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TBWA opens in Scotland

By The Drum | Administrator

July 19, 2002 | 7 min read

As agencies in Scotland begin to migrate south to weather the storm of the advertising downturn, one hardy agency, having fattened itself up on the rich pickings of the south, is on its way up north with every intention of beating the big budget freeze.

Now may be one of the toughest times to build a nest on the highly populated cliff-face that is the Scottish advertising industry to scavenge amongst the barren fields of over-grazed marketing budgets. Yet the incentive for this journey north could be one of the richest pickings to be found. TBWA, the agency responsible for the coveted, but often controversial, campaigns for Wonderbra, French Connection and the Labour Party, has revealed that it plans to set up shop in Edinburgh. A team has been appointed and a game plan is in action, but the biggest question on everyone’s lips is, why?

Well, TBWA has earned a place on the highly contended (and desirable) Royal Bank of Scotland short list, and with the agency’s appointment to the NatWest below-the-line business, many are tipping the London giant as a favourite to land the RBS account too.

Speculation surrounding the Royal Bank pitch list has been rife in the Scottish advertising community and the news that TBWA is to open an office in Edinburgh has only fuelled the talk.

One industry insider said: “When a prestigious account like the Royal Bank of Scotland comes up for grabs every pitching agency will move heaven and earth, or even more if they can, to score brownie points.

“The Royal Bank seem to want a London-based agency, but if that agency is also operating on their patch then obviously that will give an edge over the competition.

“You would be daft to go into a pitch situation without offering everything that you can. The Royal Bank will want to work with the best agency, but if they cannot make up their mind as to which one is the best, then the business advantages, let alone the PR advantages, of a Scottish office would work in TBWA’s favour.”

Christine Tulloch, a director at Faulds Advertising, the account’s outgoing incumbent, says: “It makes sense for TBWA to open an office in Scotland to service the accounts that they already have. However, it is a very challenging time to be setting up. The corporate market is shrinking and looking outwith the geographical constraints of the border – that is why we are setting up in London.

“Growth comes through clients outwith Scotland and there are more and more agencies fighting for a shrinking piece of cake. The potential for growth is currently in England.”

However, despite this, the mouth-watering prospect of scooping the Royal Bank of Scotland account is not the only reason for a possible start-up north of the border. TBWA works for News International in Scotland and is a long-standing incumbent on the Scottish Courage roster. Amongst others, the London-based agency already does work for John Smith’s and a move north could see the agency forage for further drinks accounts, both within the Scottish Courage brands portfolio and outwith. Scotland is the base for a large number of drinks brands and already a number of big name accounts have dripped down south.

Mark Gorman, managing director of 1576 and chair of the IPA in Scotland, says: “The arrival of TBWA in Scotland will mean another very good competitor in the marketplace. But while I can see the sense in the move, as it would be seen as a good proposition to their existing Scottish client-base, we will have to wait and see if this will just be a token gesture or if they are willing to put their full weight behind it.

“If TBWA have a raft of Scottish clients to service, then this can only be seen as a good move for the agency. But still, the pot ain’t getting any bigger.”

Gorman continues: “It may be a strange time to be opening an agency, but every time’s a strange time to open a new agency. I started 1576 in the middle of a recession and eight years on we are still in business.”

The news that TBWA is to move into Scotland, however, comes as McCann-Erickson, another global player, closes its office after a number of years in the capital.

Will Atkinson, former-MD of McCann’s, however, feels that TBWA will fare better than those multinationals that have trodden the worn path to Scotland in the past. Global understanding at a local level will be the key, says Atkinson: “Their success will depend on who they bring in and their understanding of what makes Scotland tick. But because of the culture of the agency – it was founded by four different nations – TBWA will have a better understanding of what works locally. The plight of previous international groups has not been rosy in Scotland but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that TBWA will be a better bet for success. CDP, Grey’s, Saatchi and, obviously, McCann Erickson have all been here and since left. However, if anyone has a chance, then TBWA does.”

TBWA was founded in Paris in 1970 by Tragos (American management), Bonnange (French marketing), Wiesendanger (Swiss creation) and Ajroldi (Italian client services). In 1993 TBWA became part of the Omnicom Holdings group and in May 1998 TBWA was merged with GGT/BDDP. By the end of that year the remaining founders, Bill Tragos, Claude Bonnange and Uli Wiesendanger, “retired” to leave the door open for a new worldwide management. TBWA now has billings of over $8.9 billion and employs 8,400 staff in 217 offices in 69 different countries. Make that 70 now.

However, although still unconfirmed, it is thought that the opening of the new agency could lead to the creation of up to 15 new jobs in Scotland at a time when many of the countries leading advertising agencies are haemoraging staff.

Also unconfirmed is the appointment of Gary O’Donnell from Farm Creative who is expected to head up the Scottish office. However, it is thought that the opening team will consist of the MD, admin and account support staff and perhaps a planner, while the creative team will be recruited predominantly from London, with staff already shifting between TBWA’s Whitfield Street offices and Charlotte Square.

O’Donnell has worked both on the agency and client side having previously been a beer client (Beck’s) before moving on to make ads for Kronenbourg, Beamish, Mercedes and Xerox.

TBWA owes much of its recent high profile to its larger than life creative director and chairman Trevor Beattie who really came into the public light after his Helloe Boys Wonderbra campaign in 1994. His reputation as an advertising shock merchant propelled him into the advertising super league, and has seen French Connection’s profits soar from £6.4m to £19m through the controversial fcuk campaign.

However, it is debatable whether or not the Royal Bank of Scotland would advocate such controversy, and although some may say that it is a foregone conclusion that TBWA will scoop the Royal Bank account, it is most likely that we will just have to wait and see.

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