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Small is bountiful

By The Drum, Administrator

January 26, 2005 | 7 min read

Last month, a marketing professional phoned Adline’s editorial office to, among other things, complement us on this here publication. As someone who had been working in London since leaving university, the idea of a marketing community outside of London, nay, Soho, seemed the stuff of fairytales. Therefore it came as quite a surprise to her to see a magazine dedicated to that very arena.

As well as being touched by the caller’s glowing praise, Adline could not help but feel obligated to dig even deeper than before. While continuing to provide focuses on cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, it feels like now is the right time to spread our wings and uncover the agencies doing great work in some of the UK’s arguably less cosmopolitan, yet no less talent-filled cities.

While space restricts us from speaking to or talking about every agency within this category, Adline has sought to bring readers a sample of agencies with something to shout about in some of the UK’s secondary cities.

First up is Preston, one of the UK’s newest cities and home to agency NXO. Discussing her agency’s location, managing director, Alex O’Toole said: \"Preston and the surrounding towns has always offered a wealth of opportunities to NXO because of the bias towards the B2B and Public Sector markets – our specialisms. But our location does not stop us from working extensively outside the region.”

NXO is currently working on a major US campaign for a Manchester based client that is being rolled out to Canada, Japan and South America.

O’Toole added: \"Our location really only becomes an issue when we are tendering for work without having met the client. Once a potential client meets us it\'s a different story. People put people and the quality of the work on offer before location. At the end of the day, we\'re both in business and we both want results.\"

So, is this an attitude that’s mirrored by other agencies in secondary cities? Mark Humphries, founder of Bath based agency South believes the firm’s specialism in “producing both above- and below-the-line campaigns for FMCG brands” has ensured that location isn’t a problem. He argues: “We’ve established a track record in our field, working with the likes of Onken and Taylors of Harrogate. Our reputation has been built up through word of mouth, so we don’t find location to be a problem. Besides, clients love coming here. I think the reputation of design within the city has helped with attracting clients, but once they come here, they tend to stay.”

Next up is Stoke-on-Trent, where Ad One works its magic. The agency works with clients such as Friends Provident, Michelin and Learning and Skills Council, and has just won an account with a major building society. It’s further good news for an agency that won 13 out of 16 pitches it took part in during 2004. Managing director, Alex Swann, said: “Clients sometimes have an issue about us being based outside of London, but not of us being in a smaller city than a Leeds or a Manchester.”

Swann also believes recruitment can be slightly tricky. He argues: “If you’re based in a city like Stoke-on-Trent, it’s important the agency has a reputation that is stronger in order to get the standard and quantity of CVs you might like. Even if you’re a Manchester agency without a strong reputation, you might get the same number of CVs in as an agency in Stoke with a big reputation.”

Next stop for Adline’s tour bus is Derby. The city – which (rather oddly) happens to be the closest city to Nottingham East Midlands Airport – is home to advertising and design agency Sam. Speaking on the subject of recruiting staff to a Derby agency, managing director, Andy Keeling, said: “Naturally, yes, finding quality staff is a challenge. What’s good for us is that we can attract high calibre people who believe in our vision. What\'s hard for them is the up-rooting and moving to a new life.”

The agency is currently in the process of launching marketing material for Tarmac TopPave, is working on outdoor media campaigns for shopping centres and is about to launch Raleigh’s 2005 catalogues. Keeling added: “There is obviously a downside to this in not being in the hub of the ad world, but if you believe in being different you don’t need to feed off that. That\'s what we believe in.”

Swinging round to Nottingham, Adline meets Brian Dolby, joint managing director of GBCS Public Relations – sister company to BC-S – who said: “We now have major clients on three continents and each day begins with the team dealing with China and ends with us working with the United States and Canada. We have found that our product not only appeals to regional clients – and we retain a very healthy selection – but also increasingly with clients across the world.”

Also operating in Nottingham is Purple Circle. Michael Slack, a founding partner of the agency, explains why Nottingham was the ideal location for the design firm: “None of us were from Nottingham, it was more of the place of our first jobs and we all became smitten with the city. It has everything you’d want from a city, yet doesn’t feel soulless like a bigger city might.”

Purple Circle is gearing up for the March launch of the Nottinghamshire branding as well as working on a special “three cities project”, targeting inward investment for Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.

Next up – discussing the benefits of the agency’s Oxford location – is JJ managing director, Robert Beck. He states: “Aside from the obvious advantages of lower overheads compared to larger cities, Oxford is fantastically central for London, Birmingham, Reading and Bristol. The great location and environment is a major attraction to our clients rather than a restriction.”

After recent new business wins, JJ can now add Volvo and Next Generation to a client list that includes Whitbread, Aston Martin, Virgin and British Gas Business. Beck added: “There are inevitable advantages of being in a larger city. Better lunch options for one. But generally with the ease of access, centrality to clients and suppliers, JJ certainly doesn’t feel at a disadvantage.”

In Wolverhampton, M3 Communications is busy working on TV campaigns for Wyevale Garden Centre and West Midlands Safari Park, as well as projects for Argos and Dunelm Mill, to name a few. Speaking to Adline about the agency’s surroundings, joint managing director, Dave Lawrence, said: “I very much see our location as a benefit. It’s ideally suited for both road and rail travel and e-mail and ISDN means there are no communications problems.”

Heading up to Bradford (you’ll have to forgive our tour bus driver’s poor directional sense), Adline is meeting with Jean Fallows, of The Ladders Agency, which has a client base that includes Green Flag Motoring Assistance, Dailmer Chrysler and InterContinental Hotels Group. As well as citing “transportation and lower overheads” as two major advantages to being in Bradford, Fallow added: “Geographically, we can service all of our provincially-based clients. However, with the train and plane links – especially low-cost airlines – we are also able to service clients in London and overseas. I think the days of clients finding themselves ‘an agency round the corner’ have long since gone.”

So, does size matter? If it does, then clients of secondary city agencies are doing a fine job of faking their fulfilment. On this showing, there’s certainly enough to suggest that not only do these agencies know their way round the industry but they also have the necessary experience to leave any client fully satisfied.

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