999 buys Blue Peach
Consolidation has become a buzz-word in the marketing industry over the past 18 months or so. As the marketplace has continued to be a tough place to operate in, agencies are increasingly seeing the benefit of adding to their services through acquiring or merging with former competitors. The fight has been tough, and war, as they say, makes strange bedfellows.
In Scotland the last month has seen the consolidation trend continue with the signing of two acquisition deals. In Edinburgh, Tayburn took over Newton.eh6, while, more recently, on the West Coast Glasgow’s big boys, 999 Design, announced the acquisition of Blue Peach.
While the Tayburn/Newton.eh6 deal no doubt raised eyebrows in the marketplace, it is surely the 999/Blue Peach announcement that has caused more excitement in the design community. Both consultancies are repeated winners of The Drum’s coveted Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year title as well as being highly respected throughout the industry for the work they have produced.
Under the terms of the buyout, the Blue Peach team will be amalgamated into 999 Design, with Blue Peach founder Joe Hall heading up the design team in the company’s Glasgow office. 999 founding directors Bill Gaughan and Richard Bissland will focus on the day-to-day running of the Glasgow operation as well as growing the office’s Scottish client base.
Gaughan says: “Richard and myself have been getting more hands-on over the last year or so and then, four or five weeks ago, we had a couple of guys leave, and that made us focus very quickly indeed. Obviously, we needed to hire to replace the people who had gone. We looked at the possibility of taking on new account handling teams and some designers and one of the routes we’d been looking at was acquisition. We had a look around and thought ‘Who would have a good fit for what we’re doing?’ We’ve known Joe for quite a length of time and we thought we’d make tentative enquiries and see what his thoughts were and, to be honest, we were surprised that he was interested, and as interested as he was.
“Things moved at a rapid pace and here we are. It’s come to fruition fairly quickly and we’re just excited about the possibilities. These guys have built a fantastic reputation over the last 15 years. They’ve won everything that’s going locally, and when they’ve not been winning it we’ve been winning it. We liked them that much we thought we’d buy the company.”
From Hall’s point of view, the deal allows him to return to full-time design, something he has been unable to focus on while running Blue Peach.
“I like the fact that we’re talking about being more hands-on,” he says. “That’s something I identify with as well. I wanted to get back to being hands-on. You suddenly realise one day that you’ve lost that position, and you want to get back to what you’re good at.”
As well as re-staffing the Glasgow operation following the departure of the office’s managing director, Keith Forbes, the 999 directors had another reason for choosing to purchase Blue Peach. Gaughan explains: “We’ve been thinking about how we want to develop the Scottish end of the business. The market’s bad just now, and I think everyone will recognise that there’s been a big downturn throughout the country. Our London and Manchester offices are kicking in really well just now and we really wanted to get something going here in Scotland.
“Although we’ve always been a Scottish-based agency, probably 75-80 per cent of our business has come from outwith Scotland. Our reputation has always been as this kind of big corporate player. We’ve worked with the big brands: Orange, Reebok and numerous others, and in some instances we’ve had difficulty picking up bits of local business because people thought that we wouldn’t be interested because we’re too big. It’s a shame because I think if they actually got to know us they’d find that we’re very down-to-earth guys, we’re straight talking, which is why the big guys like us.”
999 will aim to draw on the local reputation of Hall and his Blue Peach team, in order to build up a stronger local client base for the Glasgow office.
“When Keith left, a couple of designers went with him. We had no intention of weakening our creative resource, and what this does is save us a lot of pain in recruitment, which is difficult,” says Bissland. “We’ve got a ready-made design team down there with fantastic credentials, Joe brings in some terrific contacts in terms of building the Scottish end of the business. We will continue to use Joe’s experience, both locally and nationally, on some of our bigger accounts. It just seems like a great fit, a great opportunity, and why waste it?”
With the deal having happened so fast (around ten days from start to finish) the teams are still being integrated, a process that, stress the directors, will not be hurried. For both the 999 and Blue Peach teams the deal will no doubt take some getting used to. However, Hall maintains that the Blue Peach clients are happy with the developments.
He states: “The clients are very interested. They don’t see a change, but what they do see is the added resource, which is terrific.
“All the clients are excited for us. They’re looking forward to meeting Richard and Bill. And I’m excited about it. It’s no secret the guys at 999 are very professional and a UK-wide company. But there are clients up here who don’t realise fully what they can offer.”
The move of personnel into the 999 offices will be over by September, at which time there should be 25 staff in the Glasgow office, with approximately 40 across all three offices (Glasgow, Manchester and London). The view certainly seems to be that big is beautiful.
Says Bissland: “I think the bigger players are the ones who are going to survive.
“I think the key thing at the moment is, having blended 999’s experience with national brands with Blue Peach’s creative credentials, we hope to create the finest creative resource in Scotland. That’s without doubt our aim. We want to establish that, if you’re thinking creativity, ideas and design strategy, there’s no other place to go but 999. Certainly if the company’s not on your pitch list than you’re missing out somewhat.”
“It’s one of these rare opportunities,” says Gaughan. “When we first opened the discussion in an informal get-together we thought this might be something that Joe would go away and consider and think about for a while but it just seems to have worked out incredibly well and I think we’ve all agreed that the fit is excellent, and that’s what makes it work well all round.”
It will be some time before it’s possible to say how smoothly the takeover has gone, but Gaughan and Bissland clearly have high hopes for the new line-up at 999 Design Glasgow.
Blue Peach Established
Created the newly formed Tramway Theatre identity and marketing materials
Created Tennents Scottish Cup logo and trophy
Designed packaging for Macallan Japanese market
Produced M&M press book - winner at the New York Festivals
Voted Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year
Voted Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year
Joe Hall was awarded Scottish Designer of the Decade by his peers
Development of the South Lanarkshire Council Identity and corporate guidelines and Glasgow Festival of Design programmes and posters
Won contract for Student Loans Company
Design packaging for Morrison Bowmore
Created a range Scottish Power marketing materials
Developed Scottish Enterprise brand guidelines
Blue peach won contracts for identities and promotional materials for Waterfront Edinburgh, Glasgow Harbour and
Created HBG property corporate showcase brochure
Retain Student Loans Company contract
Developed the range of customer communications for Arriva Yorkshire
Designed and produced the Glasgow Wall at Buchanan Galleries
Bowmore Legend tin won 2 Gold awards at
metal packaging awards
Won packaging design projects from Arran Distillers
Appointed by Bridge of Weir Leather Company