Rock steady crew

By The Drum | Administrator

October 24, 2003 | 10 min read

Original Shoe Co. by Paligap.

As you drive into Ayrshire, the differences from Glasgow and Edinburgh’s big city areas become immediately apparent. For one thing your car is actually moving. Constantly. There are no stationary commuters for as far as the eye can see, no irritated horn-blasting. In fact, for those of us braving the horrors of the M8 every morning, the ingress is a little freakish. It’s almost too easy.

Famed for its coast and, perhaps better yet, the route you take to find it, Ayrshire has more to offer than just pretty scenery and stress-free commuting. In addition to these more aesthetic pleasures, the region is also home to a growing marketing community.

Though Scotland’s bigger cities boast the larger agencies, Ayrshire has a number of flourishing companies, which are doing work both for local and national clients.

One such is Paligap, a full service agency in Ayr. The firm handles every aspect of marketing for 11 of its clients, with a total client list of 118 companies. In this roster are companies such as County Saab and Original Shoe Company.

Paligap creative director and co-founder Stephen Cosh says: “We founded the company in Ayr because we’re from Ayr. At the time we set up, the bulk of our business was from Ayr. Now it’s 11 per cent. Most of our business now comes from nationals. About 18 months ago we contemplated moving to Glasgow. We even put down a deposit on offices. But we sat in here one night and all decided we didn’t want to go to Glasgow. There are commuting problems, there’s being away from home problems. It just wasn’t worth it.”

“There used to be an assumption that the level of skill didn’t exist outside the cities, and that’s not true,” comments Alex Knox, managing director of Advertising Works. “We could have set up in Glasgow. I worked there for a number of years, but this is a more pleasant place to live, a more pleasant place to work and the skills are here locally.”

In fact, rather than merely existing outwith the larger marketing communities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, both of Ayrshire’s largest agencies believe that being based where they are can provide a distinct advantage for winning business. Cosh says: “The changes that are happening in the marketing world are actually a positive thing for a lot of smaller agencies. Advertising is changing drastically all around the world. It’s not just a Scottish thing, and it’s not doom and gloom. In the old days people used to spend a lot on separate specialists, but now they don’t have the money. People are a lot more advertising-savvy now and are going for the full service agencies. More small agencies are coming through now and biting at the big guys.

“Our location certainly hasn’t put off our clients. We’re dealing with some big, big companies and they’re not bothered at all. We picked up a London-based client two weeks ago. It was a three-way pitch, we were the only Scottish agency there and we won it. Location is just not an issue. There’s nothing a London, Glasgow or Edinburgh agency can do that we can’t do.”

Knox agrees that cost, and its increasing importance in the minds of marketing decision-makers, is a definite advantage for Ayrshire’s agencies. He says: “One advantage is we have lower overheads. We don’t have pukka offices here. It’s a nice working area but it’s not posh, not compared to some of the offices in the big cities. We don’t spend as much on our appearance. There are fewer overheads and therefore we are able to charge less than the city agencies do.”

So, agencies in the area are capable of expanding outside their borders for business. But what about inside those borders? Is there business to be had within Ayrshire itself?

Apparently, while clients outside the area are increasingly investing within it, it’s the area’s own client companies that are spending in other places.

Web design consultancy Cube and graphic design consultancy Fusion share offices in Ayr. The companies both have separate clients, but also collaborate on several projects.

Chris Dempsey of Cube says: “I think some people are just in the habit of going to Glasgow for certain kinds of work, unless you actually go round to the people’s offices and tell them it can be done here, to get the business. There’s plenty of business to be had, it’s just the usual thing of convincing people to come to a smaller, less known company.”

Kenny Cullen, director of Fusion, agrees. “I think there’s definitely enough work to go around, and enough that we’re not treading on other people in the area’s toes to get it,” he remarks. “I think the main thing is to build up word of mouth about the companies in the area.”

Perhaps more disturbing, however, is an apparent bias towards the big cities from some of the local public bodies. Knox explains: “One area that is of concern to me, and has been of concern to others, is that we are good enough to attract business from outside the area but quite often do not get the chance to pitch for some of the public bodies in the area. It seems to be they think if they’re not with a Glasgow or Edinburgh agency there’s something wrong. There seems to be a feeling that they have to go to one of the big names.”

Dempsey, however, remains confident that local accounts currently being handled elsewhere can be brought back to roost in Ayrshire. He says: “I think there’s plenty of scope to take some of the big accounts from Glasgow. There are more people in the area saying that they’ve had bad jobs done in Glasgow than saying they’ve had a bad job done locally.”

Stealing accounts back from Glasgow or Edinburgh (or down south, for that matter) is one way of expanding the client portfolio, but others in Ayrshire have found alternative routes.

One such company is Echo, a graphic and interiors company based in Ayr and Troon. The company was formed last year when interior designer Sandrina Gilligan teamed up with graphic designer Lynn McKenna, who’d just relocated from London. The pair were introduced through a networking event arranged by Scottish Enterprise, and soon realised the potential for a joint venture. Gilligan explains: “People talk about branding and they mean a corporate identity, logo, stationery and so forth, but I think it should go further than that. Branding should be from the inside out. I met Lynn and she had the same thought as me.”

Echo’s proposition is basically to offer small to medium-sized companies something they can’t get elsewhere – a complete branding design, from the company’s offices right through to logo, stationery and marketing literature. A brand overhaul.

“I don’t think there are any other companies locally that do interiors and graphics,” comments Gilligan. “There are some in Glasgow but we don’t really go for the same clients. We tend to go for the people that wouldn’t normally commission interior designers. It’s a new market. It’s convincing people that it’s not going to break the bank, it can save you money in the long term and it can actually enhance your business.”

The company has just finished a project with a Largs-based company, and is currently working with property developer Meridian Homes. McKenna has also brought with her graphic design work for Shell UK.

Yet while Echo is providing a new service within the marketing sector, others have decided to expand outside it altogether.

The McAlpine Partnership was launched in October 2000 by Gary McAlpine. A graphic designer by trade, McAlpine had worked at several companies in the Glasgow area before breaking away to form his own consultancy.

“We never really got into business from an empire-building point of view,” he says. “It was more a lifestyle choice. I got bored of commuting up and down the A77 or whatever. I wanted to be with my family. The aim was to match what I was making in full-time employment, and we’re almost there.”

However, McAlpine has noticed an increasingly competitive marketplace opening up in graphic design. Consequently, being a small company, McAlpine has found it difficult competing against larger consultancies on a pitch-by-pitch basis.

“I find it very hard to be a small company pitching against the bigger companies because it’s very expensive. I’ve done pitches before and just narrowly missed out and it’s cost me a lot of money. I don’t think I’d be interested in pitching outside of the area, to be honest. We have no aspirations to be a Scott Stern or a Blue Peach.”

Instead, the McAlpine Partnership has looked outside of the graphic design sector for revenue. Making use of the traditionally quieter summer months, the consultancy joined forces with a number of professional photographers to launch a new company: is an e-commerce website that sells high-quality large-format photography. Retailing at between £175 and £375, depending on the size of the picture, the images on sale are mainly of Scottish landscapes, architecture and scenery, but also include images taken in London.

McAlpine explains: “I would say there are two main target categories for photolatitude. It’s a luxury product, so first of all people have to be in a certain wage bracket. We’re looking at the North American golf market, people who have visited some of the places we have photographs of.

“Target two would be the corporate market. We’re targeting businesses, both overseas and at home, that want quality pictures for their offices, to make staff or customers more relaxed.”

The website was soft-launched a month ago, and web-optimisation work has been underway to secure a place near the top of a search-engine’s results. The McAlpine Partnership has also designed a brochure for the site, which, through an alliance with the Argyll, the Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling and the Trossachs Tourist Board, will be distributed in visitor centres at a number of Scottish visitor attractions.

The Ayrshire marketing community, whether it’s the established players like Paligap and Advertising Works or the younger turks such as Fusion, Cube or Echo, certainly appears to share a feeling of optimism. In today’s marketplace it is increasingly unnecessary to be based on a client’s doorstep, meaning that Scottish agencies, regardless of where they are based, are free to expand and, hopefully, win business from companies based miles away.

It seems a shame that some of the area’s own client companies and, worse yet, its public bodies don’t share this optimism. As with marketing anywhere, it is always disappointing when clients, usually unfairly, think they can get better elsewhere. Perhaps it is time for Ayrshire’s agencies to begin shouting a little louder. Without all those rush-hour car horns blaring, we might just hear them.


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