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Scottish Advertising Awards

By The Drum | Administrator

November 6, 2003 | 13 min read

It's party time!

Creative League Commentary

As little as three years ago, perhaps few in Scottish advertising would have raised their hands if asked whether they thought The Union would be the most creative agency in Scotland in the near future. Since its birth The Union has become renowned for its solid strategic planning, its quality of account handling and client service and its overall stability in the business arena. But with the results at this year’s Scottish Advertising awards, coupled with last year’s success, The Union has consolidated its position as a leader in Scottish creativity.

The Union rightfully sits at the top of the Creative League this year, toppling the creative might of The Leith Agency, which has seemed unassailable for so many years.

In total, the Edinburgh-based advertising agency, headed up by managing director Ian McAteer, joint creative directors Simon Scott and Andrew Lindsay and planning director Mark Reid, collected nine awards last Friday evening and seven commendations for a wide range of very different clients spanning the public and private sector.

The winning work was created for Lothian & Borders Fire Brigade, Jane Davidson and Olympian, the Scottish IPA, the National Galleries of Scotland and Acupuncturist.

In seven years the agency’s directors have not only built an agency with a solid foundation based upon a wide range of clients, they have now stamped their mark as a real creative force to be reckoned with in Scotland.

That is perhaps not a surprise with experienced hands such as Simon Scott and Andrew Lindsay at the helm, more than ably backed up by creatives such as Michael Hart, Don Smith and Ruth Yees, to name a few.

Reputations are hard won and creative reputations are even harder fought for. The year ahead will be interesting for The Union as Simon Scott takes a sabbatical. But the future for Scottish creativity will be even more so. The Leith will not enjoy losing its creative crown and will fight tooth and nail to reclaim its throne. With the closure of Faulds, one rivalry has died. But where there is death there is life. A new creative rivalry has now been born, one that will ensure the continuance of creative excellence in Scotland.

They reap glory at the awards, they fly off to exotic destinations on TV shoots, they come to work in jeans and T-shirts and they play pool and table-football whilst brainstorming ideas. From the outside, the life of an advertising creative looks pretty rosy. It’s not all rosy though. Late nights, coffee-dependencies, job insecurities and dropping budgets all lead to the den of activity that is the creative department too.

But what are the biggest challenges facing creative heads when trying to squeeze the highest level of creativity from a department full of caffeine-fuelled, scruffy, well-travelled pool enthusiasts?

First, there are a number of perennial problems with the creative industry as a whole, says Simon Scott, joint creative director at The Union: “You can look at it like putting together a squad of football players. You can only work to the means that you have – budget, ability and availability. It’s a smaller market, yet there are more players.

“If you see an advertising agency as a funnel, the creative department is very much at the sharp end of the funnel. If the agency is squeezed, it all comes down to the creative department.”

Adrian Jefferies, creative director at 1576, believes that one of the greatest challenges that creatives are facing is a change in the size of the budget: “The drop in client budgets is often seen as a problem, but it shouldn’t be. What it does mean is that now, more than ever, you need to have a really strong idea. That is the challenge.

“Big London agencies have the budgets to buy themselves out of a problem. In Scotland the creative departments have to be a great deal cleverer.

“When you move into a recession, clients can become more cautious. The challenge is to convince clients that brave work still works, even in a tight economy.”

Yet the tightening of the economy is not always seen as a bad thing by creative directors. Jonathan D’Aguilar, creative director at The Bridge, says that in some respects the recent economy can make the job easier.

“The job of running a creative department has been made easier as the job market has been freed up. Recruitment is a hell of a lot easier, both from London and Scotland.

“One of the hardest tasks in running a creative department, though, regardless of the economy, is keeping staff motivated.

“In this job you get a lot of rejection. 99 per cent of the ideas that are created are binned, be it internally, by clients or in research – that is just one of the hard facts of advertising.

“One of the hardest, yet most important, skills in running a creative department is to be able to turn down work, yet stop heads from dropping if work is turned away. You have to be positive in your criticism and communicate well. You have to talk to the staff – enthuse, encourage and have fun.

“You don’t always get all your decisions right and sometimes decisions are hard to make, but you have to make them.”

Advertising is not about focusing on the negatives, agrees Jefferies, “As it says on our doormat: ‘Smile – it’s meant to be a fun business’.

“This is advertising, not accountancy. We should still be trying to have fun.

“You want to have an atmosphere where people want to get up in the morning and come to work.”

The “smile, this is a fun business” philosophy is shared by Scott and Lindsay at The Union, and they admit that the surroundings in an agency often lead to a more creative outlook.

“I think buying this building, the old church, has been one of the best things that we have ever done,” says Scott. “It is a great environment for creative people to work in. It’s bright, airy and optimistic.”

The Union’s always had a good creative reputation, but is that down to the creative directors?

“It’s down to the agency as a whole – the clients, the opportunities that we get and, I suppose, attitudes and people.

“We usually try to hire better than has gone. A lot of egos govern the hiring in agencies, which means very often that the people hiring do not want to bring in staff who are better than themselves. They don’t want to dent their egos. I’d like to think that we don’t hire from a narrow stratum.

“We have been very successful in putting together creative teams, including Dougal (Wilson) and Gareth (Howells) and Phil (Evans) and Guy (Vickerstaff).

“Sometimes you think that people will work well together, but they turn out to be a disaster. We’d like to think that we have a good ability to spot people who can be better if paired with the right partner.

“In the past we have fired teams, only to rehire them months later. You often have to be ruthless. Fair and honest, but ruthless.”

And perhaps it is this attitude that earned the pair the tag of “the last butchers of Dundas Street” during their time at Faulds.

One thing that creative directors agree on is that when briefs come in they should be shared, and opportunities to work on the exciting as well as the mundane should be divided equally too.

Lindsay says: “Working in a creative department you need to know a lot about lot of things. For some clients you need to have a great deal of product knowledge, but generally we try to give each brief to three or four teams. Give out the ‘shit with the sugar’, if you like. It’s quite often that Simon and I get to shovel the shit.”

“When a brief comes in, it is down to the creative director to decide who gets it,” says Jefferies. “But there are no set teams to work on a set account. It comes down to work loads and personality. You have to know the people that you work with and play to their strengths.”

Martin Gillan, creative director at Frame©, agrees: “Everyone gets a crack at every brief. They work on everything we do, though nothing leaves the building without our signatures. And, in a physical sense, we don't care where they come up with their ideas, just so long as they're on brief, on time, and if at all possible, brilliant.

“We try to lead by example. Our attitude is very much ‘every brief is an opportunity’. We hope we've created an ‘anything is possible’ kind of environment. Our door is always open, and if we're not there, they know which hostelries we frequent.”

D’Aguilar adds: “You have to be as fair as possible in the opportunities that you give people by sharing the briefs, no matter the experience of the teams.

It can be demotivating if the creative director takes all the best briefs. And it does happen.

“The creative director shouldn’t be doing too much work on the briefs. They cannot be so involved in their own work that they don’t have the time to work with the team. The creative directors’ man management duties are very much underestimated.”

At the end of the day, the business of creativity is one that Scotland is proud of, be it because of its inventive pedigree or its hard-working budgets.

“This is the business of less. There is less time, less budget, less briefing – less of everything,” says Andrew Lindsay. “It’s a strange alchemy, but people can do what’s required, even under the ‘less’ circumstances.”

Creativity in Scotland is as strong as ever. It needs to be. It is all about the quality of thinking and ideas. It always has been, but now more so than ever before.

“Crispin Porter and Bogusky have sprung up out of Miami,” says Gillan. “You've got places like Kessels Kramer in Amsterdam, and Different in Newcastle getting plaudits too.

“We don't see why Frame© can't do the same from West Regent Street in Glasgow and, when you've got fledgling agencies like Family, Newhaven and Bond coming up, there has to be a future for creativity in Scotland, doesn't there?” I guess there does.

JUDGES COMMENTS

GARY SHARPEN, formerly of Saatchi & Saatchi

and Leonardo

“There were a number of pieces that we really admired. And it was good to see great work in a mixture of media especially direct marketing and on-line. But what really caught my imagination was the piece for the charity Human Writes. It was passionate but logical. Clever, but simple. Excellent copy, art direction and typography.”

MARC GIUSTI, Wheel

“Of all the work we saw (tables and tables of it) I was most impressed by the quality of Illustration and Typography, Art Direction following a close second. Digital too was well represented, proving that even in a tough industry climate, great ideas and lateral creative thinking still shine through – bold and bright. As a London-based creative director with a newly opened Glasgow office, I’m very excited about what the future may bring.”

MIKE HANNETT, BMP DDB

“A slightly hungover day on my part due to the excellent hospitality the night before but I don't think my judgement was clouded. Lots of work to a very high standard both in terms of ideas and craft but no clear winner other than John Smiths. I was personally a bit disappointed to give this the big prize. It was the best work and it was for a Scottish client but I’d rather a Scottish agency had won. Still, rules are rules and it is an exceptional campaign.”

ROB TURNER, TBWA\London

“As enjoyable as it was to be part of the judging panel, I thought the general standard of work was slightly disappointing – some of the categories were particularly 'thin' (radio for instance). However, this served to make the special entries really stand out and consequently, from a judging perspective, our job far easier. I think the jurors chose to award creativity and flair wherever possible and there were instances of some inspired thinking which augurs well for future Awards, though judging may become a more fraught affair.”

LLOYD BILLING, The Tape Gallery

“The judging was very tough as the standard of work often led to a split decision and second round debates. Congratulations to all entrants and especially those who get to walk the walk.”

Where everybody knows your name

The Thistle Hotel in Glasgow was packed to the rafters last Friday night as the Scottish ad industry again did itself proud in the partying stakes. More than 550 people, the biggest ad awards event for two years, squeezed into the ballroom to hear all the results of the creative awards announced by comedian Stu Who? Before the nosh 1576’s Mark Gorman collected a Services to Scottish Advertising award as he leaves the industry for pastures new. In an emotional and pssionate speech he spoke of the high point of his 18-year long career – beating the Guy Robertson Partnership recently in the five-a-side Scottish Creative Cup. After the awards were handed out the debauchery started as ad folk threw some weird and wonderful shapes on the floor. The partying carried on until the next morning, apparently Mr Gorman was still in the bar at gone 5am, but we can’t vouch for that because The Drum’s editorial team were tucked up in bed by 10:30pm like good little boys and girls. If anyone has any tales to tell, then we want to hear them. Please e-mail all your scurrilous tales anonymously to our gossip queen katy.archer@carnyx.com

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