The Northern marketing scene is a tribal landscape. By this I don't mean that the inhabitants wear nothing but loin cloths and war paint (at least not all of the time), but rather that each agency exists as a separate community striving to feed the mouths of its individual members. Some times these tribes get along, sometimes they don't, but unless they feel physically motivated to join forces, their own survival will always take priority over that of their neighbours.
Despite their individual traits each tribe shares a common goal - it must hunt to stay alive. When there's plentiful prey roaming the rich pastures of the north this isn't a problem, but what happens when the majority of the business migrates to the seemingly salubrious south?
Well, less stock means more competition, greater competition makes it harder to survive, and this inevitably, leads to localised conflict. Which at the end of the day will only deplete the strength of our local tribes whilst scaring more of the business off into the bargain.
With this in mind how can we address the cause of this migratory trend? How can we encourage more business to stay in the north and thus save our beloved tribes from extinction?
The Marketeer has come to the conclusion that a collective initiative might provide the mechanism to answer these crucial questions. With this in mind, publisher Gordon Young, has formed The Marketeer Association.
This body aims to co-ordinate efforts to support the Northern industry, educate clients about the wealth of talent available on their doorsteps and encourage those that undervalue marketing to take that investment-driven leap of faith. How it will achieve these lofty ambitions was the subject of a lively debate at the inaugural meeting of the association at the Gaucho Grill last month.
The tribal heads that convened to smoke the peace pipe included Michael Barrington of BJL, Julian Kynaston of Propaganda, Nick Brookes and Carol Smith of BDH/TBWA, Simon Farrell of The Chase, Alistair Sim of LOVE and Carl Hopkins of JDA. The proceedings were marshalled by the Carnyx Group contingent of Gordon Young, editor Richard Draycott, group sales head Simon Jardine and deputy editor Alan Johnstone.
Young took the first kick of the debating ball with a speech that ensured a long night of verbal 'keepie-uppies'. He stated, "Despite having some of the UK's best advertising agencies, most creative design houses, most gifted PR practitioners and savviest buying points, centres such as Manchester and Leeds are still failing to win their fair share of overall marketing expenditure.
Even the roughest of top line figures makes this point. London as an advertising centre is worth around £9 billion. Manchester and Leeds - where many of the budget holders reside - are only worth around £700 million. I would argue that a major factor for this below par performance is that the local client base does not realise just how much talent there is on its own doorstep."
Young argued that one of the root causes of the existing London-centric bias was the fact that all of the major trade publications are produced there. Northern clients aren't aware of the talent around them because such magazines effectively blinker them. Everything in their immediate vicinity is represented as the dark 'unknown' with the London-based agencies assuming the role of the reassuring light at the end of the (often long and foreboding) tunnel. With this in mind, he suggested, it should be The Marketeer's job to illuminate the talent residing on the local scene.
This point was met with a Mexican wave of nodding heads, although Julian Kynaston did clear his throat once or twice after the continual references to 'Manchester and Leeds' (Propaganda is fighting the good fight from sunny Huddersfield).
Speaking about the role of the association itself, Young added, "The markets in Manchester and Leeds - partly because of their size - are the most competitive in the UK. Many of its players are so busy doing each other down they never take the opportunity to talk their industry up - an activity for which the association will be able to provide a mechanism."
He went on to emphasise the benefits of a strong local marketing scene to the client side, before stressing that it was his ambition to inculcate the concept that, "Centres such as Manchester and Leeds are not only competent but in actual fact are amongst Europe's top five communication centres." With that 'sun has got his hat on' assessment Young opened the floor up to suggestions of how the association can work to convey this and bolster the Northern community as a whole.
Simon Farrell believed that it should be the job of both the magazine and the body to praise marketing directors who make the 'brave choice'. He said: "The point should be raised that although many clients see it as a safe bet to go to a London agency, it's actually a smart decision to stay up North - it's where the smart money is. They should be educated to look at what specific agencies can do for them and appoint them on that basis alone - not on the basis of their size or image. It might be a 'brave' decision for some clients to take, but it'll also be the right one."
Julian Kynaston concurred: "I've never been down to London and felt inferior. Most of the time it's made me feel better about what we can achieve. Clients need to be made aware of the understanding and strategy we can offer - it should be our 'cultural mission' to raise a bit of intelligence in the client base."
A point that Michael Barrington ostensibly agreed with, whilst adding a cautionary note: "But we have to steer clear of selling ourselves on offering more service yet charging less - that is awful, and I think that the majority of marketing directors think that is what we do. We need to demonstrate the standard of the product we can offer whilst always working towards improving it. At the end of the day, everybody wants the best product." An observation that was met with universal acquiescence.
Nevertheless, in the past the Northern marketing scene has been slow off the mark to advertise its own quality, whilst jumping the gun when it comes to assessing itself as 'the second-best choice'. This is something that, according to Nick Brookes, has to stop. "We need to stop our traditional self-persecution," he said. "The thought that we might not be good enough for some clients. We've proved that we are and now we need to take that proof straight to them."
His colleague, Carol Smith, was quick to agree, "Sometimes it is a matter of confidence and, as a community, collective confidence. We have to knock at the doors of the big clients, make an inroad and grow the business from there. We need to persuade them to take a risk."
The association, it was decided, could help attack such issues on a number of fronts. First, by steering the magazine in a direction that showcases the best that the local agencies can offer, thus raising their profile amongst The Marketeer's 7,500-strong client database. Second, by talking directly to those clients and garnering views on the services provided in their locality and their future marketing plans. In this way both sectors could gain a greater understanding of each other and identify beneficial opportunities.
Kynaston also proposed a wider agenda for the body, based on his own agency's experiences. He believed that the association could create fresh budgets rather than merely deflecting the spend that already migrates to fill the potholes in London's streets.
"From my own experience I can say that we have managed to produce big budgets where previously there were none." Explaining this, Kynaston stressed, "If we can educate clients, show them that they can do much more than that sponsorship package in the local trade mag, we can grow both their businesses and our sector. I mean, I've walked into companies with a turnover of £300 million and their marketing budget is only 30k - that is where the opportunities lie for both parties."
Although this point instigated an impassioned debate on whether it was therefore more applicable to bypass the marketing director and go straight to the board to discuss budgets (a hot potato that refused to cool down), everyone agreed that attempting to create new spend could consolidate the entire regional industry. Another objective thus stepped out of the shadows to reveal itself to the association.
As the night progressed and the bottles emptied, the tribes seemed to be gelling into a cohesive organisation rather than a collection of disparate group heads with individual agendas. An observation embodied by Alistair Sim and Carl Hopkins vociferously championing the need to nurture the Northern marketing community. "We need to hand on briefs and recommend other agencies if a job doesn't suit our individual firms," said Sim. "If we pass work on and treat each other as friends rather than rivals, we can create a sense of community and keep work here."
Hopkins agreed, "We're not here to steal each other's clients; that is not what an idea like the association is about. We're here to promote the area and build its market share, and that's the only way we can change existing client misperceptions."
Strength in numbers. Support rather than rivalry. Changing the situation in a proactive way rather than reacting to the migration of business and grabbing what's left. It's a nice way to conclude the piece and a promising starting point for the association.
If you would like to become a member of The Marketeer Association and play an active part in the development of your industry please contact Gordon Young on 0141 332 3255.