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Creative Glasgow

By The Drum | Administrator

August 13, 2004 | 17 min read

DESIGN

The rivalry between east and west has always been a particularly fierce one. Whether it’s newspapers or the way you serve fish suppers, the east/west divide has been a somewhat unique one.

And perhaps nowhere has this rivalry been tougher than in the marketing community, where consultancies and agencies are constantly competing for pieces of client business. This is especially true when talking about the graphic design sector, which has more competing companies than any of the other marketing disciplines.

In recent years, while the marketing industry has been suffering from low client spend, Glasgow has been re-inventing itself as a style centre. So, at the end of a tough few years for marketing as a whole, has Glasgow emerged as the strongest city in terms of its design?

Opinion in the city itself is split. Stephen Halpin, director of Curious Oranj, believes that Glasgow has weathered the recent storm better than Edinburgh. He says: “I think the agencies in the east have had it fairly easy in terms of the number of clients on their doorsteps. The Glasgow agencies have gone outside of their own area knocking doors, whereas the east has always been traditionally more insular. I think what the last four years or so has done has been to take away that cushion.”

However, Mark Noé, managing director at Third Eye, believes the Glasgow design community is still inward-looking – and could do with learning a few tricks from the Edinburgh industry. He comments: “We very rarely pitch against Glasgow-based consultancies, unless it’s for a piece of Glasgow work. There’s a fairly parochial attitude in Glasgow, a lot of agencies just work for locally based clients.

“I think the standard of work here is good, it’s maybe just the companies’ attitudes. The Edinburgh agencies tend to promote themselves as professional, marketing-led businesses, whereas the Glasgow companies are still a bit more avant-garde. I think Edinburgh has a slightly more mature attitude. I think if Glasgow consultancies changed their approach a bit, they’d do very well.”

Ken Cassidy, managing director of Pointsize, agrees that the most successful businesses in both cities are the ones that have become more professional. He says: “It appears to be companies in Glasgow, such as 999, that are not just design companies but have very good business sense and work for big brands very well. Likewise if you look at Edinburgh agencies such as Tayburn you see the same thing.

“I think the more established players have continued to thrive because they have matured with the market. They’ve developed business sense. It’s about the bigger picture, not just pretty pictures.”

Meanwhile, Richard Bissland, director of 999 Design Group, reckons that the quality of design in both cities is too close to call. He states: “Moving the old east versus west rivalry aside, I don’t really think there’s ever been a great deal to choose between the two cities, particularly in the last 15 years. Both have agencies that have produced excellent work. Certainly, in the 80s I think Edinburgh produced the more sophisticated work and deservedly earned respect for that. Maybe grudging respect from Glasgow but I think Edinburgh raised the bar then.

“Today, I don’t think you can say with any certainty that one is better than the other. Both cities are capable of outstanding work, which makes it all the more annoying to see local businesses throwing pound notes at London.”

“I don't think Scotland has a design capital,” comments Scott Witham, creative director of Traffic. “All of Traffic’s staff, myself included, have worked for major Edinburgh and Glasgow companies for several years yet we chose Glasgow over Edinburgh to base Traffic as, at the time, this was where the opportunity arose to launch the business. I genuinely believe that individual designers make up Scotland’s creativity, and these individuals are free to move from city to city and company to company. If Edinburgh consultancies can afford to pay higher salaries then it makes sense to say they will attract and pick the best designers and vice versa.

“With this in mind I don’t necessarily agree that Glasgow is more arty. Yes, Glasgow may be less corporate but the gap is closing.”

Others in the Glasgow industry believe the question east versus west is now irrelevant. “Is design in Glasgow stronger than Edinburgh? To be honest, I don’t really care and I’m not sure who else does,” remarks Mark Stephenson of Stand. “Scotland’s ambition should be to have a ‘creative crown’ that’s comparable to any other in the world, and if all we do is waste energy taking shots at our peers just because they’re at the other end of the M8 that’s just never going to happen. The sooner everyone forgets this Edinburgh/Glasgow ‘my bike’s better than your bike’ comparative playground mentality the better.”

Adrian Searle, director of Freight Design, agrees. He says: “Has Glasgow taken over the mantle from Edinburgh? The question is irrelevant. Neither dominates the other and there will always be differences in approach between the two cities. What’s important is that there is a thriving design community in Scotland, one that’s competing successfully for both local jobs and work South of the Border.”

Keith Lawrence, managing director of Lawrence Creative, agrees that there is no reason why Glasgow companies shouldn’t be winning southern business. He states: “I don’t think there’s a perception of us from down south at all. It’s more the promise to the client and the delivery. I don’t think it matters where you’re based these days. If your offer is strong enough and your track record is strong enough there’s no reason you can’t win the business.”

Perhaps the time has arrived when Glasgow and Edinburgh’s design companies can set their differences aside in the pursuit of business from outside Scotland’s borders. Perhaps the question of east versus west is finally a redundant one. If so, it can surely only be a good thing for the Scottish industry. Just don’t ask us if we want sauce with our chips.

ADVERTISING

If truth be known, Glasgow has always been in the shadows of the capital city. In days gone by, while Edinburgh had the financial institutions, Glasgow’s history was steeped in the shipbuilding industry. But times are a-changing. The city has already gone through a rebranding from the Miles Better campaign to the Scotland with Style tagline. Love it or loathe it, Glaswegians would be hard pressed to deny that Glasgow is everything a European city should be – cosmopolitan, cultural and creative.

But where does the advertising industry lie in this metamorphosis that the city is undergoing? Tradition, since the break-up of Halls advertising at least, has always stated that the city must play second fiddle to Edinburgh in terms of advertising, but what now? As the industry picks up steam after a frankly trying time, can Glasgow emerge from its cocoon and take the industry by storm? And the inevitable question is once more posed – is Glasgow a more creative hub for advertising than Edinburgh?

Guy Robertson, managing director of the Guy Robertson Partnership, believes that ultimately Glasgow will always be the bridesmaid, never the bride,creatively speaking. He comments: “Glasgow probably is never going to be the creative centre if the likes of The Leith Agency, The Union and Citigate Smarts are still going strong in Edinburgh.

“But I do think that are times are changing in terms of the types of accounts Glasgow agencies are working with. Traditionally, there always seemed to be a tendency to have retail accounts in Glasgow but now it is different. You only have to look at the accounts we are handling currently.”

Peter Clayton, managing director of Clayton Graham, maintains that the strength of their business comes from looking outside the M8, to London: “Business is booming for us at the moment. The vast majority of the work that we do, however, comes from inside the M25. I would have to add an aside to that though – I am neither anti-region, nor am I anti-Scottish. But I do think for Glasgow agencies to become more successful then they have to look outside of Glasgow and Scotland to really be successful.”

“I think the argument of whether Glasgow is a more creative city than Edinburgh is a redundant one. Yes, there are more agencies in Edinburgh than Glasgow that are very similar to one another and that are doing good creative work,” comments Bryan Crook of The Bridge.

He continues: “People have always said that we are an Edinburgh agency that happens to be based in Glasgow. There isn’t as much of a social scene in Glasgow as there is in Edinburgh and I think that might have something to do with the fact that people have worked with one another at a variety of agencies in Edinburgh as opposed to Glasgow.”

Alan McQueen, managing director at Atalanta, agrees: “There isn’t really a social scene among creatives in Glasgow. I suppose we are just as much at fault but we like to keep our head down and get on with creating good work. It is odd though, as Glaswegians have always had the reputation of being gregarious and social in their nature.”

The agency has recently been working on the Scotland with Style campaign, which has had its critics within the Scottish media. But McQueen says that it is working, is useful in promoting a more positive image. He says: “The Glasgow campaign has meant that we are beginning to change perceptions of what others think about the city overall. And we are making a difference. The campaign will be going into the second phase in autumn and we look forward to getting the results from the campaign.”

Glasgow-based Russell Ferguson Marketing also worked on the campaign. Joanna Taylor comments: “We worked on the Scotland with Style campaign along with creative agencies to really identify what the perception of Glasgow was. The results were quite interesting, especially those South of the Border, where people had certain old connotations of ship building and an industrial city. But at the same time they were very aware of the cultural heritage that the city holds and they focused on Rennie McIntosh, which is what the campaign focused on too. The city is really different to, say, fifteen years ago and the research that we did helped the creative campaign along.”

For Alan Frame, managing director of Frame C, the investment in creative talent means that the agency is fighting the good fight in the battle of the creativity of east versus west. He states: “We have really invested in people over the past couple of years, with the appointment of a double D&AD winner with Martin Gillen and we have also brought Lewis McIntyre onto the design end. The investment in people really means that we can do good creative work for clients. At the same time, I think that you have to be aware of what clients want from you. Some of the Glasgow agencies do not work with accounts that allow them to be as creative – they are looking at more of the brand strategy end. And that doesn’t mean that the work is any less valid. It is just a different way of working. Our Gold win at the Roses Advertising Awards will, hopefully, go to show that Glasgow agencies can compete with on a creative level.”

Colette Boyle of production company Serious Facilities maintains that creativity in the Scottish film industry will come about through investment in the industry as a whole. She comments: “We have had a good 12 months, I would have to say. We are working with a variety of Scottish advertising agencies, including the Leith Agency, Newhaven, Barkers and The Bridge. I don’t see any real creative difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Ultimately, it comes down to the type of client that you might have and also the individual who is in charge of the account and directing it.”

Director of Colours Management, Rosalyn Bruce, believes that being in Glasgow has not hindered the agency’s growth. She comments: “We set the company up around six years ago and work with most of the creative agencies in design and advertising, along with sales promotion agencies in Scotland, providing models and promotional staff for all their needs. Being based in Glasgow means that we can have a Scottish base but we work with people throughout the country.”

So, many within Glasgow might agree that Glasgow does not always produce cutting-edge creative work, but at the same time the agencies are producing intelligent thinking work for high-profile, and sometimes high spending, accounts. And that counts for a lot in an industry that puts the pound firmly at the top of the agenda in business.

NEW MEDIA

Glasgow is seen by many as the Daddy of the Scottish new media scene. Groundbreaking agencies quick to capitalise on the growing dot.com market, such as Black ID, forged a strong reputation bringing clients such as Burger King to these fair shores, trumpeting a boom in the new media sector. But with this boom came bust, and the collapse of the online industry didn’t leave Scotland unaffected. With some expensive lessons having being learned, the market became a cautious place.

In the wake of the crash, however, a glut of teams all foraging for fodder in an increasingly guarded marketplace remained – each evolving to survive the climate, becoming more innovative and specialising in new ground in a bid to carve a niche for themselves in this nervous market. New breeds developed, each very different from the next – from the FlamJams to the ItsNotRocketSciences.

But since that period of boom and bust, the new media market has changed. Black ID has been swallowed up by a larger corporate machine, FlamJam, as it was, has broken up and ItsNotRocketScience has been bought over by a larger London rival.

Still, Glasgow remains, in the eyes of many, Scotland’s new media capital. Many attribute Glasgow’s new media heritage to Gordon Black, founder of Black ID.

“It is quite possible that Glasgow was quicker to adapt when the new media opportunity emerged around 1995,” says Black, now founding director of marketing specialists Darwin Agency, following his departure from DAG – purchasers of Black ID. “Black ID employed a number of people from the off and helped them to develop their new media skills. We attracted some talented people from Duncan of Jordanstone and they were amongst the first graduates with any kind of relevant training. Also, while other regions are technology-driven too, Glasgow has always retained a creative focus.”

Perhaps this was one of the founding principles of Glasgow’s online dominance. But how was that starting block used to leverage growth? James Cameron, creative director of Laveron, believes that it often comes down to courage: “Edinburgh has more established companies with larger turnovers and bigger clients. The risks are higher and the people who head up these companies can be more risk-averse. Glasgow has always had smaller, more adaptive companies, embracing everything that will allow them to compete with the larger, more established agencies.

“The internet and the new media revolution enabled smaller companies to bag bigger clients through the creative use of new technology.”

MMI and sister company Limone Media are now perhaps two of the most respected online agencies in Glasgow. Having recently completed work for NHS 24 and SMG, adding to a prestigious client list that has included Scottish Courage, Airmiles and MTV, MMI and Limone, headed by Gerry McCusker, are building on their success, whilst attempting to grab a larger chunk of the marketing pie – or at least, “all the figures say we are,” says McCusker. “The fortunate situation is that there appears to be a recovery in the overall marketing budgets, so, though I believe the online world is an essential part of the marketing mix, it probably needs a year or so more to cement that position in some of the more conservative markets.”

This is something that Cameron agrees with: “New media channels will continue to grow and steal more market share from traditional advertising and design channels and I think Glasgow agencies have been quicker to adapt to the changing needs of the market and adapt their services accordingly.”

Chunk is another Glaswegian company that has built a name for itself over the last year working on clients that include Miller, Fosters, Becks and Kronenbourg.

But despite working for some of the biggest name clients north of the border, Chunk seems to fit the assessment of the market – small, creative and boundary pushing:

“There doesn’t seem to be a big difference in the quality or amount of work being produced between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so neither of them takes the crown, in terms of creativity,” says Brian Limond, a director at Chunk.

“We’re only a small company, so it’s difficult to give an assessment on the market but, overall, it still seems that unless the client’s company is web-based, the money tends to be divvied up into the more established areas and then, what’s left will hopefully be enough to do something online.

“But, more positively from personal experience, there seems to be less mistrust between companies. It used to seem like above-the-line agencies wanted to do new media work themselves and play their cards close to their chest. Hopefully, now they see it like any other resource – it’s better to get the experts in.”

Iain Somerside of Alliance Multimedia continues: “Our experience is certainly one of working hand in hand with other marketing suppliers. We have very good partnerships with our agency clients. Perhaps, importantly, we see ourselves as providing them with tools for their offering rather than dealing directly with the client.

“Currently, though, functionality is the key for online new media products and this will continue to be the case until we have much more bandwidth. Creativity is very important but only where it can operate efficiently in the medium. The use of CD-Rom and DVD do give the opportunity for much wider and efficient use of creativity.”

Alliance Multimedia is established as a sub-supplier of new media products to the design and marketing sectors. In particular, DVD has become an increasing area for growth.

But despite this abundance of expertise in the creative and new media sector, Glasgow has very little community spirit amongst those in such fields.

The Lighthouse was opened five years ago to help boost this and provide a platform for creativity. And, despite not everyone in the creative community agreeing, Cameron concludes: “The creative industries in Glasgow do need to build a stronger community. The Lighthouse has gone a long way to enable this by setting up events, seminars, exhibitions and, of course, the Creative Entrepreneurs Club. The success of all the above is wholly dependent on those who choose to participate. I feel that it is to our benefit as a business that we get involved with all aspects of the creative industries. We all have a common goal: creating recognition and success for Scotland.”

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