect with businesses on our doorstep. Our pitch success ratio on local business is laughably low – maybe it’s all the free pitching that goes on? Who knows.”