Shiny happy people
Some said it would never work. In fact, many did not want it to work. Many full service agencies in Scotland wanted the concept of the media independent to fall flat on its face and scurry back to London when in the late 1980s The Media Shop was set up in Scotland by former client Terry Williams. Needless to say, the concept of the media independent didn’t fail and now it is the norm to have a creative agency and a media agency working side by side, though often appointed separately.
Fortunately, for The Media Shop, clients bought into the new way of working and now the agency is celebrating 16 years in business, enjoying annual billings of £16m and launching a new look that aims to better reflect the agency and how its way of working has changed in recent years.
Caroline McGrath has headed The Media Shop Scotland up for the last six of its 16 years. In that time McGrath has put together a team that is respected by clients and rival agencies alike for the high level of service and creativity they bring to the media planning process. Clients that take advantage of this include Scottish Enterprise, Kwik-Fit Insurance, Learndirect, Newsquest, USC Group, Behar Carpets, National Galleries of Scotland, Dunfermline Building Society, Scottish Leade and Gore-tex.
Many of those clients were present last Wednesday when McGrath unveiled the agency’s new look at a 16th birthday bash at Glasgow’s Corinthian and confirmed that The Media Shop Scotland, as we know it, will now form one part of the new TMS Communications Group alongside The Media Shop London, The Media Production Shop and The Media Shop Direct Marketing.
McGrath appointed 999 Design to create the new look, which she says will better reflect the agency: “We have tried to create something more reflective of the whole group. Our new catchword is ‘shine’ and we now want everything we do for clients to shine. The new look is very versatile and will permeate through everything we do for now on be it our signage, our advertising, our website and so on.
“We ran a democracy on this. It went to a vote and every member of staff had a contribution to the new look.”
With 14 full-time staff, The Media Shop Scotland remains a tightly run business and breaking the rules of running a modern media business the directors are all female. Ruth Berry and Morven Gow support Caroline at director level and men are few and far between in the agency. But breaking the mould is nothing new for McGrath or The Media Shop. As she says, her agency pioneered media independency in Scotland and hit the full service boys where it hurt, but that said she might be about to practise some reverse psychology: “We arrived in 1988, around the same time that The Leith Agency started, so there was a creative only hot shop to match us. We reflected what London was doing. The Leith Agency needed some media expertise, they put it out to tender and we won that. Then clients began to feel comfortable to be taking media advice from a separate agency to their creative agency.
“People’s views of media have changed hugely. We are now on the client side of the table often helping to advise on who should be doing the creative. Clients now accept media planners have a bigger role to play. Who knows, we might even have a creative director in place here a year down the line and then become a full service ourselves.”
In a reverse of fortune McGrath suggests that she might take the fight to the creative agencies, but this move would undoubtedly ruffle some feathers – just like The Media Shop did when it arrived in Scotland.
McGrath says that the last three years have been the best in the agency’s history, an interesting comment when they have also been the toughest on record.
She says: “People do ask us how things have been so good in recent years when things have been so bad generally. The answer to that as an agency we do not have the kind of clients that see advertising as a luxury. The type of clients we have need to advertise, they need to generate a response. Most of our clients are not about awareness raising campaigns that may take two years to show any significant effect, they are looking for results this very weekend, they need people through their doors or picking up the phone to buy products or services.
“It was not a conscious decision to bring on clients like this. Culturally you tend to end up with clients that match your own agency culture. We have been in business for 16 years and we are quite fussy. We have actually resigned business in the past because it has not been a good fit with us and were we are going.”
So, where is the agency going? McGrath is confident that with its new look the agency will continue to go from strength to strength. She is also keen to continue to see her team take a more strategic role and be seen as strategic planners rather than planner/buyers.
She says: “We have always been very single-minded. We have stuck to our core values - working with good clients, offering brilliant service and adding value along the way.
“We have always been about creative thinking. We have always been different and integrated in our approach. All our people are fluent in every media. I suppose I would say we are Malmaison while others are the Holiday Inn.”
On a personal basis, McGrath says she isn’t going anywhere: “I still enjoy doing this. I love it when we have people off on holiday and they ask me to look after their clients. I love to jump back in there and do the things you don’t always get the chance to do when you are running an agency. I am still very involved with the clients and am always there if they need me.”