Newhaven’s founding directors Gareth Howells, Zane Radcliffe, Ken Dixon and Jonathan Shinton.As we rattle down Leith Walk the taxi driver insists that anyone who works for Tennent’s wouldn’t drink at the Old Chain Pier. “It doesn’t even sell Tennent’s. Only that Carling muck and some poncey shite – Stella or some French bollocks,” he says.
I can’t remember what the name of the pub, where I am soon to meet the founders of The Leith Agency breakaway Newhaven, is actually called. All I know is that it’s down Newhaven way.
Turns out that it is the Old Chain Pier, much to the taxi driver’s bemusement.
Five minutes later, Newhaven founder Gareth Howells saunters through the door and orders himself a drink. Zane Radcliffe and Ken Dixon, his business partners, follow shortly behind. Jonathan Shinton, the fourth of the quartet, is on holiday.
“We can chat here, where it’s comfortable,” suggests Dixon, “and perhaps head on up to the office after to show you around. But it’s a bit cold, and there isn’t really anywhere to sit.”
As I was to find out later, they aren’t joking.
“Working for both Tennent’s and Carling, after the sale, there was always the potential there for client conflict, but it was just something that we never talked about at The Leith Agency,” ventures Howells, kick-starting the interview.
“So when we, unsuspectingly, arrived back from a shoot for the new campaign, all on a high, to be told that we were resigning the account we were brought down pretty quickly.”
However, unbeknown to Scotland’s advertising community – a rather excited advertising community, with the prospect of landing the highly regarded, creative and lucrative Tennent’s account, at that – plans were already being hatched by what is now known as Newhaven.
“It was an unspoken thing, certainly between the three of us ...” starts Radcliffe.
“I gave these guys a call,” Dixon takes over, nodding at the assembled team sitting around the table, “and suggested that we meet up.
“Literally ten minutes later we sat down together and we talked. Effectively, we were already running the account, and we could see the great opportunity that was laid out in front of us. So I put in a call to Sandra (Mitchell) at Tennent’s and suggested that we met. She agreed.”
Radcliffe continues: “It was really a no-brainer. We’d just spent the last six months getting Tennent’s to a different place, embarking on a very fresh direction, and suddenly to have that pulled away from you is unthinkable. We had all become so close to the account and have a great affection for it – take Gareth for example, if he cuts himself he bleeds Tennent’s. It’s almost part of The Leith’s history.”
Gareth winces, with a laugh, perhaps thinking of the possible ensuing headlines: “Newhaven man starts own brewery” perhaps.
Dixon continues: “We did have conversations about trying to start up some kind of subsidiary to The Leith to handle the conflicting work. However, it just wasn’t viable. There is always going to be a conflict of interest. So the idea would have been flawed. Leith was very reluctant to give up such a great brand and would have done anything in their power to keep the account, but you just have to look at the economics to justify the move.
“There would have been very little benefit for us working within a satellite company of The Leith. Now we have the opportunity to shape the company and create a culture that is distinct from any other agency in Scotland.”
The announcement by the Leith that Tennent’s was now, after thirteen years, single once more, led to a frenzy of advertising hormones as Scotland’s agencies made their first amorous advances towards the lager lovely, attempting to get the courting ritual moving.
“Tennent’s was certainly approached by other agencies, as you would expect. Sandra’s office was a bit like an Aladdin’s Cave with all the presents. I don’t think that she wanted that process to end,” jokes Radcliffe.
“But it must have been an interesting time from Tennents’ point of view,” continues Radcliffe. “A very flattering time, with probably every agency in Scotland (perhaps even in the UK) that didn’t have a beer account ...and a few that did ... all vying for their attentions.”
Dixon grabs the mantle: “It was never guaranteed that we were going to get the account, though. We had to put together a business plan on how we were going to run the account, what we were going to do with the account and what we were going to do with the company. We had to show our credentials to Richard Evans, the head of Interbrew, and go through that process again. His other roster agencies are Mother, Lowe and BBH so he has a pretty high bar that he operates over.
“I would like to think that we were already fairly settled in with Tennent’s, but they are our client and we are going to make sure that we are in the very best position to service them right from day one.
“In terms of new business, though, we are in a very fortunate position. We don’t have to rush out there to hare ’em and scare ’em, trying to be anything and everything.
“But Tennent’s are a great bunch of people. If there is anything that we are looking for, it is like-minded clients. And as we progress, hopefully, we will be able to do that.”
The team haven’t been allowed to talk to clients while they are still, officially, at The Leith. Understandable. But as of 1 January they were.
The question stands, however – will they be approaching any of Leith's current client base?
“In the short term we wouldn’t and legally we couldn’t anyway,” says Radcliffe. “But we wouldn’t want to either, we have our own business to run now and our own culture. And it is important that we establish our culture, because the last thing we want to do is become another version of Leith – a Leith 2 – which also means that, in terms of recruitment, we don’t want to bring over a whole raft of people from The Leith.”
Roger Goldie is joining the team in January as head of production, as is account director Jane Strachan – both from The Leith – with Lynsay Strachan (no relation to Jane) – “a really interesting character” – recruited as PA – “exactly the sort of person that we hope to bring in. She is a girl of many talents and, hopefully, we can utilise them.”
Already, the team have been discussing ways to showcase Lynsay’s piano-playing skills and have suggested that, instead of hold music, people waiting to be put through to another line could perhaps request a tune. Although (unlike the team’s ambition and more like much of the banter at the table) the suggestion seems in jest.
“When we are come to adding people, we want to add people with different skill bases. Hopefully, we can offer them the opportunity to improve those skills.
“Just as importantly as you want to be the agency that clients will be drawn to, you want to be the agency that everyone wants to work at.”
Newhaven may be a progression in geography from Leith as well as a progression in the founders’ ambitions. But couple that progression with the “new haven” berth for business and you have a multitude of meanings for the name of the new agency.
“We wanted something that was pretty simple and straightforward because a lot of agencies try to be too clever,” explains Radcliffe. “This is where we had our first meeting, this is where everything started to move on. So Newhaven was a logical choice. Yes, it might be metaphorically and physically the next stop along from Leith, and that might be very pertinent to Gareth.” The rest of the group chuckle. “Yes, it might be a ‘new haven’ for business but, really, I don’t think that too many people will be dwelling on the name for too long.”
The drinks are drained (non-alcoholic, mostly) and we jump into Howells’ car to make our way to the Newhaven office.
Surprisingly, it is not in Newhaven but just off the top of Leith walk. An old print works, at the end of a tunnelled driveway.
When they said that there wasn’t anywhere to sit, I thought that they meant the office was slightly cramped. Boy, was I wrong – they just didn’t have any chairs yet.
The space – a warren of rooms, corners, columns and even a small, disused industrial lift – is over three floors (two of which will be eventually used by the agency). It is, pretty much, a shell. But anyone with even the smallest imagination (so you can only imagine what a bunch of creative types must be thinking) can picture the potential, which, like the space, is huge.
Plans are already underway to get the first stage of the fit-out started. “Buying the premises made good business sense,” says Radcliffe. “Often, when small agencies start they’ll just have a small place, and two years later they have to move. If you have to move it can be very costly but more emotionally you do get wedded to a building. We wanted to get somewhere that was really big enough to expand. We want to have our own front door, our own community.”
The team has a ready-made source of income in the rent that they receive from the creative community that already inhabits the loft of the old print works – an edit suit, web designers and writers occupy the space – so, not discounting a small matter of the £2m Tennent’s account, the agency can count even more tenants on its books.
Says Howells: “In five years’ time, if we can fill that building with people who are enjoying getting up in the morning to come into work, then that would be fantastic.”
But what of the more immediate plans for Tennent’s?
“The market is in a state of change. New competition is arriving, but we are very much involved in terms of strategy. We have identified a change and Tennent’s is right at the heart of it,” says Dixon.
“The place that we are in now with Tennent’s is fantastic,” adds Radcliffe. “I don’t think that I have ever worked with a client who is as receptive to new ideas, and that includes the Tangos and Pot-Noodles, who have the receptive reputations.”
Howells continues: “You always have to keep your market thinking. As soon as the research group starts to tell you what they think should be in the next advert in the series, that is when you know to move on. But that is the great thing about Tennent’s – they do.
“Part of the process that we have been through with Tennent’s has helped us recognise that Scotland, perhaps even the world, has changed already and we are going to have to reflect that. We’ve got to be continually surprising our market. But rather than just playing catch-up, we have to be leaders too.”