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By The Drum, Administrator

August 4, 2003 | 5 min read

London is the capital city of all things advertising. Whether above- or below-the-line, traditional or new media, they’ve still got what it takes. There are, however, a few logistical considerations to bear in mind – particularly where travelling is concerned. A couple of hours to get into the centre is sensible if you’re travelling by car from the North. That’s the North of London. Perhaps you need a bit longer if you’re starting from the North of England.

Parking may also prove a little difficult. Or, perhaps, impossible. But the congestion charge is fun to arrange and a complete hoot if you forget.

As an alternative, you could take the train. There’s a new service and new route launching between Manchester and London. Standard open return fare (that means second class in old money) is coming down to £136 from £175. Bargain or what? Compare that with the price of petrol and ... well ... add about a hundred pounds.

But don’t be cynical, you get more working time on the journey because the new route takes longer. They’ve thought of everything.

Hang on. What am I thinking? Appoint an agency in London, and the problem is solved because they come to you. You can rely on penny-pinching account teams to find the cheapest way of making the journey and they will, of course, remember to book three weeks in advance to save money. They’ll also travel standard class and won’t worry if they have to stand up because the train’s packed. Or, if the agency’s senior people insist on sitting in first class, they’ll be happy to pay without recharging the cost. Yeah, right.

Call me old fashioned, but this otherwise rampantly cynical introduction has a certain resonance. But only because it’s true.

So why is it – despite all of these obvious disadvantages – that agencies in the South are still frequently appointed by major clients in the North?

The answer is frighteningly simple. It’s fear.

“Nobody ever got fired for appointing a big London agency” is the prevailing, predictable theme. I’ve worked for several of the biggest and know how comforting that feeling is.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a Northern client appointing a London agency if it is the best match for that client. But too often, that’s not so. The CEO of a first-class Northern agency recently confided that a pitch had been lost even though the client had admitted their creative proposals were better. But the big name in London had done “OK”. They hadn’t excelled but neither had they screwed up. Appointing them was an easier internal sell for the client decision-maker.

So, even if invited to pitch, the odds can be stacked against you if you’re opposing a London heavyweight. In the worst cases, you have to win by a massive margin to ensure the result is fair, because the fight won’t be.

So here’s a thought. Why don’t we all get together and do something about it by orchestrating a sea change in the way marketeers think? Let’s turn the tide on London and let everyone know about the staggering talent that’s waiting to be exploited in the North.

We’re already pretty good at trying harder, a proven successful strategy. We’re also hungrier, grittier and fantastic fun to work with – as well as being able to offer a more cost-effective service.

There’s an emergence of creative work produced by Northern agencies that reflects the sheer excitement I remember from CDP in the 70s. It’s sexy, dangerous and wants to be worshipped. But it’s also got an incredibly tedious hook to it because it demands results.

Working in the agency that nurtured Alan Parker, David Puttnam and Ridley Scott was an amazing privilege. But for every long-running, award-winning, piece of Hamlet-like creative inspiration, there were also forgotten failures that mis-spent client budgets and degraded their bottom line. It couldn’t happen now, and it shouldn’t have happened then.

But this new breed of Northern creative talent which captures the spirit of CDP’s heyday also embraces the new millennium demands of accountability. Inspire the customers as well as the awards judges. Make money for your client and make a reputation for yourself.

I’m a Londoner by birth and have worked with London agencies for most of the past 30 years so I’d be pretty naïve to knock them. But life moves on. I’ve moved on. The creative groundswell across the North of England, centred on the North West, means that the London monopoly on big-budget, big-brand business is weakening. There is now a real choice.

Through exciting developments like the North West Creative Alliance, there’s a powerful new platform for the region’s advertising resource. It will match the corporate strength and gravitas of many single agencies in London. And it will extend its reach into pan-European and global networks.

Before long, it will become the norm for global accounts to migrate to England’s North for creative inspiration. If we try really hard, we can also clog up our major cities with traffic before imposing widespread congestion charges. Keep watching London, we can take you on at anything.

Ray Hanks is a director of Business Link North and is former managing director of Wunderman Worldwide.


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