On 9 July 2004 Andy Jones spoke in confidence to me about what the future might hold for him after his recent departure from Barkers, where he had been a director for around a year. As we enjoyed lunch at the Thai Fountain restaurant in Glasgow, Jones, on gardening leave from Barkers, admitted that he had two potential ideas in mind, however, he was going to spend the rest of the year exploring their strengths and weaknesses before ultimately deciding which path to choose.
Fast forward to Thursday, 20 January 2005, and Jones is standing in the reception area of The Drum with his two new business partners, the highly respected marketing team of Martin Raymond and Ali O’Neal who, during the 90s, built the Health Scotland (nee HEBS) brand into one of the most trusted among teenagers in Scotland. And in 11 days time the three-strong partnership is set to embark on the next chapter of their careers when they launch a new kind of marketing communications consultancy in Scotland, Cloudline Consulting, at Stirling University Innovation Park.
Cloudline will be a PR, media and marketing communications consultancy, though it will differ from the traditional agency model in that it will not actually produce any ‘product’ in the form of advertising or design or buy ad space for clients. What the three directors will do is liaise with clients, ideally on a retainer basis, to offer strategic direction and planning advice on marketing strategy, PR and media exposure. Broken down, Cloudline’s service offer to clients includes strategic marketing input, analysis of the role of advertising, media and PR, development of communications solutions, media auditing, development of media contacts and partnerships, new media strategy, problem solving and crisis management, independent advice on agency selection and costs and the provision of client training modules.
Raymond said: “What we are looking at here is a true marketing communications consultancy. We are about developing marketing ideas, plans and strategies through our combined marketing experience, which we believe offers clients a unique and interesting mix of skills and experience.
“Our specific aim is to help clients at a very fundamental level, before they even think about going to an ad agency, a design consultancy or a PR consultancy, or whatever it may be. We will help them to formulate ideas and make up their minds on what marketing solution they need to meet their challenges. We can then take them through the whole pitch process and even look at managing the marketing mix.”
Jones adds: “The other thing that fuelled our thinking is that we believe it is a unique combination of talents. I think clients will be interested as you have major client experience with Martin and Ali along with my agency experience. Also the fact that we are a consultancy as opposed to an agency means we are truly independent, as we don’t have these huge overheads dictating what we can do.”
O’Neal goes on: “It is important that people understand that we will work as a very close team in order to get input from us all and for clients to benefit from our varied marketing experiences. One of the things business people are quite wary of is the press, and having worked with them for ten years I know that they can be of great value in any marketing campaign. There is an educational process that has to take place so that clients understand how that relationship works, and we can assist with that.”
The idea of a new kind of marketing consultancy that will benefit from the vast public, private and voluntary sector experience of the three protagonists has been something that has been on the boil for some time as Jones explains: “Martin was obviously a client of mine and Feather Brooksbank for around six-and-a-half years during his time at HEBS. We had a very close working relationship during that period, and what we considered to have been a very successful working relationship in that we won Effectiveness Awards and the innovative strategies that we came up with. So, Cloudline is something that has been germinating over a period of time.
“I think it has been difficult for big agencies in this marketplace, which has been tough for the last few years. The client pool as such has not been as strong has it has been in previous decades and the big companies are finding it harder to move and harder to give the level of service and advice that perhaps they would have been able to previously.
“We have a few clients that I have cultivated over the last few months and we intend to have a pretty discreet client portfolio drawn from public and private sector, and we are looking at clients at all levels.”
It may surprise some that the directors have shunned the bright lights of Edinburgh and Glasgow for their HQ, but as Raymond explains Stirling has its own advantages for the business: “The reason we chose to be based in Stirling is because it is just about the geographical centre of Scotland, if you do that drawing lines between the major centres.”
Jones adds: “Also, being based in Stirling doesn’t typecast us into being a Glasgow or Edinburgh consultancy. We can be seen as truly independent. We won’t be tied to this Hadrian’s Wall that is halfway along the M8.”
So, how do they think other agencies will react to them joining forces? Raymond says: “We do not see ourselves as competing directly with agencies. I can do the odd drawing, but we are not designers, we’re not copywriters and we’re not art directors and we are not going to be producing advertising. We will produce the plans, we can create the vision and help people with that part of the marketing process, so there is no reason why we cannot work with all agencies. We can actually provide an extra dimension to what they are offering clients.”
Jones goes on: “Some agencies might be defensive about this, but I am sure many will be supportive. It’s the same with any new venture in the marketplace; we don’t actually have a direct competitor, as there is no one offering what we offer. We want to have good relationships with all agencies in Scotland.”
In recent years a number of agencies and consultancies have come and gone and even a number of long established agencies have perished. So, what immediate challenges do Cloudline expect to hamper their success?
“We see our major challenge as conservatism in the marketplace,” said Jones. “Any innovator or pathfinder always runs up against the conservatism of the marketplace, those who feel comfortable just to be doing what they have always done. When I started as a media independent 85 per cent of the market was in full service agencies. Ten years later 85 per cent was in media independents. It is a case of us getting out there and making the marketplace understand what we can provide. The big challenge in the first few months is to get clients on board. One of the things when I started up was clients saying ‘that’s really interesting, but come and see us in six months and tell us how you’re getting on.’ The key is breaking the first few clients.”
The three are also quick to quash any suggestion that the agencies that they have forged close links with over the last few years, such as The Bridge, Feather Brooksbank, Citigate Smarts and Barkers, are set to benefit as they guide clients through the pitch process.
Raymond said: “I have worked with, in one way or another, most of the big agencies in Scotland, so we have links and relationships with most agencies. I hope our credibility will rest on the fact that if we are involved with finding an agency for a client then we will find the right agency for that particular client. A long relationship with The Bridge was a very important aspect of Health Scotland’s success as The Bridge was the right agency for them, but it might not be the right agency for somebody else. All agencies in Scotland are offering something slightly different and those subtle differences can be hard for a client to identify. It is important for us to be able to identify an agency’s strengths and be able to match them with clients. There is certainly no shortage of knowledge of the Scottish agency scene across all disciplines.”
So, Scotland has its first new consultancy of 2005 and it only took 31 days to happen.