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Leith Agency explains why it chose Manchester over London for new hub


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

October 27, 2022 | 7 min read

With the city’s extraordinary talent pool and concentration of pharma companies, managing partner Richard Marsham asks, “why wouldn’t we do this?”

Leith agency Canal St

Leith Agency has opened a new office in Manchester / Leith Agency

Leith Agency has enjoyed a reputation as Scotland’s best creative shop since the 80s. Now, it is extending its reach beyond its Edinburgh dockside headquarters and opening a new office in Manchester.

Despite widespread adoption of remote teams across the industry, the agency argues that a regional hub can still be a magnet for clients and staff.

But with economic uncertainty unlikely to clear up in the near future, it’s a strange time to put down such a large investment. So why make the move now? And why choose the north of England over London?

Second city

Leith’s Mancunian move was sparked by two key hires there: head of production Neil Williams and a creative director John McFarland. Rather than have their production chief schlep up to Scotland on a regular basis, they’ve instead built a production team around him, says group managing partner Richard Marsham. “The beauty of Manchester is that it opens up a whole new talent pool for us,” he adds.

The new office is now six-strong, but the aim is to eventually hire 28 to 30 new faces there; the agency currently employs over 130.

Williams says the move is “a great step change and opportunity“. He adds: “With the extraordinary production talent available in England’s North West, fueled by Leith’s award-winning creativity, clients can expect a fresh and innovative new approach to their content creation.”

Though it hopes to access some of the corporate clients headquartered in England’s second city, the office will primarily function as a production hub. And while its new lease is “a relatively low cost” for Leith, bringing in so many new staff members won’t have been, admits Marsham. “The office space itself isn’t a big investment, but we’ve got a lot of people already in Manchester so that is a big wage bill.”

So why has he opted for such a large outlay, when UK businesses – Leith itself, and Leith’s clients – are facing such uncertainty? “If you don’t do something, you can die by a thousand cuts. Corporate Scotland is not blossoming. And we’ve got a lot of very good, ambitious and talented people here. Why should we not get more business?”

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Cost difference

There are also cost advantages. Average salaries in Manchester are lower than in London, meaning the agency’s wage bill can be significantly lower than if it had been in the capital. “The talent pool we can access in Manchester... it’s more affordable talent at this stage,” says Marsham.

And with many businesses cutting back on real estate costs, the business property market is weighted in favor of those shopping around. As such, Leith’s new offices are right in the heart of the city, between the Gay Village and Chinatown. “There was a lot of good space available,” he says. “We pushed hard on the deal; it was basically an empty building that they were desperate to get tenants into, so they offered the best incentives.”

For those reasons, Leith sees Manchester as a stronger opportunity than the capital, even though London too has strong transport links to Edinburgh and offers an even bigger potential pool of talent and clients. Masham notes that Leith previously set up an office in the 90s, but that location was wound down in 2010 and the company can now use its parent company’s offices for client servicing and desk space.

Client opportunity

Leith has had a strong couple of years. It has grown its revenues, headcount and client list – especially within the lucrative healthcare and pharmaceutical sector. And its parent company, private equity-backed health group Lumanity, wants to see further growth.

“In the old days, things were quite a bit more conservative whereas Lumanity is pushing us all the time, in a good way, with investment,” says Marsham. ”It will back us, but it wants to see ambition, it wants to see growth. So, we looked at all these factors and it seemed like a no-brainer.”

Marsham hopes Manchester will be key to fulfilling those ambitions. “It’s the key city in the north of England, from an agency perspective.” Some of the company’s existing clients, such as Network Rail, are already based in the area, while the region’s large pharmaceutical sector (most of the UK’s pharma corporations maintain large premises in Cheshire and south Manchester) is a pull factor.

“Pretty much every pharma company is there. It’s one of the biggest concentrations of pharma companies in Europe... and we can target new pharma clients there. Why wouldn’t we do this?”

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