Dundee is changing. Ninety per cent of Scotland’s population remains within 90 minutes’ drive of Dundee. Direct flights to London are still frequent from Dundee airport, six times a day, while Edinburgh International airport remains within a one-hour drive. Operating costs stay low and the impressive surroundings still lead to a high quality of life.
So, what’s changing?
Well, a highly skilled and loyal labour pool is growing with the outstanding academic and research institutions in the area, and this large student population is attracting a dynamic, innovative and diverse business base to Tayside.
This boost in local business and enterprise has lead to an increasing number of creative agencies springing up to service the local business community. But as business grows in the area, so do the opportunities that present themselves to the creative community.
Still, despite the growth of business in the area, most (not all, but most agencies) in Dundee would admit that “consolidation” has been one of the key catchphrases of the past months.
This has led to the more established agencies in Dundee looking further afield for business, attempting to broaden their client base.
For one Dundee agency this has seen the acquisition of a controlling interest in an Aberdeen-based new media company.
Blue Square has recently taken control of JKNA, changing the name to Blue Square E-business.
“This is an exciting development for Blue Square and builds on our existing excellent working relationship with JKNA,” said Jim Patrick, managing director of Blue Square Design. “Their proven expertise in e-commerce and database programming is a perfect fit with our creative design skills and this agreement will enhance our e-business offering to clients. It also gives us the opportunity to expand our design and advertising services in the Grampian area.”
Before the acquisition, Blue Square employed 13 staff working across a raft of clients, which include recently won business from St Andrew’s Links, Crown Agents and Assassin Jewellery – a mainstream men’s fashion brand.
Avian is another, well-known Dundee-based agency, which has looked to spread its wings of late. Last year the agency opened an office in Glasgow to service and win Central Belt-based customers.
Employing 18 staff and working across a range of clients who include Lloyds TSB, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Dundee United FC, Avian is currently one of the biggest agencies to operate in the Tayside region. Yet, when it comes to recruitment, despite the high-calibre graduates being churned out of local universities like Duncan and Jordanston and Dundee, Scott McCallum, client services director at the agency, claims that it can still sometimes be tough to attract the right people but, as the agency continues to increase its reputation, things are getting easier: “Dundee College Of Art has an excellent reputation but I suspect that the moment students graduate, they want to head for Glasgow, Edinburgh or London. There are, naturally, a higher concentration of marketing services organisations and therefore opportunities there.
“But as Avian’s reputation grows we are finding it easier to attract quality personnel. We do, however, utilise the services of a dedicated marketing services recruitment company and they have helped us recently in attracting the right staff.”
“We are now growing and we are looking to expand within our current areas of operation. Dundee, in general, is growing as a creative community and the local development organisations have a strong focus in this area.
“We have certainly noticed an increase in activity with the clients we are working with and have significantly grown turnover and profitability. Rather than a resurgence or a general trend, I suspect that this is more likely to be due to the strong relationships we enjoy with our clients and the fact that they have been very proactive during the course of the last year.”
Dundee’s creative community stretches far beyond the traditional creative agencies, as Gary Grant alludes to in his article. Clash, an independent music and lifestyle magazine headquartered in Dundee, has, since its launch in 2001, expanded its distribution into 30 countries, including the States.
Clash’s creators (it was called Vibe before the magazine’s international assault, which led to a name change – its name was already trademarked by an American hip-hop publication) were inspired by the worlds of graphic design and music. However, as the title progressed, more of the team’s personalities started to infiltrate the pages.
The publication has gone from humble beginnings as a freebie in pubs to a circulation of 30,000, available in Virgin, HMV and WH Smith.
Yet the team still maintain their design and marketing consultancy work for select clients within the sector.
“Creative agencies are keen to be involved in our cover design, with positive feedback on its square format and clean design,” says John O’Rourke, the magazine’s managing director. “Our own design and creative background has helped us as we continue to seek the right blend. We are always receptive to good creative people and our platform allows us to connect with many top creatives.”
The magazine has attracted adverts from the likes of Stella, Diesel, MTV, EMI, Sony, Warner and Levi’s.
“Our international appeal has been a welcome surprise to us and it’s probably the most exciting challenge we have been involved in to see how we are going to market ourselves to an international audience,” continues O’Rourke.
“We recently completed our largest media partnership, with TDK to promote a two-day London festival – part of a European music initiative – the festival boasted 50 artists playing on nine stages in a 68-acre site. We are one of the main media partners and are prominent on all promotional material, which gave us fantastic exposure. The event was promoted on XFM and filmed by MTV and we shall look to continue to connect with more partnerships like this throughout Europe. We were also media partners at Spain’s top festival – Bennicasim.”
This success has meant an expansion for the team: “We opened a small office in Glasgow 18 months ago to facilitate our growth. Glasgow has a great music heritage, with famous venues revered by an international audience. However, most of the creative input continues to stem from Dundee. We have also recruited a new sales executive in London and we’re looking at setting up a modest London office.
“There seems to be an abundance of talent here, with pockets of creative companies. Clients still have a tendency to use the bigger creative agencies in Glasgow and Edinburgh when, in fact, there are ample agencies on their doorstep who could handle the work, if they only got the chance.”
Derek Souter is a well-established name in Dundee and his agency, DJS Creative Marketing, has completed a mass of high-profile work throughout its ten years in business, creating advertising and design for brands that include Scottish and Universal, Radio Clyde, Dundee Heritage Trust and the Tayside Solicitors Property Centre.
Although the agency has had to endure the dreaded “client consolidation” process, it is now coming out the downside.
Souter is now looking to rebuild the agency, which employs five staff, and is considering new opportunities in the marketplace, following a raft of new business wins, including Piperdam Golf and Leisure Resort, Blackadders and Primero Contracts.
However, as DJS looks to rebuild after a period of consolidation, one agency that has been relatively unaffected by changing business climates is The Puffin Room. When quizzed about the recovery of the market in Tayside, Evelyn Hardie, the agency’s founder, said: “To be honest, we have never really seen any downturn in our five years in business.
“Also, our staff levels haven’t changed in the last two-and-a-half years but we do get lots of CVs sent in every month.
“We take on students for annual work placements who are really creative, with fantastic ideas. Unfortunately, most find it quite difficult to obtain work in the Tayside area, as there are a very limited number of design positions available.”
The Puffin Room currently works with clients who include Women Ahead, Storage 4U, Scottish Liqueur Centre, IRT Surveys, R&M Engineering, Life Coach Scotland, Inveralmond Brewery, Murray, Donald & Caithness, Mackenzie Stewart, Provender Brown, Equal Exchange, St Andrews Sweet Shop, Caledonian Roofing Supplies and Xm Services.
“ We are growing our business and are always on the lookout for ways to expand our services,” continues Hardie. “We now offer a full marketing service to clients and are looking at doing all our Web design work in-house. We also have a few other ideas in mind, which we are keeping under wraps at the moment. I think Dundee is growing as a creative community especially with all the new media and games development companies in the area.”
One such company is (relatively) new start, Oomph. Founded by Mark Findlater, formerly head of design at Scotland Online, and Stephen Whyte, ex-sales director at Robert Parker Image Solutions, a print and design firm, the predominantly online agency has been in business now for almost a year.
“Our first year of business is only four weeks away and we have grown and expanded month by month since day one,” says Whyte. “We have successfully gained a client base in that time of over thirty clients, many of whom return for continued work, with many new clients from the house building, financial and tourism sectors.
“Our client base is varied as we undertake both traditional design for print as well as design for the Web, but our workload at present is predominantly Web-based, due to strong demand.
“Dundee has always produced a high standard of design graduates and, indeed, the work coming out of the city has always reflected this.
Dundee is continuing to expand as a centre for design excellence. Our agency continues grow too, at an ever increasing rate, and we are looking forward to a very busy second year, with lots of new business through referral from existing clients.”