The Scottish Executive

By The Drum | Administrator

August 13, 2004 | 7 min read

Standing outside Feather Brooksbank last Friday you could have been forgiven for not realising that the agency’s staff were still digesting the fact that they were not going to be handling the Scottish Executive’s £12m media business in the future. The agency’s dress-down Friday policy was still clearly in force as staff filed out of The Old Assembly Hall in Leith to enjoy their lunch in the sunshine. Three female staff were all smiles as they cooed over a young baby in a pram - the fact that £12m worth of business had just walked out of the door and down the road to Mediacom clearly at the very back of their minds.

Seven days previously, as news of the significant loss was unfolding, a bullish Giles Brooksbank commented on The Drum’s website: “This agency is more than able to sustain the loss and move on. Our team are superb and we want them to stay here. At the end of day it is business as usual at Feather Brooksbank.”

At first hand it did indeed seem to be business as usual at Feather Brooksbank, though some in the industry have since doubted whether the agency can carry on regardless after losing what is estimated to be around six per cent of the agency’s income.

One industry source commented: “Surely you would expect that there has to be some sort of negative impact at Feather Brooksbank. Not many agencies can take that kind of hit without having to cut their cloth accordingly. Just look at CIA when Kwik-Fit left, look at Faulds when Kwik-Fit left. Look at any agency when Kwik-Fit left. The Union when Intelligent Finance left. They all had to go through some downsizing or worse.”

However, since the loss Giles Brooksbank and his co-director Stuart Feather have remained philosophical, pointing out that, in fact, the agency hasn’t actually lost anything at all as yet.

They have a valid point. Nobody has walked into The Old Assembly Hall and taken £12m out of their petty cash tin. The media independent is simply no longer going to receive the estimated £300,000 worth of annual income that the Scottish Executive, VisitScotland and Health Scotland parts of the business gave them.

One thing is clear though in the eyes of media sources, Feather Brooksbank has to go on the offensive immediately as it looks to fill the hole left by the Scottish Executive. It is believed that already Feather Brooksbank has pitched for two pieces of business that, if successful, would replace the lost revenue in one fell swoop.

In total Feather Brooksbank had 20 people alone that went out to meet clients at the Scottish Executive, Health Scotland and VisitScotland in addition to the people based back at HQ that actually bought the strategies to life through their media buying.

So now the agency has an excess of people able to invest their time and energy into pitching for sizeable and complex pieces of business, which makes them well placed to convert competitive situations.

But, with a client used to this high level of servicing Mediacom, which at time of going to press employs around 15 people, sources suggest the agency will have to look at staffing-up in the coming weeks.

According to those that have previously worked on the Executive media business the key to running the account is having the right people in place to co-ordinate the numerous campaigns running at any one time. With anything up to 38 campaigns live at the same time, the Scottish Executive is always keen to ensure that they do not flood the media with too many messages, which has in the past led to media criticism over just how much money is being spent on ad campaigns.

As this issue of The Drum went to press, finance minister Andy Kerr was still dallying over signing off the agreements put in place with the appointed media, advertising, PR and new media agencies. Therefore Euan Jarvie at MediaCom declined to speak about how the review effects his agency, which has been in hot pursuit of Feather Brooksbank’s number one position since Mediacom came to Scotland through the takeover of The Media Business in the late 1990’s.

One industry source that did dare to comment on the review said: “This is what Mediacom and Euan have wanted and needed for the last few years. The Mediacom network doesn’t like to play catch-up to anyone in any marketplace, so in Scotland the agency was always in an interesting position sitting behind Feather Brooksbank. Perhaps if Mediacom had not won this huge piece of business the outlook for them in Scotland may have been somewhat different.”

So, were does Mediacom get the staff from to handle this influx of business? Not Feather Brooksbank if Giles and Stuart’s strategy of making no job cuts holds true. Both Brooksbank and Feather are understood to be adamant that Mediacom will not be able to pick up their staff on the cheap because they have been made redundant. Suddenly it has become a supply and demand market and people with experience of working on Scottish Executive and the related pieces of media business have become a very valuable asset.

However, one industry source believed that Mediacom already has the team in place to handle the business, commenting: “Mediacom already has good people such as David Shearer and Euan Ross who have lots of experience. They have good people that understand the the buying element of the media. If they do take on staff for this then they will likely be at an assistant level, because they certainly have the senior level staff to service the account and make it function.”

Despite people directly involved with the review being unable to comment as yet, it hasn’t stopped the chattering classes gossiping. One issue high on the agenda is where will the television buying be done from, Edinburgh or London?

In David Shearer Mediacom has one of the most respected TV planners and buyers in Scotland, but according to sources much of Mediacom’s TV buying over the past few years has been done through its London office to take advantage of various TV deals put in place. An industry source said: “If there is a concern with Mediacom taking over the Executive business then it is whether Mediacom will buy through London, which will see regional sales teams lose out. I believe there is some political pressure at the Executive to stop this happening, but I have heard that some enquiries have been made about taking money through London.”

It has been alleged that Mediacom won the business on price, which would have clearly held significant sway with the procurement department that has been involved with this review for the first time.

According to one industry insider Billets, the auditors, have said that the deals Mediacom has promised the Scottish Executive cannot be delivered without the agency actually losing money. But he added that a company the size of Mediacom, with its huge influence with media owners, can live with that for a while by agreeing various deals with media owners.

With the client yet to give the final sign off on the review, Mediacom is currently forced to remain silent over the various issues that Scottish media insiders are already chattering about. No doubt once that gagging order is lifted Mediacom’s Euan Jarvie will be more than willing to respond to the issues raised. Then the hard work will start in ernest.


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