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Edinburgh focus abroad

By The Drum | Administrator

January 27, 2005 | 9 min read

Time and again the same arguments arise about the state of the marketing communications industry in Scotland: does Edinburgh boast a more creative edge than Glasgow? Why do many Scottish clients persist on taking their business South? What can Scotland, as a whole, do to stop it? The answers, it seems, are never clear-cut. But, at a time when there is still uncertainty about the market it is reassuring to see that there are still many agencies that are flourishing. Once again, The Drum has taken the journey along the M8 to have a look at what some of Edinburgh’s agencies are doing creatively for their clients either on an international level, or in turn for international clients.

It seems that for many agencies the idea of taking their work ethics and ideals across the water to other countries is the way forward.

One such agency is The Gupta Partnership, which has for nearly 20 years worked with a number of international clients. The agency has also formed a partnership, Keltic Skunks, that sees it collaborating with other big-name agencies (and sometimes competitors), including Whitespace, Lightershade and The Union, on a variety of international business. Managing director Ash Gupta explains: “We have, since the early 1980s, realised that the way forward is to take our expertise out into a wider market and show not only European but also American firms the range of services that we can offer. What we have found is that they are very receptive to this way of working, and through our initial work many years ago with Canon we received recommendations and referrals from clients who have kept with us throughout the years.”

This is a sentiment that is shared by new media firm Company Net. The agency has recently completed work for international brand names including Coca-Cola and Microsoft. Managing director Neil Francis said: “We always get to the client through recommendation and referral, and that is the way we run our business.

“We haven’t had any problem with the companies that we deal with, and they are always open to suggestion. That has, in turn, led to more business, and really put us on the mark.”

Gupta believes that in order not only for his agency to flourish, but also for the Scottish industry as a whole, that people must look outside of Scotland. He added: “I think I realised early on that Scotland really is too small a pond for us all to be chasing after the same fish. And, we have been successful in the wider market. That success means that we can work with other Scottish agencies to really try to bring more international names to Scotland. That is our plan, and that is the way we work.”

Ward Mulvey, managing director of below-the-line agency BOB Marketing agrees with this sentiment. He commented: “I hate to pigeonhole the company by saying that we are simply a Scottish firm. Yes, we are based in Edinburgh, but the reasons that we are based here are really not to do with the business – it is really a lifestyle choice. Because of that we do have both national (UK wide) and international clients. We work with Glenmorangie on a global account, which consists of both traditional mail and new media. In terms of regional variations all our work goes out in English as Glenmorangie recognises the fact that it is the most used language in the world. We try to use a lot of emotional equity with the brand so that it is instantly recognisable. We are also actively pursuing a network – we never go to clients to talk about the work that we can do for them in Edinburgh – we like to look at it from a larger perspective and therefore I think that stands us in good stead.”

However, Mark Fowlestone, managing director of agency Multiply, insists that being based in Edinburgh sets the agency apart, and that the city itself has a huge influence in the work that they do. He commented: “There’s no longer any tangible value associated with the prestige of working with big London agencies. Our clients continue to work with us because they value the people in our organisation and our ability to create ideas that work for them. Edinburgh is a vibrant and energising city and this reflects itself positively in our attitude to, and the energy of our responses, to client briefs. The very fact that we are not a big London agency with all the baggage that that entails is undeniably a strength.”

Multiply has worked with a number of clients for a worldwide brief, but Fowlestone believes that by having a unified brief and brand across the territories that the campaign will have more success. He commented: “It’s tempting when responding to a brief which will be executed across a number of geographical regions to go for the lowest common denominator. But compromises of this nature are self-defeating and make a mockery of good marketing practice. The work we did with Edrington and Famous Grouse embraced individuality and national identity. It was a structured, cohesive facilitation of a theme that was executed in a manner which was relevant and appreciated by consumers from Stockholm to Sydney.”

But, what does this mean when it comes to working with an international brand, or other territories outside of the UK?

The brand consultancy Hookson has worked outside of the UK for a number of clients – Wedgwood and Whyte and MacKay – producing a range of material that is used in international territories. Managing director Bryan Hook stated: “What we aim to do is to try to communicate the brand as consistently as possible through the world. The work that we produce therefore has to be as consistent. However, when it comes down to the individual brochures or packaging that might be particular to one country, then we will look at what the country needs. For example, with Wedgwood we will produce a brochure that comes in six different languages relevant to that particular territory. All the pages will change and, depending on the range, the layout might change too. It really is a huge job.”

Presumably then, it must come down to what fits with the right market? Hookson added: “We have to do an awful lot of research in every area, to make sure that even the colours that we are using are right for that particular market. For example, with Whyte and Mackay we have to use different colours on the label depending on what particular area we are selling the bottle in, so that we are catering for individual cases. A lot of research is done before the design of the label can even begin in order to target one market at a time.”

1576 managing director David Reid agrees that research is an important element when working on an international account. The advertising agency works with VisitScotland world wide on a variety of projects to encourage more visitors to the country. He explained: “What we do for marketing Scotland abroad is to go for an emotional response. People aren’t really interested in how many beds there might be available in the country. Scotland has a large amount to offer and we therefore play on the strengths of that, and also the research that our planning department has put together.”

So, while there might be a core message that the brand wants to bring about, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of the design, a country’s influence will be taken into account.

Navigator Responsive Advertising work with a variety of international drinks brands, including Remy Martin, Famous Grouse and Fosters, on a UK-wide basis. Managing director Yvonne Balfour commented: “What we are trying to do is build up some brands, and build up the campaign so that we can encourage people to drink the brand. The below- the-line campaigns that we do always direct the drinker towards a website that is globally used, and therefore the brand message needs to be consistent. But, at the same time, we need to be aware of the audience that we are working with and trying to sell to, and make sure that message is clear to them.”

Navigator also works with the Dutch firm Forbo Flooring, which has offices based in Kirkcaldy. While the agency currently only support the brand on a UK-wide remit, Balfour suggests that this might soon change. “We previously worked with the Dutch side of things, getting the message from them and trying to adapt it to the UK message. Now, however, we are working with them to create new material for the UK and for a change our work is going to Holland, and there is a possibility that it might be used over there instead.”

Family has recently completed a campaign for Scottish Leader, filming in Prague for the Estonian market. “It is a big market for them, and we simply rammed the message home,” commented managing director Ian Wright. So, how difficult was it when it came to language barriers? Not very, says Wright. “Basically we had all the same fundamentals for shooting the ad as we would have for a Scottish market – the same brand proposition if you like. We filmed the ad in Prague and the only thing that really sets it apart is at the end, the language that comes up is Estonian. We had great help with the distributors, and from that we knew what we had to give to the audience. Working abroad is no longer a problem for us – there are no boundaries – and I see no reason why we should not be able to work on other international projects.”

It would appear that in the Edinburgh marketplace there are signs of a recovery – and it would also appear that looking past Scotland, even the UK as a whole, is one method that agencies are using.

So, while the debate no doubt will rage on as to which city is more creative, it would appear that at agencies are beginning to look further afield in order to produce the best work possible.

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