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Angels of the North

By The Drum | Administrator

March 24, 2005 | 8 min read

Scots can sometimes be a little bit nasty to our English neighbours. Perhaps it is that air of slight superiority that does it. Or it could be the better standard of football. Maybe it is the age-old memory of countless kickings, passed down through many generations, that sticks in the throat of so many Scots when discussing anywhere south of the Border. Anywhere, that is, except Newcastle.

For some reason Newcastle, and its inhabitants, hold a special place in the hearts of many Scots. Maybe it’s because the city is closer to Glasgow and Edinburgh than it is to its fellow English cities. Maybe it’s the honest, fun-loving, hard-drinking nature of the Geordies that makes the difference. But whatever the reason, it’s a commonly held view in Scotland that Newcastle is ‘practically Scottish’.

With this in mind The Drum decided to take a look at the Scottish industry’s closest neighbour and check out the goings-on of its agency scene.

As a city on the make, Newcastle has, in recent years, enjoyed investment from both public and private sector organisations. With new developments cropping up around the city, the opportunities have been plentiful for Newcastle’s marketing services agencies.

Ben Quigley, managing director of Different, said: “It’s been a very busy time in the north east because there’s been a lot of government money sloshing around here, which agencies in Scotland are used to but isn’t usually the case down here.

“There’s been a new government smoking agency set up, a new regional development agency and a new initiative to encourage school-leavers to stay in the area, to name just a few.

“It just seems the opportunities keep coming and coming, both from the public sector and private sector front.”

The agency is currently working with a spread of clients which includes baby product manufacturer Tommee Tippee and Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Metro company. As well as advertising and design, Different also has a growing television content division that specialises in creating concepts for new TV programmes.

“I think the agency scene in Newcastle has been rejuvenated,” remarked James Allen, managing director of Guerilla, a young creative agency whose portfolio includes work for NHS Teeside and Holland & Barrett. “There’s been the older companies that have been here for years, and now we’re getting newer, younger companies coming through and really making a name for themselves. It’s helping everybody, really, this next generation of agencies.

“This new generation of agencies are increasingly concerned about promoting Newcastle as a creative area, as opposed to focussing on fighting among ourselves.”

However, despite the overall health of the marketplace, there is also a feeling of increased competition, largely due to the number of agencies currently operating in the area.

Simon Douglas, managing director of Blue River, noted: “I think you’ve got to work harder for your money. We’ve picked up a lot of work this year, but we’ve had to change our tactics a bit. Traditionally we don’t do a lot of pitching, but that’s something that we took a decision to change at the beginning of the year. There’s plenty of work out there, you’ve just got to fight for it. There’s always work for someone who’s better or who’s prepared to fight harder for it.”

The agency certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering in this increasingly competitive marketplace, however, as it continues to work for a range of clients across the arts, SME and education sectors, both in Newcastle and London.

Fellow Newcastle agency Mobious is another which has enjoyed a strong start to the year despite increased competition. The company has recently picked up the CRM contract for Carling, a name which will join established clients such as Daimler Chrysler, Gant and Nexus.

Director, Iain Gibbons believes that the key to survival in the future will be to pick up work outside of the Newcastle area.

He said: “The work doesn’t come to your doorstep anymore, you’ve really got to get up off your arse and chase it. The agencies that will survive will be the agencies that are capable of punching above their weight. There are a number of agencies that are content to work solely within the Newcastle area and they do that very well. But at some point that business will dry up and they’ll struggle. The merry-go-round can only go round so many times.”

Interesting, also, are the perceptions of Scotland.

“If I was going to expand the agency outside of the region it would either be a neighbouring area or straight down to London,” said Douglas. “I wouldn’t move into Scotland because there’s already too many agencies up there and the quality’s really very good, so we’ve got nothing really to offer.”

David Coates, managing director of NE6, spent many years working in Edinburgh as co-founder of McIlroy Coates.

“The Scottish design scene seems to be very strong,” remarked Coates. “It’s very specific – there’s advertising agencies, there’s design consultancies, and so on. The north east is very different. Very often you’ll get one-stop-shops, agencies that do a little bit of everything. I think there’s a view here that it’s the creativity that’s important, and it doesn’t matter how that creativity is implemented, what medium is employed, and I think there’s some merit in that. Some of NE6’s work has been transferable between advertising and design. It’s the quality of the thinking that matters.”

Coates also believes that, being in England, the Newcastle agencies can find it easier to pick up southern-based work than their Scottish counterparts.

He said: “I think that the opportunities in England seem to be more interesting and more varied than tends to be the case in Scotland. There’re a lot of good companies in Scotland fighting over relatively few bits of business. There are more opportunities in England and I prefer that.”

This seems to be borne out by the number of agencies pitching for and winning work in London. Quigley states that a new generation of marketing decision-maker in London is now looking further afield when looking for an agency.

He said: “Another thing that we’ve seen breaking down is the tendency of companies down south to just use London agencies, which I think has to do with new marketing decision-makers coming through who don’t have that traditional London-bias. In the past you used to be a little embarrassed to be a regional agency, you used to perceive it as a handicap, but I think that’s really changed now, which I think is massively encouraging for agencies in the North East, Yorkshire, Manchester and Scotland.

“It’s a new generation of marketing managers and marketing directors now with different backgrounds, who don’t have the same baggage. More so than ever you’re seeing a huge full-service agency going up against a tiny start-up, which is great.”

Allen commented: “What you’ve got to do is provide value for money. Because we’re based in Newcastle, if we are better than a London agency, and we come in cheaper than the London agency, then we’re providing really good value for money. Newcastle folk are really down to earth as well, which I think clients are increasingly appreciating.

“I think a lot of the clients we encounter tend to be quite a bit younger now as well, who have received wider training and tend to be more sophisticated marketers.”

At a glance the Newcastle scene would seem not dissimilar from the marketplace North of the Border: a talented creative community fighting it out in an increasingly competitive market. There is clearly a rash of Geordie agencies, however, that is not content with continuously mining the local area for business, and is now looking further south for new clients. Some of these agencies seem determined to lure clients away from London. And if clients can find strong creative in the North, then why shouldn’t they move their business out of the capital?

It’s a safe bet that the Scottish industry feels the same way.

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