Barkers Scotland

By The Drum, Administrator

July 21, 2003 | 8 min read

New managing director Chris wallace, advertising director Andy Jones, joint creative director nick Lang and advertising director Mike Kemsley

After ten years of hard graft at Barkers Scotland, Chris Wallace has taken up the reigns as the agency’s new managing director as former boss Robert Bain moves on. Dave Hunter meets the man tasked with taking the thinking man’s agency forward and returning it to its former glory.

A lot can happen in ten years. A decade ago, for example, the world was welcoming a fresh-faced and respectable new US president to the White House, safe in the knowledge that the days of President Bush were far behind them. Elsewhere, cinema-goers trembled in their seats at the terrifyingly realistic dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, safe in the knowledge they’d never see anything like them again.

It’s also been ten years since a slightly disenchanted account executive joined Barkers Scotland, completely unaware that in a decade’s time he would be taking the managing director position from Robert Bain – who has now taken over as chief executive from the company’s London office.

When Chris Wallace joined Barkers it wasn’t as a newcomer to the industry. In fact, the new agency managing director started his marketing career on the client side of the industry. In those days, Wallace worked as a brand manager for Whyte & Mackay and it was here that he first developed an interest in the perceived glamour of the agency world.

He says: “As a client at Whyte & Mackay, I’d fly down once or twice a week to see my agency in London. I was exceptionally naïve. I went to see these bloody agencies, they laughed at all my jokes and showed me the new ads and I approved them, signed the invoices and that was that. I was daft enough and stupid enough to think that’s how it worked. The bit that I enjoyed most about my job as brand manager was the advertising, and so when I got sick of all the admin on the client side I thought ‘I’ll go and join an ad agency. I’ll be one of these people that it’s fun to be with.’”

He was in for a nasty shock, however, when taking up his first post on the agency side. Wallace was about to learn that not all is fun and games in the agency world.

“I joined this bloody awful mob called Hall Advertising.” Wallace remembers. “I managed to catch them just when – well, they had been in decline – when I joined them they were in a nosedive. I was exceptionally naïve, knew nothing about the industry in Scotland and at the time it was just the worst thing I’d ever done. They were the big guys, even then. I got them just as things were falling apart. I joined them and I worked on Tennents.

“Agencies survive on confidence and at that stage we were still trading on the old image and we weren’t actually able to deliver what the old image promised. We said ‘We’re the agency that gave the world “You Can’t Get Better Than a Kwik Fit Fitter”’. But nobody in the agency was capable of coming up with a new Kwik Fit Fitter campaign. If you’re going to trade on that, you’ve got to trade on what you can actually deliver.”

Following the loss of the Tennents account, Wallace parted company with Hall and spent the next year and a half lecturing in marketing, before joining Barkers Advertising.

“I was amazed to join an agency that was so stable, where nobody seemed to fret about whether their salary would get paid, whether something would happen with the clients. Where the whole atmosphere at meetings was far more long term and planned.”

The ten years since have been spent helping to build the agency’s client list and retain existing business – something Barkers is traditionally very good at. In an industry full of backbiting, gossip and high-profile fall-outs, Barkers is like a solid rock in the Scottish advertising sea.

The steady reputation is something the agency hasn’t always been proud of but, says Wallace, is now seen more as a help than hindrance. He remarks: “Sometimes in the past we have been characterised as being more like management consultants than advertising people, and it’s true that in the past we have lacked the showbiz element to our offering that other people maybe have. It’s only latterly that we’ve stopped fighting that and thought ‘Well, maybe that’s an asset. We like being seen as thoughtful. We like being seen as in love with the issue rather than our own image of ourselves.’ When we get involved in these campaigns we have no agenda other than to bring the best work. We’re not fighting the cause of good advertising, we’re not fighting the cause of creative advertising, whatever that is. We will go down whatever route best suits the client.”

This approach certainly seems to be working for the agency, which has just reported its best year to date between the Glasgow and Edinburgh offices. The last several months have also seen several new recruits to the agency including former Feather Brooksbank director Andy Jones, who has come on board to add his strategic thinking experience.

Wallace says: “We’ve taken on people like Andy Jones and when we unveiled him people said ‘Oh, you’re taking on Andy Jones, what’s he going to do for you, is it going to be in a media capacity?’ It wasn’t. We took him on because he has a brain and we needed people with brains to think round issues, and think through the benefits and hurdles.”

As well as Andy Jones, Wallace is also supported by the management team of managing director of advertising Andy Hughes, advertising director Mike Kemsley, creative director Nick Lang, finance director Ron Fotheringham and financial controller Malcolm Lowes.

Another development has been the reformation of a dedicated PR team – something Barkers in Scotland has been without for the past three years. The four-strong team is led by Jason Wassell and already handles accounts for the construction company Robertson Group and the Scottish Youth Hostel Association as well as working alongside the advertising side of the business on a number of other retained clients. The agency’s client list includes Forrest Furnishings, Behar Carpets, National Tyres and Exhaust and the Scottish Executive.

Yet, despite a strong year and continuing growth the more low-profile Barkers approach to its work has meant that the agency does not always receive the credit it feels it deserves. This is something, Wallace states, that he aims to change. “We want to be more extrovert, for sure,” he says. “We’ve done some good work and there’s a feeling that we don’t get recognition for it. We do take on the big boys and we get our fair share of results against them and yet perhaps the current perception is that we’re not competing on the same field as them.”

Aside from raising the agency’s profile, however, Wallace seems intent on further developing the company’s main strength – namely its brainpower. He says: “The kind of outfit I’m going to try and lead is where everybody has involvement. Where it is incumbent upon anybody working on an account on any level to test the strategy, think about it. The drawback of having a planning department is that planning is seen as something that’s done down the corridor and you, as account managers, get told to implement the high lofty thoughts that they’ve come up with and don’t worry your pretty little head about whether it works or not. It alienates people. It’s so weird for an industry that employs so many graduates and so many people who are far more qualified than I ever was who want to come and work in this industry – and what the industry tends to do is give them process to do for years on end. We encourage all our people to really get into the bones of it, challenge creative, challenge the media partners, challenge the partners of the process.”

With the agency in a strong position, a steady stream of new clients and staff joining and Wallace at the helm, who knows where Barkers will go over the next ten years?


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