Insiders view of 2003
When I was tasked with this review, my immediate thought was how to describe the year that has just passed. It’s certainly been stimulating for me being given the opportunity to start a new career with Barkers – an agency that’s determined to modernise and build on recent success.
Then there was the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards a couple of weeks ago. The likes of Tom Hunter, Chris Gorman and Tom Farmer were exhorting us to be positive and grab the opportunities open to us. Very persuasive they were too.
However, there is no escaping that the last year has not been the greatest for the industry. Several agencies have ceased trading. The biggest, of course, was Faulds and even its fiercest rivals should feel sorry for its passing. Perhaps what was most shocking was the speed of its demise. When that last great bastion of Scottish advertising, Halls, closed it had been in ill health for some time. Faulds’s closure surprised the industry and put many good people out on the street.
On the positive side, we’ve had encouraging starts from the new wave. Family, as its name suggests, is a cuddly agency and Ian Wright and team have seduced a raft of clients into their arms this year. Meanwhile, The Bridge, Leith and Newhaven are making strides while the Teflon-coated John Morgan at Merle is back on the up with some good wins.
On the other hand, the media independent side has been relatively quiet but it’s good to see Spirit start to get a foot in the door to widen choice.
In spite of our industry’s professionalism, we have had to mourn the loss of several industry staples, such as IF and the Royal Bank, to London agencies. Not so long ago we were pulling accounts away from London, but buy-outs, mergers and acquisitions seem to be going against us at present.
In addition, we have seen some good people leave the business. Mark Gorman was a class operator with clients. Simon Scott at the Union was a one-off. I will never forget the client’s face in the SeaCat pitch as Simon, clad in tartan trews, was dancing out a radio script on a tabletop.
On the media owner side, we have seen the awarding of a Glasgow licence to Saga. Having seen the bid, I can confirm that it was well written and worthy, although it’s unlikely that its competitors will be gasping for breath when it launches.
SMG also divested itself of its newspapers to Newsquest. It’s too early to determine Newquest’s long-term strategy but I am sure they will work to aggressively build market share. Steven Walker won’t be keen to lose ground so this sector looks like hotting up in 2004.
SMG’s strategy in the brave new world of ITV will also be interesting to watch. A Scottish dimension is an imperative and, hopefully, SMG will not be hamstrung by poor network schedules, as programming is the key to ITV’s future success.
“Volatile” and “challenging” are probably the best words to describe 2003. As for 2004, there are some green shoots of recovery in ad spend and, I hope, the industry, and the IPA in particular, will aggressively work together to put the Scottish scene back to where it should be.
and immediate past chair of IPR Scotland.
As I raise my glass at Hogmanay, I will be hoping next year is as good as 2003. My term as Chair of the IPR in Scotland ended in September ... fifteen months and 14,012 miles after it started. Hard work, but incredibly rewarding. And the IPR continues to grow – with more than 600 members it is now the largest IPR group outside London.
Despite difficult trading conditions, the PR industry in Scotland weathered the storm pretty well. There’s clearly been some belt-tightening in consultancies, but no serious casualties.
We sometimes talk about the PR industry and PR consultancies as if they were synonymous. In reality, many PR professionals in Scotland work in the public sector and it’s been heartening to see more joining their professional body over the last few years. The challenge for the IPR is to ensure we provide a range of benefits – including training and events – that are relevant for a varied membership. The new IPR Scotland Committee, with its broad representation, is more than up to the challenge.
On a personal note, the first year of trading for Platform PR was a brilliant success. When we said we were starting a new consultancy, some people said we were “very brave”. Maybe, but it seems to have paid off.
What better place to start thinking about my reflections on 2003 and thoughts for 2004 than the night we managed to scoop Five Golds at the DMA awards.
A great way to end what has been a fantastic year for us. Sitting in the Grosvenor, Park Lane, surrounded by the great and the good of the UK direct marketing industry got me thinking about things – albeit through a champagne-fuelled haze.
As the only representative from the Scottish industry I felt doubly proud of our achievements – a Scottish agency beating virtually all of the competition on their home turf.
I have never had any doubt that we have a very talented bunch of individuals working in Scotland – we’ve proved that time and time again.
Yet, in 2003, key pieces of business headed south, leaving the advertising industry as a whole in Scotland the poorer for it.
If 2004 could hold one thing for our industry it would be that more clients outside of Scotland recognise what we have to offer. Blue chip clients in Leeds and Manchester already do – perhaps it is their job to spread the word as much as ours.
Anyway, if there are any marketing managers in London reading this, can I offer two pieces of advice? First, perhaps they could take a lead from Mark Twain: “Why not go out on a limb – it’s where all the best fruit is.”
Second, I can recommend the GNER Kings Cross to Edinburgh timetable – it’s a great read.
Another high for me this year has been the opportunity to work with clients who have appointed Story not because they see us a good “direct marketers”, or people who can create “integrated” campaigns, but because they believe we can have big ideas that can work across everything.
What I think we need to remember is that we are in the ideas business and that means the idea is not part of what we do but everything we do.
So, as I finish my last glass, at the end of 2003 I would like to say a big thank you to two groups of clients: those who look at talent not borders and those who trust their agencies to do the type of work that delivers and wins awards.
Here’s to more of the same for all of us in 2004!
Numbers became a substitute for judgement in 2003. “Can you do the job for 10 per cent less?” “We’re asking 17 companies to pitch.” “The Parliament budget has exceeded £400 million.” “We hit 21 targets out of 22.” “Forty-five minutes to launch WMD’s.” “I drank 10 pints.” The latter after all the former, of course.
Good judgement requires experience, intelligence and understanding. Any idiot can try to justify or criticise an ill-informed decision, based on price, position and quantity. It takes a bureaucrat, or sometimes a statistically driven American, to actually argue that these are preferable to judgement. But regulations and numbers definitely came to the fore in 2003. Maybe it was all our economic woes that have driven this attitude. Certainly an over concern with money and a sad focus on redundancies do not encourage ideas and creativity. But it is a focus on the latter, married to a positive outlook, which will solve such woes.
I had many conversations during the year on the mysteries of pitching. A constant thread was the often inexplicable behaviour of those making decisions. Sadly, I often found a sterile dressing was used to defend a numerically driven decision. Certainly, this could be the only explanation for the very average outcome of many pitches I observed from afar and, occasionally, up close. Or, of course, a total lack of judgement!
The other disturbing movement of 2003 to stifle judgement and ideas is the rise and rise of “procurement”. In my youth this was known as buying and was normally kept in its place by strong marketing managers. The overriding concern for measurable value before and above high quality is driven by trying to justify to shareholders, pension funds, the public and the boss that we are doing our job above reproach – “it’s only valuable if we can measure it” scenarios. Picasso did not become successful because he managed to make his paintings 10 per cent smaller. Bach didn’t create his best work by cutting out two violins. The depressingly few large companies left in Scotland (yes, OK, they are of a very high quality) often delegate their responsibilities for marketing expenditure to buyers who behave like football agents negotiating the best deal with no understanding of the real value. The marketeers are still doing a wonderful job in many cases, but it must be tough with Mrs Seagull squawking over every step and order.
The “public sector” has been a reliable source of work for many of us and of employment for many people this year. But by its very nature it has to be accountable to the dozens of vultures just waiting to criticise. It’s far more fun than praise, isn’t it, and it sells papers. And if they try to present themselves professionally, it is denigrated as all spin and no substance. The poor dears can’t win really. This results in dubious pitches and even worse decisions in order to defend themselves from all the critics waiting to pounce. The old axiom of investigate, understand and only then create has been supplanted by “how much, how long and how many?”
We all need to eat and drink so these sectors have also offered some crumbs of comfort in 2003. Sadly, our society seems to want to over indulge in both, either to binge-drink to drown our sorrows or, apparently, as the sole route to having fun.
Try explaining to an intelligent non-Brit why anyone in their right mind is actually proud of going out with the express purpose of getting totally drunk. I find the advertising reflecting or encouraging such incredulous behaviour really scrapes the barrel! Junk food and excess lager seem indistinguishable from quality and taste to far too many people.
Maybe, on reflection, the grumpy old men of 2003 need to conserve their strength for the upturn. The bright new world where we get back to valuing new ideas, genuine creativity and learning experiences above all else. Where we start using our emotional intelligence instead of our calculators, swap Broxburn for Budapest and more mature judgement rather than more vodka. We need to do a bit more thinking, understanding and relating to make 2003 a thing of the past and 2004 more enjoyable. I feel pretty confident we are up to it, just don’t ask me to quantify my feelings!
last year was tough, so what does 2004 hold? IN the first of a two-part series we invite advertising and DM agencies to predict what 2004 holds.
I’m expecting big things from Bond in 2004. As for the state of the industry, I think things are improving. So, now that’s out of the way, here are some predictions for 2004 ...
Ã¯One Scottish ad agency will close.
Two will start up.
Ã¯No-one will remember the name of the fat one from Pop Idol.
No-one will really care.
Ã¯Bob Carolgees will make a comeback.
So will white dogshit.
Ã¯Saatchi & Saatchi Edinburgh will open.
Mother Edinburgh won’t.
Ã¯Bond will move offices.
Irn-Bru will move agencies.
Ã¯I’ll have 97 curries.
And one-and-a-half cigars.
Ã¯One Scottish agency will get into the D&AD Annual.
England will get to the final of the Euro Championships.
Ã¯The queue at the Globe won’t get any smaller.
Ã¯I’ll wear more hats.
Ã¯Future-thinking agencies will flourish.
Ã¯The market will improve.
Ã¯Web people will get even richer.
Ã¯We’ll lose some pitches.
I’ll be really pissed off.
Ã¯We’ll win some pitches.
I’ll be delighted.
Ã¯There’ll be really good stuff on at the Edinburgh Festival.
I’ll miss it.
Ã¯There’ll be even more dogs in ads.
Ã¯Local TV ads will get worse.
Global TV ads will get better.
Ã¯I’ll paint the bathroom again.
And make my long-awaited five-a-side comeback.
Ã¯Kylie will have a baby.
Then launch a range of maternity knickers.
Ã¯A new company will launch, selling ad space on lapdancers.
Ã¯And, finally, the Scottish Ad Awards will be at the EICC.
We’ll have chicken.
Sounds like a good year.
In 2004, the direct marketing industry in Scotland should be holding its head up high; we’ve got plenty to be proud of and managed to pull off a pretty good year. Luckily, I’m not writing the article that reviews the highs and lows of 2003 – of which there have been many. I’m feeling very positive about 2004 – it’s still going to be tough out there but, heck, we all like a challenge (cheers, Andy, for adding to mine).
For anyone not familiar with DM (that’s direct marketing, not direct mail), most of the DM agencies have completed the evolution into results-driven communication agencies – like WWAV, Story and Navigator. I hope this will break down the final barriers in Scotland for many people who still think of above and below the line (I never did understand where the line was supposed to be drawn). Clients like Intelligent Finance, De Vere Resort Ownership and ScottishPower are involving us in the strategic development of their businesses.
But, there comes the crunch point: are there enough clients based in Scotland to sustain all the agencies? And, if the line has gone, how do you distinguish between them? The answer is not simple. Increasingly, everyone is fighting for a share of a smaller pie when it comes to blue-chip clients so, as an industry, we need to be looking into other areas to grow the market – or see more agencies disappear.
One obvious place is SMEs, who make up the vast proportion of companies in Scotland. However, I know we’ve all had our fingers burned at some point and been left with a debt to carry – making us less willing to give a start-up or smaller company the benefit of the doubt (don’t get me started on this one). I think it’s an area of opportunity for someone brave enough to develop a “product”. Otherwise, we need to be promoting the vibrant industry up here to companies in the North of England and Wales.
Changing tack slightly, when will the universities and colleges get their marketing-related courses to include more about the principles of DM with more practical placement experience? I’ve run a graduate trainee programme for over six years now and we’ve taken on at least one graduate every year, but it never ceases to amaze me that their course content has not developed along with the industry.
So, with this in mind, here are three predictions for 2004:
Ã¯A Scottish-based blue-chip account comes back to a locally based agency – any takers?
Ã¯Gary Smith will announce the name of his new agency by February.
Ã¯Another agency will disappear by June.