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South West Focus

By The Drum | Administrator

June 26, 2003 | 15 min read

Armed with a map, a bucket and spade and money to buy an ice cream, Adline prepared for its tour of the South West, or so we thought. The tourism industry may be worth an estimated £6 billion to its regional economy and the region can boast more than a half of England’s protected heritage coastline, but the South West has far more to its credit than these traditional stereotypes and facts.

A suggested £400 million is being injected into regeneration projects throughout the region, a clear signal of the direction it is heading. Industry and commerce in the region paints a similar picture. Swindon is home to IT plants and a Honda car factory, Bristol is a centre for a thriving financial sector and Exeter is about to welcome the £1m move of the Met Office, which is relocating from Berkshire to just outside the city.

Our travels initially took us to Bristol, a city that, according to those who work there, is a very busy part of the country.

David Merrifield, MD of Dutton Merrifield, said, “Bristol has a very big financial bias. Companies such as Clerical Medical, Axa Sunlife, Nat West, Lloyds TSB, Hill House Hammond are all in this area.”

This bias surely does not harm the economy for the region. “The South West is a thriving business area. There is a lot going on in the city and there is certainly enough going on to sustain the agencies here,” he adds.

“Bristol is a vibrant city,” agrees Mel Burton, operations director at McCann-Erickson Bristol. “I have been here 10 years and the city has got everything that London has, but without the hassle.”

Bristol is also popular amongst students. Direct Marketing Partnership’s managing director, Emma Simpson-Jarrett, said, “Bristol is a student city so there is a real buzz about the place and there is a lot going on.”

Bristol’s combination of buildings rich in history and the continued new developments make for a picturesque city that may have been unlucky in missing out with its European Capital of Culture bid.

Nick Bacon, managing director of Bristol-based BCLO, said, “It’s a lovely city and is coming out of a recessionary period. It is the second largest financial centre outside of London, though I would imagine Edinburgh would argue with that.”

But Bristolians are not the only people singing the praises of the hometown of their business.

RPG is based in Cheltenham and managing director Mike Humphreys says: “Cheltenham is a very wealthy town, it has a number of important companies and is a healthy part of the country.”

Meanwhile account manager for Factor 3, Prabha Patel, adds: “Cheltenham is well known as a good centre for creativity.”

Lucy Ferrier from Exeter-based Absolute PR says, “There is a lot going on in the South West and it is a nice place to live. People don’t just come here to retire anymore.”

Richard Marsh of RH Advertising is also enthusiastic about Exeter: “There is a very vibrant business community and there is lots happening in this part of the world. It’s growing fast and the influx of people is incredible,” he says.

John Moreno, managing director of Bray Leino in Filleigh near Barnstaple, part of the US-based DVC Group, says: “People think that you must be stupid starting a business like this here. I actually think you must be smarter. You get to do great work for great clients and your quality of life is much better than living in a city centre. I think we have got a west-coast America feeling out here.”

One agency that set up base in Barnstaple in May this year is Horizon Partnership. Offering services such as direct marketing, brochures, branding and consultancy, the team behind the operation has been attracted by the amount of work that is available. Head of business development Neil Fenton said, “We specialise in medium-sized companies that are based here in the South West and there are plenty here.”

Ewan Thomas, managing director of Thomas Media Consultants in Thornbury, has also spotted the trend: “There is a new breed of marketing companies coming in. There is plenty of work to be had in this area.”

Bearing this praise in mind, where do South West agencies get their clients? Is there enough in the region to sustain all of the agencies? And if not, how can they attract clients from out of town, or even from London?

Thomas, who used to handle the Asda account at JWT Manchester, is very pleased with how his agency’s client base is developing. He said, “Since October, we have won nine new pieces of business. We do lots of networking and get new business leads from that – we find the best time to pitch is when you are really busy.” Thomas Media Consultants has clients that include Wella, Wadworth 6X, the University of Glamorgan and Palletways.

Dutton Merrifield has a client list that proves there is work to be had locally and that it is possible to get work in from outside the region; that list includes Hutchinson 3G, Lloyds TSB, Sunjuice and Bristol Zoo. However, Merrifield does believe there is a problem attracting national clients. “I feel that some clients still view us as West-Country yokels with straw between our teeth. We are not, we live and work in a fantastic area and have a great quality of life,” he stated.

One way to combat the misconception has been to open a serviced office in London on Shaftesbury Avenue. “Having that facility allows us to stay in London and work in London between meetings and to be on hand for clients. Some people perhaps assume that I actually live in London and not just outside Bristol,” Merrifield adds.

McCann-Erickson Bristol is also in a fortunate position as Burton explains: “Local agencies have as much to offer clients as the London agencies. As for us, we are fortunate to have a national presence, which we can offer clients at regional prices.”

The integrated communications agency has major clients such as HSA Healthcare and has recently won The Link and Kohler.

Mel Burton explained why he believes these big clients have chosen a regional agency. “They would not get the high level of service that they get here if they were with a London agency. They may get a great creative product, but nobody would put in the work to develop an integrated piece of business,” he said.

One agency that shares this view is PR agency Corixa. Tony Bloomer, director of the Bristol-based consultancy, says: “Clients do not get the access to senior members in London that they do with regional agencies.”

In fact Corixa doesn’t have any Bristol-based clients: “They are mostly national. Overheads in Bristol are lower. Therefore, we can offer our clients better value for money – we give them London experience at a much better price,” Bloomer adds. Corixa’s client base includes Cuprinol, Dulux and the Greene King Pub Company.

Arno-Fords is another Bristol-based agency, this time specialising in point of purchase and retail solutions. International sales director Mark Aspin is pleased with the current state of the industry, especially in the South West: “Point of purchase is finally being given the exposure it deserves; a recent study has suggested it is three to four times more effective than advertising.”

He adds: “Geography is not a problem, the growth of Bristol Airport has been very important to us and we are all just lucky to live in this city.” Arno-Ford’s clients include Timberland, Samsung, Nestlé and Barclays Bank.

With a team of 42, full service agency BCLO has a number of major clients under its belt. It works with Yamaha, Galileo, Cuprinol, Star Internet and Tool Station and also has a number of major clients for whom BCLO PR produce work.

Bacon is clear on what he thinks South West agencies have to their advantage: “If a client is looking for quality, of thinking without getting ripped off then we are in the right place for that. Recession works in our favour as we have lower overheads. The agency sells itself aggressively to go get business and there is always business if you are any good.” He added, “Most of our clients are based up and down the M4. We have a few clients in Bristol.”

Rhythmm is an agency frequently mentioned while visiting the region. The agency’s managing director Steve Hall said, “Ourselves and BCLO are the more substantial agencies in Bristol, then there are the smaller ones.”

The formally named JPH does work with Bristol & West and many other local and national clients. Despite the size, there are still obstacles in attracting new business, Bacon adds: “There is certainly a prejudice to overcome, being based out of London brings a ‘regionality’ label.”

With clients such as Barclays, Barclaycard, Norwich Union and Reader’s Digest, to name a few, DMP’s managing director Simpson-Jarrett said: “We compete on a national level but most of our clients are based a long way from Bristol. In fact, we have no client within 100 miles from our office.” She continued, “The road, rail and air links are so good to and from the city.”

Also making use of the picturesque and well-connected location of Bristol is Golley Slater, which has an office in the city. Its clients include Cornwall Tourist Board and Mitsubishi Motors, thus allowing the national agency to maintain a regional identity.

Outside of Bristol, Cheltenham agencies have the same “London for Londoners” problem to overcome but are similarly buoyant about the client base they have and the advantages they have to offer.

Humphreys of RPG says: “Inevitably, there is a London profile but there has always been a role for regional agencies and we are only 90 minutes from London.”

Factor 3’s Patel dismissed that being based in Cheltenham might hinder their relationship with clients or even their ability to attract clients: “Location problems are not an issue. Our speed of response, service and creativity ensure that.”

In Bournemouth, The Walker Agency is achieving success with business out of town.

Managing director Martin Walker says: “We’ve had success pulling clients in from out of town. We pitch nationally and compete with agencies in London, not Bournemouth.” He continued, “We are realistic of which clients to pitch for but we are not restricted to the South Coast.”

The Walker Agency can boast of its continued work with Yes Car Credit, “We are effectively their external marketing department. We have been with them since the start and hope to develop the brand further in the future,” he adds.

Another agency in the popular seaside town is Marketing Matters. Its clients include Sunseeker International, Black Horse and Proton Cars.

MD Jeremy Gee said, “We have won a lot of new business recently, the problems faced with location is not as prevalent as in the past.”

Poole-based integrated communications agency Design Group works hard to ensure location is not a problem when attracting and keeping clients. Dan Vivian of Design Group comments: “We do not want our clients to suffer from us being out of town – we invest massively in technology to maintain excellent communications. ”Its client base includes Royal Mail, Toshiba and Sony.

With a team of three, Absolute PR and Marketing was launched 18 months ago by Rachel Whitson and has already scored a number of major clients. Most recently has been the signing of a deal with Connaught. However, the agency also works closely with clients within the region.

RH Advertising does work with both national and local clients, most notably, Flybe, Telewest Broadband and the South West Development Agency, a client with whom it works to attract business and tourism to the region. Despite the impressive client base, MD Richard Marsh has felt the impact that not being a London-based agency can have: “We have suffered from the perception problems attached to not being a London agency. However, a lot of clients enjoy coming to Exeter for meetings, especially on Fridays, so they can have a weekend away.”

Bray Leino has a client base that includes Wrigleys Extra, Kalms, Schloer and Ginsters, amongst many more as John Moreno explains: “Our clients are based all over the country. Clients can come to us here, and they do, and we have full teleconferencing facilities.” He continued, “Location has become less of an issue because we can PDF things to clients for approval.”

For this steady flow of work into the region to continue, agencies must ensure they offer clients the best service and the best quality work. For this to be possible, agencies must recruit the right talent. So how do regional agencies attract national talent? And does the South West have enough to attract them?

DMP’s Simpson-Jarrett believes things are changing for the better. “Before, it was quite difficult to get people to come from London but now Bristol is becoming a very attractive option for those looking to get out of London. The agencies here can offer real careers.”

Burton of McCanns Bristol shares a similar opinion; he describes Bristol as “a city that people want to live in.” The sentiment that Bristol is a great city to live in is echoed by almost all the agencies based there. Bloomer of Corixa pinpointed the “quality of life” as the main draw for new recruits. He added, “There is a steady supply of people coming out of London. That benefits the whole area because these people get great experience in London and bring that back with them.”

TDA in Cheltenham is finding the same trend, managing director Heather Westgate says: “We are getting heavyweight people aged 30+ who have already been to London.”

Marsh of RH Advertising adds: “Once a week we get a call from someone wanting to make the move from London and you’d be surprised by the high profile of the people that are willing to move here.”

Despite this, some agencies still find problems bringing in a steady flow of talented people.

RAW Media’s Peter Wyrill says: “Our location never causes a problem attracting clients because of the standard of communication today. The hardest thing is to recruit.”

Bray Leino is an agency that, through reputation and client base, claims it can attract the same calibre of staff that you would expect of a major London agency, with ease, despite its location.

Moreno says: “We don’t have a problem recruiting. Many of our staff are from London although we do have a graduate trainee scheme. We like to grow our own.”

While Bray Leino may be a step up from the majority of South West agencies, it appears most share the view that recruiting is not the problem it used to be. And that with a better quality of life, strong client bases and an opportunity to work on exciting projects, the region is an attractive option for talented agency staff.

So what does the future hold for the marketing agencies in the South West? Marsh is clear about the future for RH Advertising stating: “Our challenge is to prove ourselves internationally and nationally.”

Thomas is also confident of Thomas Media Consultant’s future: “We have developed carefully and steadily and will continue to do that. We are pitching for some big names at the moment.”

So the business is still coming. Will this continue or will the bubble burst? Hall of Rhythmm said, “I think certain cities have their times. Bristol is a city on the up, there is a renewed confidence.”

Corixa’s Bloomer shares the view: “Bristol will develop as it has done over the last few years.” However, he added, “It is a shame there are not more agencies doing something clever and different. There has to be scope for it in the future.”

Merrifield believes the future is bright. He states, “The region has a good community of agencies. There are lots of companies coming to the area, which is making it an even more thriving community.”

Bacon believes the opportunities are in the region and should be had. “I suppose at BCLO we plough quite a lonely furrow as an ad agency here and we would love to see a renaissance.”

With the Met Office and other large organisations heading West and agencies following suit in search of new business and a quality of life, the region is unequivocally “thriving”. Go see for yourself.

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