Alan Frame profile
Sunday Mail workWhile the Scottish advertising industry has suffered at the mercy of the economic elements one agency has weathered the storm through investment and a commitment to its staff and clients. Alan Frame is now reaping the benefits of a buy-out, a successful rebrand, the launch of a sports marketing company and, more importantly, continued growth, as Gordon Laing discovers.
The clink of cutlery and roar of the cappuccino steamer fail to quieten Alan Frame. If anything, he is louder. Perhaps that is the secret of his success? Not his ability to shout loud, but his ability to adapt. And, as Frame himself puts it, “Servicing the arse off clients.”
“Everyone is contracting and regressing,” says Frame between fork-fulls of pasta. “Just recently the Scottish IPA, said that redundancy was now an ‘acceptable’ part of the industry. It shouldn’t be, though.”
He stops to order a second bottle of mineral water. “The old advertising model is broken. The companies that are bucking this trend in ‘acceptable redundancies’ have a stronger customer focus. They are leaner, nimble and fleet of foot.
“A lot of people talk a good game but they don’t put their hands in their pockets to support all the talk. You have to put your money where your mouth is. It’s all very well to talk of doom and gloom, but who’s actually investing to pull us out of the rut that is being talked up?”
He sits back and smiles. Investment is a favourite topic for Frame. In eighteen months he has seen his agency grow by 30 per cent, following the acquisition of his former business partner’s share in the agency. And, whilst other agencies in Scotland are haemorrhaging both clients and staff, it is investment that Frame attributes the growth of his business to.
Recently, following the departure of Alan Cunningham – Frame’s former partner – the agency has rebranded to FrameC, alluding to the change in circumstance, but perhaps retaining a bit of the history that has helped build the agency so successfully too.
But as well as the investment that has gone into the business Frame assigns the success to the agency’s background.
“I find it amusing when all these American business gurus come and talk about building businesses in the current economic climate and the need now to be customer-centric,” says Frame. “We’ve had to be customer-centric for the last twelve years.
“Not coming from an advertising background, we’ve had to concentrate so hard in getting it right for the client right from the start.”
Alan Frame, following a career “punting folk up and down the squash court” as a professional squash player, had established a sports marketing company, FrameStark. However, it was whilst doing a “bit of business” with Alan Cunningham that the company began to take its current direction.
Cunningham, who had been brand manager at Thomas Cook, Stakis Leisure and, latterly, Scottish and Newcastle, bought into the business, replacing Stark and creating FrameCunningham.
Frame smiles: “The biggest threat to the industry is that people like me can get in. The barriers for entry are so low. It is so simple to get into, but it is very hard to run a business successfully.
“If nothing else we have built a very strong team of people who want to see FrameC do well.
“We have developed with a number of client-side and agency people. People like Mark Clark (formerly director at CR Smith), Kevin Toner (ex-marketing director at ScottishPower) and our new creative heads Doug (Cook) and Martin (Gillan), the former a D&AD award winner. It is important to understand the pressure that clients are under. I don’t think that there are many agencies that hope to charge a big fat retainer and do very little for it that still exist any more.”
Adding to the roll of big name client-side directors to enlist with Frame is Mark Maclean, who has joined Frame from NTL, where he held the position of commercial director of the company’s sports arm. He now heads up FrameTM, the agency’s newly launched sports marketing company.
Maclean, a former Scottish professional squash partner of Frame – and once rated seventh in the world – who, until now, has been sitting quietly, unable to get a word in, smiles by way of an introduction.
“The move made sense,” says Maclean. “The company had a lot of good sporting clients, and, with the experience we have, we know that we have something genuine to offer.
“Sports marketing needs more creativity. It’s all banners and boards. It’s like sausage rolls at a function.”
Already FrameTM has notched up record attendance figures at the Scottish Grand National for its clients Gala and the Daily Record, both sponsors of the event. Furthermore, FrameTM has pulled off a major coup, securing snooker’s Scottish Open Circuit Championships, where it will be charged with all the promotion, marketing and sponsorship for the event.
“It’s not about selling ad space, it is about placing the best client into the best vehicle,” adds Maclean. “It is a very client-led approach, and I think that that fits well with the Frame agency approach.” A tactic that seems to be working.
FrameTM is also now working with NFL Europe to compile the marketing for this year’s World Bowl, an event that boasts one of the biggest sporting audiences in the UK, a global audience of 200m and a capacity crowd at Hampden Park.
“The sports market is really a buyers’ market. Although the publicity surrounding sports and marketing has been negative of late, people are still spending a great deal of money and it throws open some massive opportunities.”
Over the 18 months since Frame bought Cunningham’s share of the business the agency has grown from £1.8m to £2.6m (not including FrameTM).
“We’re growing by building in people. It’s an organic growth through the investment that we have made in our people.
“We recently spent £30,000 doing a marketing job on ourselves. We brought in a company, Walk On The Wild Side – two former Saatchi planners – to discover our brand essence. What we discovered was that our strengths lay in our Glasgow roots and our West Coast work ethic. And I suppose that is us. We don’t pretend to be anyone else. Advertising is a team game. And we are not too proud to do anything that will help our clients. There is no job too small.
“To grow organically you have to re-invest in the people that make it happen, spread the wealth. For example, everyone at the agency is incentivised and if we meet our turnover targets the staff will get 5, 10, 15 per cent of their salary added to their pay packet. We also run a holiday voucher scheme whereby staff are rewarded by travel vouchers and holiday time.
“There is a lot made of going to IPA training initiatives and courses, but who’s actually investing in it? We’ve been sending both clients and creatives to training courses and conferences in Scotland and in London. It doesn’t hurt to invest in a client’s business. The more they understand what we, as an industry, can do for them, and the better educated they are, then the more they will be able to understand how we can work with them to benefit their business.
“Everyone bemoans the fact that clients aren’t spending enough time with agencies and that there is not enough access to people in senior roles. This can only help. But, again, it comes down to putting your hand in your pocket to invest in the industry that we rely on.
“Too often in this industry it’s all take, take, take. Yet so few agencies actually give anything back.”
This re-investment is extended outwith the agency too, as Frame offers the company’s services to the Glasgow Homelessness Network: “We’re doing well, so why not give something back?” He shrugs, as his fork takes another plunge into the rich salmon pasta. “It’s all about relationships and how you conduct yourself.
“We want to create something great. But that needn’t apply just to the creative output. It includes paying all contractors on time, investing in the staff, everything we do ... even the small things.”
While Frame, on his own admission, may still be looking to enjoy success in the Scottish market, the agency has enjoyed greater relationships with clients south of the border, counting Gala and Laurel amongst the ever-growing client list.
“We have been navel-gazing recently, looking at ourselves and building the business. Now we are in a position to move forward. But I still think that a great deal of clients in Scotland, especially in this environment, are perhaps averse to change. If they don’t know or understand an agency then they don’t want to do it. There is such a small focus in Scotland. Often people see no further than their pals and peers. Maybe for that reason we didn’t register.”
Frame is now looking to invest again and purchase his own agency building, having earmarked a recently converted property in Merchant City to help fuel his expansion and make room for the workforce to man the ideas factory.
“I wonder what it takes to be perceived as one of Scotland’s top ten agencies?” Frame ponders over his coffee. “We have more people than most (28), more profit than most, and yet we are still often overlooked. Maybe people are starting to see us as a threat – we are getting harder to ignore. But we have done our own thing, made it all up, if you like, and it has worked. We now know the rules, but that doesn’t mean that we play by them.”