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Taking temperatures

By The Drum, Administrator

November 8, 2002 | 8 min read

The Scottish advertising and design sector feels extremely uncertain about the future of the industry.

That is the outcome of a telephone poll conducted amongst seventy creative directors, copywriters and designers in advertising and design agencies in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The survey reveals that 51 per cent are pessimistic about the next twelve months, while almost the same percentage (49 per cent) remain optimistic and upbeat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all respondents have an opinion about the future and a definite forecast for the Scottish creative industries over the forthcoming year.

The poll was conducted following the closure of several leading advertising agencies, namely Yellow M and McCann-Erickson Scotland, and announcements of redundancies at most of the major Scottish marketing agencies.

The Scottish industry is not unique in suffering a downward trend. Following the bursting of the dot.com bubble, the decline in television advertising revenues and the scrapping of marketing projects following the terrorist atrocities on 11 September, it is widely expected that the industry will continue to suffer on a worldwide basis until well into 2004.

The outcome of the poll is arresting for the large number of people who are prepared to express a lack of confidence about the future, especially as the industry is inhabited by personalities who are by nature forward and upward looking, and where nobody readily admits that business is slack. As Brian Williams, creative director of The Glasgow Agency, says: “I am a naturally optimistic person.”

That, despite job worries, almost half of the creatives in the sector in Scotland are still optimistic is almost equally remarkable. However, most optimistic respondents qualify their optimism. Here are some of their qualifications.

Adrian Searle of Freight Design and Chair of the Chartered Society of Designers in Scotland has little hope for design agencies that “operate at the fringes, offering a studio service only, with a narrow view on design and no marketing insight or consultancy”.

Angus Walker of The Leith Agency, says: “This is the survival of the fittest. Only some will thrive.”

Nick Ramshaw of Pure Design says: “Current conditions will prevail, not worsen, then there will be an improvement. In the meantime we have to hold our breath.”

While David McGilvray, founder of design consultancy tictoc, says: “I am positive. There is always design work around, but the outlook is gloomy for large agencies that depend too much on one client organisation.”

Ross Hunter of Graven Images comments: “Scotland cannot sustain too many specialists. You must be prepared to work for a broad spectrum of clients,” while Keith Forbes of 999 Design adds: “It does not look good for Scottish agencies; there is a better forecast for companies that work UK-wide.”

Tayburn’s Malcolm Stewart comments: “I see good and bad signs. It will be better for agencies with European or global clients.”

Several respondents, including Pete Martin, creative principal of Citigate Smarts, foresee a better time for agencies that offer a broader range of services for a variety of different clients. He says: “Agencies with a narrow offer will not do particularly well at this time.”

Stuart Gilmour of this year’s Roses Design Grand Prix winners BD-TANK says: “We have seen below-the-line work continuing with good levels of profit from smaller clients.”

Gilmour also believes that there are too many agencies in Scotland – a statement with which most people agree. Adrian Jeffrey, joint creative partner at 1576, thinks that some agencies will do better than others: “If you listen to the pundits, it is all doom and gloom, but it really depends on your individual clients.”

Some believe that the structure of the agency will determine its future success.

Croy Thomson of Coltas says: “I am quietly optimistic. Clients are focusing again on their business.” Thomson and Jonathan Frewin of Red Cell stress that keeping overheads down is now more important than ever before.

Thomson says: “For your future to be rosy, you have to be lean and mean again,” while Frewin adds: “But you must ensure the budget allows you to do your work well.”

There may also be a change in the type of work that agencies do. Don Huggan of Edinburgh-based consultancy PRM says: “There will be a different emphasis, with new media and other alternatives replacing television advertising.”

Grant Dickson of Curious Oranj also speculates on the continuing rift between the Scottish east and west Coasts: “The Edinburgh agencies are still serving the larger clients. In the west we are suffering from a parochial east coast mentality. Glasgow agencies may find it easier to expand into England.”

The respondents were also asked what people in agencies that feel the pinch could do to keep the spirits of their staff up and maintain a good positive working atmosphere.

The replies contain many practical suggestions, which can be listed under three headings: work harder and smarter, communicate better and have more fun.

Shona Maciver of Locofoco says: “Keep the spirit up, keep your head down. Just do your very best work,” while Brian Williams adds: “Pick yourself up, shake yourself down and get on with the job.”

Roy McCallum of The Levy McCallum Advertising Agency says: “We have to be prepared again to work seven days a week. Recently, many have been complacent as business was easier, but now we have to get back to working late at night and in the weekend.”

Many respondents feel that creative people are working better under pressure.

Pure Design’s Ramshaw says: “When people are under pressure, when they worry about redundancy, they have to perform better.”

Caroline Cooper of Oneagency says: “Hard times bring out the best in people. Adverse situations can bring people together.”

Jonathan D’Aguilar, creative director of The Bridge comments: “It is more about working smarter than harder. Concentrate on new business. Do not get tensed up. Job pressure is not the same as time pressure. Performance will suffer as a result of fear.”

A different angle is provided by Red Cell’s Frewin: “You should not try to start second-guessing clients. A creative director from a large agency once told me a memorable story. They had done a presentation. Afterwards his contact told him they had not got the job yet, but they were on the short list, adding: ‘A word of advice; the wife of the CEO likes squirrels.’ So the creative director told his people to use a squirrel. At the next presentation they lost the job. Used the wrong squirrel. It shows you just have to trust your skills and experience.”

However Pete Martin adds: “Avoid a siege mentality. Creatives should understand clients are under as much pressure as they are.” Andrew White of Ignite says: “Go out more. Get face to face with clients. Visit corporate events.”

Locofoco’s Maciver says: “Clients are suffering too. Looking at things from a client perspective makes us better at our work,” while 999 Design’s Forbes advises: “Make ideas accountable, and then make them work for clients.”

While awaiting new client projects, you could do research and development work, says Searle: “For example, with self-commissioned projects to explore new areas of work. It is an opportunity to be innovative, which may not always be appropriate for mainstream clients.”

Mark Noë, founder and creative director of Third Eye Design, says: “Be more proactive, do more speculative work and enjoy it,” and Hunter adds: “Make up deadlines. Ensure you are busy. Do not let the studio go quiet.”

Adrian Jeffrey of 1576 says: “Speculative work can be liberating,” but Forbes advises: “do not go for large volume or cheap work.” BD-TANK’s Stuart Gilmour may not entirely agree with this statement. He says: “Look at what else you can do. Go to the lower end of the market. Have fun while doing it. Make sure you stand out.”

In all this, efficient internal communication is crucial. Curious Oranj’s Grant Dickson says: “You have got to sit down and talk. Be honest with each other.” Walker agrees, saying: “Do not pull the wool over people’s eyes.”

Richard Irvine of Redpath says: “Managers should realise that a problem shared is a problem halved. Improve the spirit of co-operation. This is a time for strong characters to support those who feel weaker.”

This does not have to take place in the office. Dickson says: “Get away from the office, take a day out in a hotel.” Crawford Millison of Strathearn Advertising says: “People within the agency have to pull together. But not everything has to be work-related. Go for a drink together.” Stewart: “Celebrate success. Tell everybody ‘well done’.”

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