Sole survivor

By The Drum, Administrator

March 3, 2003 | 7 min read

The ad behind db advertising, Debbie Bennett.

In 1998, The Drum published an article on DB Aadvertising, just after I’d set it up. Called “playing to win”, it drew an analogy with a snakes and ladders board.

Five years later, DB Advertising is alive and well (an achievement in itself, considering the amount of agencies that, sadly, haven’t survived).

Setting up the agency was a big step but I had support from family and friends, and experience of art directing in sixteen major agencies in London, Hong Kong, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

My mission – to offer affordable creative advertising. My theory – through low overheads and using staff only when needed, I could offer a cost-effective advertising service. My target market – I figured the big agencies could fight over the big boys and I’d target small and medium sized companies.

Research revealed many within my target market went in-house or to graphics companies for advertising, mainly because of the perceived high costs of going to a conventional agency. I had found a gap in the market.

The business grew organically at the start – each client helped mould the business into what it was to become. I have gradually built a skilled network of associates who work only when needed. This means clients aren’t paying for time not spent on their work. We work in tight-knit project teams, with clearly agreed meetings. We pride ourselves on being an eclectic mix of people, ranging from creatives, graphic designers, web designers, PR and media planners, all with a passion for creativity.

Recently, similar agency models such as Arkwright, etc., have set up in London. As they all subscribe to the same basic principles and beliefs, we have recently agreed to collaborate on larger projects with some of these agencies. It means we will be able to call on a larger network of consultants to add an even further creative dimension and deliver the work effectively.

This is an honest diary of the snakes and ladders I experienced to build DB Advertising.

Year One

It took four months of letters and calls from my home office to win my first client (by which time I was ready to give up). Scotbike Motorcycles let me handle their advertising. I produced strong, clean ads, which jumped out next to their competitors. Their new superstore needed publicity. I rang up a PR pal who got Ewan Macgregor involved, producing front-page headlines – Scotbike’s sales increased by 200 per cent.

I met an old friend who was marketing manager of Brunton Theatre. Our adverts increased their ticket sales dramatically with more sell-out shows than they’d ever had. While photocopying in Byres Road’s Mail Boxes Etc, I was asked to do an advert for them. I ended up selling it for international use to their Head Office in Canada. DB Advertising became exciting and fun. And it was working!

Year Two

I approached Glasgow 1999: UK City of Architecture & Design. They already had a shortlist of major Scottish agencies. I called again a few months later to see if they were happy with their advertising. We met and I was given a brief for an exhibition called “Food”. We presented ads with huge bites out of them – billboards gradually eaten away over weeks (by a chainsaw at night). This generated four times the amount of visitors expected to the exhibition. DB Advertising successfully took all the advertising to the end of the year.

The model of the agency was working well, and over the next while we produced work for Lothian & Edinburgh Enterprise Ltd (LEEL), GDA, Carnyx Group, Nice House, West End Festival, Glasgow Film Theatre, a website and a small music company. The agency began to buzz.

Year Three

Believe it or not, all this time I had been working from home (which I kept quiet about – thought it didn’t seem very professional). I decided to get a “proper” office. My husband Dene had set up an interior/product design business the year after me and we thought it made good financial and practical sense to share an office space. We didn’t want a fancy place bang in the city centre – it would have gone against the principles of D B Advertising being cost-effective.

We eventually found an inexpensive ex-private detective’s shop in Glasgow’s High Street. It was dirty, falling apart and covered in a dog-haired purple carpet. It was perfect. We liked the size, central location and its window that we could use as a creative space. We spent a hot summer painting and sanding floors while everyone else was having picnics in the park. It really changed the business – I felt more professional and was proud to be able to have meetings in my office rather than in everyone else’s ...

Year Four

The marketing manager of Glasgow 99 moved to GCC and asked us to create a new strap line for Glasgow, reflecting how the year had added a new energy and design awareness to the city. We conceived Glasgow for It (it was on the M8 gasometer). We sold the copyright and I bought a cute little sports car. Had to really.

We picked up work from Klick/Munro, rebranded an architect’s firm, advertised a magazine for vampires (I know) and Glasgow’s Hogmanay celebration. I liked the strange mix of clients and not knowing what was coming next. Little did I know that there were problems around the corner ...

Year Five

Much of our work was individual projects rather than retainer-based. Towards the end of 2001, many of the projects came to a natural end and I learned an important lesson. I could not allow myself to stop – I had to be pro-active in constantly looking for work.

We had a difficult year. Economically, the advertising situation that was troubling the larger agencies did not affect us. If anything, it is good for us when clients tighten their belts as we work well with smaller budgets.

One of the reasons for difficulties in DB Advertising then was personal commitments (mainly organising our wedding). I put looking for new work on hold and only serviced current clients’ projects (Strathclyde Uni’s Business School and Mackay’s Stores). When I returned after marriage and a month’s honeymoon to hardly any work, I realised I had to really grow the business and gain new clients. We had little money coming in and Dene and I had just bought a three-bedroomed house in the West End.

Year Six so far

I recognised I either needed a new business manager (which I couldn’t afford) or I had to learn how to sell my business more effectively.

Scottish Enterprise had matched me with a mentor, a fabulous woman with many skills I lack. She gave me a crash course in selling and miraculously (to me), many of the sales techniques started to work. I now understand how I can gain clients and grow D B Advertising in a strategic and focused way. We are currently about to present work to some fantastic companies – so fingers crossed!

The space between the point of first contact with a client and receiving a cheque can be a long one. I now have my first overdraft – hopefully not for long. I am confident we’ll be buzzing again soon. Well, hey, might as well take what I’ve learned and make this a selling opportunity ... If you need a product or service sold creatively, successfully and cost-effectively, call us on 0141-552 7818 or e-mail debbie@dbadvertising.co.uk. We’re still “playing to win”.

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