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Target 7-26 profile

By The Drum | Administrator

October 2, 2002 | 7 min read

Target 7-26’s creative director Dave Crowther, managing director Claire Welsh and account director Alan Gardiner.

Unlike Scotland’s above-the-line sector, the country’s direct marketing agencies are frequently courted by large national and international marketing services groups intent on acquiring their expertise and merging it with their own to cover all the possible angles.

In recent times Edinburgh agencies such as Marketing Advantage and Carlina Responsive Advertising have both been successfully married off, to DDB and Draftworldwide respectively, allowing massive international groups to get a strong foothold in Scotland through already established agencies. Such deals have also allowed Marketing Advantage and Carlina to further develop and to have access to greater resource, which has in turn strengthened their business.

So, when Glasgow-based agency 7-26 came to looking for ways that it could expand and strengthen the agency last year, identifying a larger partner agency seemed the logical step. As luck would have it, around about the same time Cheltenham-based direct marketing group Target Direct was looking at ways to expand its business and also gain a foothold in Scotland. The words marriage, made and heaven spring immediately to mind and within six months of the initial conversation Target 7-26 was re-born in Glasgow. How much the directors made from the deal is not being disclosed, but the deal was described as “lucrative, yet friendly”.

Speaking of his reasons for joining forces with 7-26, Stephen Pidgeon, chairman of Target Direct, says: “7-26 has had phenomenal success way beyond its size and gives us an instant credibility north of the border. The business and its people will be great assets to the Target Direct Group.”

That “asset” was founded in Glasgow in 1997 by Iain Ferguson and Dave Crowther. The pair had previously been with PHQ, but completed an MBO to take over the agency that they relaunched as 7-26 (the seven referring to the colours of the rainbow and the 26 referring to the letters of the alphabet as a reinforcement of the agency’s creative philosophy and culture). In the last four-plus years the agency has always remained a tight group of a maximum of ten people, but the clients they service include big brands such as Greenpeace, Marie Curie Cancer Care, The Times, HBOS, Mencap and Scottish & Southern Energy.

From such a client list it is clear to see why 7-26 was such an attractive target for Target Direct.

The acquisition saw some significant changes at the Glasgow city-centre-based agency. Ferguson moved to the Cheltenham head office, as Target Direct was looking for a creative director, and gained a place on the Target Group board, while former account director Claire Welsh was promoted to the managing director’s position. Crowther remained in Scotland as creative director while two other members of staff were transferred to Cheltenham in order to work on the Marie Curie business.

Speaking about the deal, Welsh said: “About a year ago we realised that we had a lot of work on our hands and we agreed that we would have to look for something or someone which would enable us to handle the work which we had.

“We knew about Target because we had pitched against them for a piece of business and had won and then we had gone up against them again and they beat us. We had also met them at a Marie Curie meeting, because they do work for them as well.”

“Taking on the role of managing director seemed like a natural progression for me as it is the kind of role that suits my skills in terms of organisation, planning and business development.

“I suppose approaching Target was logical for us and in the space of six months we had gone from the initial conversation to actually selling the company. It has been a surprisingly easy process, I suppose that is because everyone could see that it was a good fit for all concerned and everyone on both sides really wanted it to happen.”

So what do Scotland and Scottish clients get out of the deal?

The Target Direct group now consists of five divisions. Other than the main Target Direct agency, and now Target 7-26, the group resource includes Talking Numbers, a data specialist firm, Target Direct Print, a print management consultancy, and the interestingly named Thirsty Fish, the group’s new media agency.

So, exactly what does this group resource mean?

Welsh says: “With the resources and strategic strengths of Target Direct, we will have the clout to pitch for more big brands and offer a wider choice of media to our existing clients. It is a very positive deal for us and for the marketing industry. We shall, of course, be turning our attention to the recent gap in the market left by the closure of a number of other agencies.”

Welsh’s rise to fame began at British Rail in London, where she was a graduate trainee for around three years, after studying marketing and French. From there she moved to occupational psychologists SHL and concentrated on business-to-business marketing. From there she returned to Scotland, Perth to be precise, to take up a direct marketing role at Scottish Hydro Electric. It was through becoming a client of 7-26 during the time of deregulation of the electricity industry that she decided to hop agency-side and, as the saying goes, she hasn’t looked back since.

She says: “We have managed to be very successful picking up clients like Greenpeace, The Times, Marie Curie but we have not expanded massively in size and I suppose that was the driver to start looking around for another partner, which would allow us to grow.

“I guess we don’t really shout about what we are doing and who we are doing it for because that is just the kind of people we are. The biggest recommendation you can get as an agency is the work you do for clients and the referrals that you get from that work.

“My becoming managing director of Target 7-26 has been part of the plan for the last six months, but in my previous role there were managerial things too so I have kind of fallen into it.

“I am getting the systems in place and looking after the staff. Formalising these things is always difficult. Perhaps working closely with the financial director has been the biggest difficulty for me. Every single bill matters to me now.”

“The one thing that people have asked is, how are you going to manage the culture, but it still feels like the old 7-26 because all the same people still work here. All the board members are still here and we all still share the same brand values. That will never change while I am there.

“There are big bits of group resource that now put us in a much stronger position here in Scotland.”

So, yet another Scottish creative direct marketing agency has been snapped up, which doesn’t leave too many independent agencies. Only Navigator Responsive Advertising, Forth, SBS and Story remain – for now that is.

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