By The Drum, Administrator

March 24, 2005 | 7 min read

Redpath’s founder and managing director Richard Irvine has two rules. The first one is to “do good work, have fun and make money.” Sounds like a good plan and it is one that Irvine and his team, based at Gayfield Square at the top of Leith Walk, have been living by for the last ten years. The design consultancy celebrated its tenth anniversary at the beginning of March and in that time it has become one of Scotland’s most solid design businesses, turning over a total of £12m, 2,600 design jobs and employing 40 staff in that time.

Richard Irvine’s second rule is the one that he founded the agency upon and one that has been the consultancies USP since 1995, as Irvine explained: “This business has always been about words and pictures for me, not just pictures as is the case with many other design companies. My experience has been that the very best solutions always come when you brief your designer and your writer together at the same time. That was Redpath’s real point of difference from the start.

“I think clients are finally beginning to get that message and we have seen a change with the ease that we can now sell that concept in to clients. Elmwood were in fact one of the first design consultancies to put in an editorial director down in their Leeds office. They value good copywriting as we do, but I still think most design consultancies in Scotland are not grasping that yet. Consultancies based down south are, consultancies such as Start in London that do the design work for Virgin Mobile, they get it, but generally in Scotland writers are still classed as something totally different.”

As most will know up until four years ago, when Irvine headed up an MBO, Redpath was the design element of what was the Faulds Group, which also included Navigator Responsive Advertising, The Glasgow Agency and, of course, the now defunct Faulds Advertising. Irvine was asked by Jim Faulds to launch a design company for him in 1995 after a meeting that was set up by Simon Scott.

Three months after their initial meeting Irvine hired Ian Lauder as design director, a design junior, a receptionist and Redpath was born, in offices on Coburg Street in Leith.

Irvine said: “It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time and with the right people. It was a period of time in which design in Scotland had gone through a real boom. Tayburn and Graphic Partners had been around for a long time and McIlroy Coates had come along and reinvigorated the design scene, which really re-energised the rest of the market. When we set up it was intriguing. In the advertising sector there had been quite a lot of breakaways. A number of agencies were starting to emerge out of what was Hall Advertising, and that was beginning to happen more and more in the designs sector. Navyblue had been a breakaway about a year before we started up.”

Irvine’s love of the written word stems from his previous life – nine years spent working as a corporate writer. In 1991, alongside Jamie Jauncey, Irvine set up the Scottish office of Company Writers, a copywriting consultancy that specialised in writing financial and corporate documents.

Irvine said: “It was a very interesting time. It was the time of the 80s boom, and Jamie and I covered a specific financial and corporate niche for clients. It was also around that time that clients started to realise that their annual report was a very useful piece of corporate communication. Therefore their budgets went up and annual reports really started to look and feel great. At this point people actually started to worry about the words that went in to these documents and what they actually said about the organisation.”

During this period Irvine wrote annual reports for Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank, and he also wrote the annual report for ScottishPower the year before that organisation was privatised.

As it turned out, prior to the launch of Redpath Irvine had been working with many of the clients that Jim Faulds’ ad agency was also working for. As Irvine said: “At that time if anything started with the word Scottish, then Jim was working with them, from the Scottish Tourist Board to ScottishPower and everything in between.”

For any fledgling design consultancy in this day and age to start off with clients such as ScottishPower and the like would be a dream come true, but Irvine says that after the early days the two companies worked very autonomously: “I brought some clients that I had worked with at Company Writers, such as the Scottish Tourist Board and Clydesdale Bank. Thereafter we built our client list by talking to Jim and seeing where we could work together. We got about 50 per cent of our work from Jim in the first year, but in year two that fell to about four per cent. Jim was very good at doing the introductions but he was not simply going to give his clients’ work to us. In fact from year four onwards we didn’t have any mutual clients with Faulds at all.”

Irvine also recalls that the formation of Redpath came around the time when the biggest technological renaissance for the design industry was in its earliest stages.

“Our launch coincided with that of Macintosh,” he said. “I remember that to get a Mac set up cost around £5,000 back then, but technologically the barriers to entry were falling all the time. Technology has commoditised design because people think they can now do it themselves at home. It would be nice to see more clients buying design strategically.”

Shortly after launch Andrew Hunter also joined the consultancy and to roll out an old cliché, they’ve never looked back. Steadily Redpath has built up a solid and varied client list that now includes the likes of The Royal Bank of Scotland, The Macallan, NHS Scotland, Somerfield, St Martin in The Field and many more.

To celebrate their ten years in business, they are inviting anybody that has had any interaction with the consultancy to take part in their project, simply called ‘Ten’, in which 10,000 people are being invited to draw or write a small something created around the theme of ten. The best will be put in a book to be published by the agency later this year.

So, in another ten years’ time, where does Irvine see himself and the consultancy? He said: “I want to be coming into board meetings and seeing the next generation running the business successfully. Part of our brief has always been that we don’t want to be big. I respect the achievements of the Tayburns and Navyblues of this world, but that is not what I want us to do. I enjoy the work still and in ten years’ time I still want to be doing this. And perhaps something else.”

Watch this space.


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