The Dark Arts

By The Drum, Administrator

April 21, 2005 | 8 min read

With a steady influx of creative talent and an ongoing regeneration of the city’s centre, Aberdeen is fast developing into a thriving creative hotbed. And being a city that is heavily influenced by the energy sectors, Aberdeen’s creative community is growing to take advantage of this lucrative market.

Over recent years there has been an increase in the amount of professionals relocating to the city for the all-important, ‘quality of life’ found in Scotland’s North East.

It is well known that the oil and gas industry has, and will continue to be, the biggest market sector in Aberdeen and when that performs well many other companies benefit too. However, there is an admirable caution displayed by the companies that ply their trade in Aberdeen, and this includes those that work in the creative communications arena, with most agencies preferring to keep a healthy client split.

A regeneration project is now under way to further develop the city’s retail offering. The project aims to grow the city’s reputation as a vibrant shopping district, in turn, helping to attract new business and investment from outwith the city, while releasing the potential of local would-be entrepreneurs.

The more on offer in a city, the more investment it will attract, and this will only add to the appeal for professionals, and students alike, wanting to succeed in a competitive market place.

John McDonald of Weber Shandwick’s Aberdeen office noticed: “There is an increasing trend of people relocating from down south, they are experienced people, attracted by the buoyant market we are experiencing at present.”

Although energy isn’t the be-all and end-all of business in Aberdeen, the introduction of a proposed wind farm will add to the city’s claim to being one of Europe’s energy capitals. Plans by Talisman Energy and Scottish and Southern Energy, to construct a £24m deepwater wind farm, will create a number of new jobs, which will have, in turn, the usual spin off effect on business for creative agencies in the area, as the new businesses look to source design, advertising, PR and online communications to compete and attract new customers of their own.

The general buzz in Aberdeen seems to be that the market is picking up after a bit of a slow spell last year.

Many agencies in the area started the year with a bang and look to be on a good grounding for the year ahead, says Raymond Morrison, managing director at Covey McCormick: “Early last year things were going slow in the city, but it has picked up really well. Our financial year-end is approaching, and it looks as though we are in great shape.”

Zoe Corsi, director of The Big Partnership in Aberdeen, agreed: “We’ve started this year with a bang, the first three months have been our busiest ever. The increased drilling activity has had a huge impact on service companies in the area.”

The money-spinning oil and gas market in Aberdeen is a good base for up-and-coming agencies to develop their business through. This market acts as an opening to gain access to local clients, yet often, through these clients, get access to work on an international scale. Companies basing themselves in Aberdeen can find it a great way to develop in a booming marketplace before progressing into different geographical sectors.

Launched in Aberdeen in 1992, Lighthouse has built itself a strong creative reputation. John Duncan, the agency’s managing director, said: “There has been an upsurge in the service companies based in Aberdeen because of the nature of the North Sea industry. Smaller companies are moving to supply this lucrative market. But we deliberately try to spread ourselves about and not depend on the oil and gas industry. By being based in Aberdeen, smaller companies can do work for international clients because of the energy connection.”

Design agency, Greybar also works with a varied client list, however, it too includes a host international energy businesses, working with clients in Dubai and Canada. Steve Duguid, managing director at Greybar, said: “ We are comfortable right now as things are going well, we have a good platform to continue to look outwith Aberdeen for business in the future.”

Greybar has been on a good run of form of late, like many of Aberdeen’s creative agencies, recently picking up a host of new business, including a new six-figure contract prised from South of the Border.

But, bar a few of the more established exceptions, Aberdeen’s agencies tend to be small, mainly focused on the fluctuating oil and gas industry, which often leaves them relatively limited in their creativity due to a lack of vision shown by clients linked to Aberdeen’s traditional industries.

Mark Jennings, of Cynosure, thinks agencies have to be more determined to break the mould: “If they lose a job by disagreeing with clients then at least they can walk away with integrity and move on to the next project.”

Some agencies simply prefer to stay away from the oil and gas industry altogether to avoid being dependant on the trade, which has a tendency to flow in a series of peaks and troughs.

Raymond Morrison, of Covey McCormick, said: “Generally other companies are reliant on the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen, but we tend to shy away from that. Our policy is to pick up business that we can grow with, and who can, likewise, grow along with us too. However, there are not a lot of major accounts to be won in Aberdeen besides those in the energy sector.”

But it is suggested that many client companies simply don’t perceive Aberdeen’s agencies to be as good as those in the Central Belt. ‘Bigger is better’ is often the case.

This, of course, is only a perception. One that is usually proven false.

Clive Smith of Rhino, says: “I think, in general, the standard of design in the city is exceptional. We have the opportunity to work with a wide-reaching client base, that satisfies our creative department.

“We've been very careful to develop business across a broad client base. This has allowed us to work and gain experience on a diverse range of creative projects - each with its own specific approach and target audience. Also, we're lucky in that our client base stretches from the Central Belt to the Orkney Islands.”

“This is a view supported by Mike Hampton of Hampton Associates: “We have strong creative people, yet despite this, I think clients can overlook us in favour of people from Glasgow or Edinburgh. Aberdeen is no different to any other city, but it’s smaller therefore it has less opportunities.” Despite this, Hampton Associates works with big clients such as Kenco coffee, Tesco and Grampian Foods.

Other agencies in Aberdeen have been expanding, picking up work through a range of sectors, integrating services and winning awards. There is a lot to be said for life in the ‘Granite City’ and the creative minds it harbours.

As well as recently opening a new office in Dubai, to capitalise on recent business wins, and expand into other oil-rich markets, Fifth Ring has been bringing in a raft of new staff and business, recently winning new contracts in the leisure industry, picking up work in corporate interior design and, generally offering clients a fully integrated service.

Fifth Ring’s business unit manager, Kelly Kilner, said: “There is potential business to be won in many different fields, there’s lots of activity and people shouldn’t forget just how strategically important Aberdeen is as a city and the opportunities here. We have grown the business and have started to branch out into even wider areas, for example we now offer consultancy advice on corporate interiors.”

The Big Partnership, which is, coincidentally, about to celebrate its third birthday later this month, has won no less than six new clients since the beginning of the year, these ranging from the favourite oil and gas sector to Eastern Airways and the Inverness Caledonia Thistle accounts.

Zoe Corsi, the agency’s managing director, said: “There is a huge amount of creative talent up here, with people choosing to come here really because of the quality of life.”


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