Gordon Young

Gordon Young, editor of The Drum, offers his insight and opinion on various matters relating to media and marketing.

1 November 2012 - 2:20pm | posted by | 19 comments

Why the creative sector in Scotland and the north of England is heading south

Is creative movements in the regions similar to ash dieback?Is creative movements in the regions similar to ash dieback?

Scotland may occupy the Northern half of our realm, but there is a real sense that its creative industry has been heading south for quite some time.

Now before going any further I should point out that there are still some great agencies doing some great work. The likes of Newhaven, The Union and The Leith are still first rate shops.

And there are some great players in the world of digital such as Equator, Dog and Spider to name but three.

However, the fact remains that there are account groups in some London agencies that are bigger than the entire Scottish scene.

Over the years many of its agencies have closed, clients have moved their business south and the talent pool is now more of a puddle.

And it is not only the creative sector that is showing signs of distress. Architecture, finance and law are also suffering. In fact, one former Law Society head told me recently that he believes Scotland is on the brink of becoming a ‘non-viable’ jurisdiction. Basically, what is the point of having a separate legal system, if there are no lawyers prepared to practice North of the Border?

The credit crunch is no doubt a factor in this malaise. But the reality is Scotland's creative industry was in decline even during the boom. Despite the millions that have been invested in the creative sector by Government since the 90s, it is now a shadow of its former self.

It’s almost like the industry has been infected by a form of ash dieback – giant swathes of the sector have silently disappeared. And in my view a whole cultural ecosystem is now infected.

In Scotland, for example, the newspaper business is more Barratt estate than Fourth Estate. Its journalistic front line is so depleted it no longer has the firepower to seriously challenge the country’s authorities.

You don’t need to venture far off the beaten track of diary stories and press releases, to find scandal lying neglected in the long grass – stuff which would have been aggressively pursued just a few years ago.

Perhaps that’s why the news agendas are dominated by independence. The economic story, the fact that Scotland is not only losing its creative sector, but its private sector, is something likely to have a far more significant impact on the people who live here. But it hardly merits a mention, because many news operations don’t have the resources to challenge the official version of events.

But the really alarming thing about the Scottish story, is that it is not unique within the context of the UK. Other regions are also showing signs of infection – Newcastle, Leeds and parts of the Midlands too are in the advanced stages of losing much of their creative businesses.

It is now obvious that the gap between London and the rest of the UK is growing wider. In fact, particularly to those used to the chill economic winds of Northern Britain, balmy London does not even feel as though it is in recession at all.

This is what made a report, published by Michael Heseltine yesterday, all the more interesting. Its general thrust was to suggest how Britain could grow itself out of recession. But many of its 89 recommendations had a common theme – how to pull wealth and power out of the South East and into other regions.

I agree with many of the sentiments. There is no doubt, in my view, that the economy is over-centralised in London, to the detriment of the UK as a whole. Anybody who spends any time in the other great cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham is left convinced that the talent, energy and passion which made Britain great in the first place is still there. But latent.

In my view, what needs done to unlock this potential is not rocket science. Entrepreneurism is a natural state. Create the right conditions and - all by itself - it will take root, like a barren desert bursting into bloom with the first rainfall of the season.

To help the creative industries for example, the Government's job should be to ensure it is treating the disease as opposed to the symptoms.

And the medicine might taste terrible in the short term, because it would include redeploying all the resource used to directly intervene in the marketing industry elsewhere.

Agencies are not dying because they can’t get access to training, advice or cheese and wine parties. They are going to the wall because there are not enough clients. And this is where any Government resource should be channeled. We need new Kwik-Fits, DFSs and Irn Brus, to ensure business which moves on is constantly being replaced.

One priority should be infrastructure. Planes, trains and automobiles, as well as broadband, are required to green our economic desert.

Another twist on this would be to ensure new transport links start connecting the great regional centres to each other. At the moment, every road leads to London. But you should try driving from Glasgow to Newcastle. It's not easy. Or taking the train from Manchester to Glasgow. Most services require at least one change. At the moment it is difficult for the UK regions to trade between themselves.

But if you do manage to travel around, you will be exposed to a country that still has a massive range of variations – from accents to general attitudes. But one thing that always strikes me is that the most different place is London itself.

It is a dynamic and fantastic place, truly one of the great cities of the world. But if Britain is to become one of the great countries of the world then it has to engage its regions. It if fails, then it is only a matter of time before the ash dieback affecting Scotland spreads to the capital itself.

Of course it is not all doom and gloom North of the Border, and to demonstrate that The Drum will be publishing a special Scotland report in next week's edition.

Comments

1 Nov 2012 - 16:37
gareth_howells's picture

So what does the Drum opening an office in Shoreditch indicate? Sorry Gordon. I have to ask.

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1 Nov 2012 - 18:14
Gordon Young's picture

That we want a base in one of the most dynamic parts of one of the most dynamic cities in the world. It's not inconsistent with my blog. After all you don't make a case for better transport links if you believe people should stay at home. Maybe you guys should get out more.

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2 Nov 2012 - 10:11
gareth_howells's picture

@Gordon Young. The best thing about London is the 9-40pm BMI flight out of there. I'm going to keep trying to put Edinburgh on the marketing map. I believe that you can get London thinking for regional prices in this city. I'm staying put thanks Gordon.

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2 Nov 2012 - 09:18
kirstinmckay

I believe there is great talent North of the border, however I do think that agencies should collaborate more, using their individual strengths and experiences to target clients and offering them a better, bigger service.

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2 Nov 2012 - 11:04
georgeshepherd's picture

Gordon I suspect you are confusing quantity with quality - Many London account teams are bigger than Scottish agencies but they are often staffed by poor quality "drones"

Having worked in London and Edinburgh I find the focus on craft skills to be much higher up here. Making that case to clients is the on-going task

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2 Nov 2012 - 11:15
Gordon Young's picture

@georgeshepherd don't get defensive George! Of course some Scottish agencies are better than some London agencies, and vice versa. But that is not the real issue - it is undeniable that the majority of our industry is centred on the Capital. And in my view a failure to exploit the talent which exists in places such as Edinburgh ultimately risks the future competitiveness of the UK as a whole.

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2 Nov 2012 - 11:23
georgeshepherd's picture

Gordon - I'm not being "defensive" I'm being "offensive"...no wait a minute that's not quite right !! Anyway I'd agree with your central point - couple of questions - do you think we'll see more agency mergers north of the border to exploit greater economies of scale? - how might indyref Yes (or even Devo Max) change the dynamic? might be bad news for the likes of Newcastle and Leeds?

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2 Nov 2012 - 12:05
Gordon Young's picture

@georgeshepherd The Scottish business is dominated by some strong personalities and I reckon that might count against Scottish firms merging with each other. In terms of Devo Max, or Independence it is pretty clear the current system of Government hasn't worked. Scotlands private sector as a whole is in crisis and I doubt it offers much opportunity for the kids growing up today, But I think many of the English regions share these frustrations too. I reckon a bit of DevoMax there might provide the boost they need.

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2 Nov 2012 - 11:45
gareth_howells's picture

WTF?

You've lost me. Off for a swim.

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2 Nov 2012 - 15:14
kevin18653's picture

"one former Law Society head told me recently that he believes Scotland is on the brink of becoming a ‘non-viable' jurisdiction. Basically, what is the point of having a separate legal system, if there are no lawyers prepared to practice North of the Border?"

The former head you spoke to is clearly misinformed Gordon. There are more Scottish solicitors now than ever before - over 10,500. Just last week, we had an admissions ceremony and welcomed 70 new young lawyers to the Scottish legal profession.

Kevin Lang Director of Communications The Law Society of Scotland

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4 Nov 2012 - 09:40
Gordon Young's picture

@kevin18653 I hope you are right and my friend is wrong. But the fact remains there are many parallels between law and marketing - not least of all they are full of talented people doing a great job for clients. However they also have a diminishing client base in common and an increased reliance on the public sector. A spate of mergers and takeovers has also created risk that that many once independent firms are simply becoming branch offices to firms based elsewhere. Of course there are exceptions where Scottish firms have merged to create stronger Scottish-based entities. The picture is mixed which was why I interpreted my friends comments as being more about risk than current reality.

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2 Nov 2012 - 23:04
benbr13818's picture

Scotlands creative industry has been dying a slow death for last 15 years. Faulds going tits up 10 years was a clear indication of where things were going. Cannot swim against the tide. More evidence today of how desperate things have become as once great agency Leith make schoolboy errors trying to defend what in most peoples eyes is at best a mediocre Edinburgh campaign. How could they let such an idjit councillor take the moral high ground? Too late for mergers and too many vested interests anyway. Mark my words, you're watching death throes here. Sad.

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2 Nov 2012 - 23:18
benbr13818's picture

strip out all the public sector business that's mandated/obligated to use a scottish agency and look what's left. thats the real measure of how good the scottish creative talent is.

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4 Nov 2012 - 19:38
Spyder's picture

Gordon, I couldn't agree more, the government needs to take swift action.

Unfortunately we face one major hurdle... finance. Banks are doing very little to help SME's and I expect this to continue for some time, plus having dealt with all the major lenders over the last five years they have very little appetite for our industry... something I would hear often.

I think its going to take divine intervention before we see real growth returning to the rest of the UK I'm afraid to say.

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5 Nov 2012 - 10:30
paul1976's picture

Convincing clients to use agencies up here will always be a challenge; it's true that many private sector clients are using London agencies regularly and the Government needs to do more to ensure diversity of interest in the regions (I include the English ones and Scotland). One thing agencies up here can do is avoid ever thinking parochially; yes be proud we're Scottish and the talent pool is great up here but approach it from a UK mindset. I know companies who are doing exceptionally well in Scotland, are expanding into the north of England, Dubai, Amsterdam, you name it. These companies would benefit from a Scottish agency who thought like a UK national one or a pan-European one. I love the quality of life up here, I think the creative scene is immensely talented but when we start talking to clients as knowledgably about Leeds, London or Norwich as we can do about Scotland, then they will see more merit in simply basing their creative requirements here (IMO).

The point of lending is key too; the more robust, longer term agencies who have worked well within their financial constraints are surviving but not necessarily due to help from the bank. Lending it seems is still frugal.

As for the legal sector, I agree with Kevin. There are issues such as de-regulation and it will mean more mergers but there is still plenty of business up here; renewables, field to plate, just ask a legal eagle

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5 Nov 2012 - 12:29
craig_mcgill's picture

Gordon, you've totally nailed it. As always there will be people who disagree but one of the main issues is that (for PR) a lot of the access is seen as happening via London for magazines, etc and there's a total lack of home-grown effort. Would Independence change this? Would we see more brands set up Scottish offices in the way that large firms have Spanish, French, Italian offices?

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5 Nov 2012 - 17:19
Ogilvy's picture

Population of Spain, France and Italy versus an Independent Scotland?

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5 Nov 2012 - 17:25
craig_mcgill's picture

Not what I mean My Good Ogilvy. Many large firms have offices in each of the main European countries for local outreach, PR, etc so if Scotland was to go solo from the rest of the UK, there's a possibility that we may see some firms have offices in London to cover England and some offices in Scotland for the independent Scotland.

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5 Nov 2012 - 17:30
Ogilvy's picture

Realistically I doubt many large firms would consider an independent Scotland as one of "the main European countries"?

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