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Yorkshire Focus Group

By The Drum | Administrator

May 2, 2005 | 11 min read

Much is made in marketing about the bullshit that is spread by its practitioners. In the same way that business bosses may groan when referring to an impending meeting with their accountant, a meeting with their advertising agency is likely to prompt a particularly sceptical remark about the jargon they speak in. However, in Yorkshire there’s something of a refreshing stench in the air. Don’t get us wrong, Yorkshire agencies know their shit, it just happens not to be bullshit. If you’re a spade, they’ll call you a spade and if you’re an awkward client, they’ll find out how much your budget is before considering whether to tell you you’re an awkward client. (They’re not daft.) With flat caps and whippets having been left in the past, it’s the down-to-earth personalities that remain the trademark of the region.

That is why, when Adline gathered representatives from some of Yorkshire’s most prominent marketing agencies around a rather large boardroom table at Propaganda’s offices last month, we were sure we would get an honest and insightful discussion. With a relatively broad agenda, agencies were given the opportunity to converse about the Yorkshire marketing services scene, the problems and challenges that they share and ideas about how they can be overcome.

It is important to note that the 14 agencies that were represented are merely a sample (albeit a strong sample) of the marketing services businesses that are based within Yorkshire – a fact which should indicate the strength and depth of what is on offer to clients. To have all agencies in one room would have been nigh on impossible - however hopefully the views that have been expressed here are echoed through the Yorkshire dales. Theresa Lindsay, head of marketing at Yorkshire Forward was also scheduled to attend, but unfortunately, the announcement of an Election date, meant that the organisation has been sworn to silence until after May 5.

One of the areas, which Adline was keen to throw up for discussion, was whether agencies mingled with one another on a regular basis and what opportunities there are to do so in the future. Events organised by Leeds Media and Yorkshire Forward meant that some of the agency heads attending our Yorkshire focus group had met on previous occasions. However, for the majority, this event was the first time they had got together.

Opinion seemed split as to whether the events that have been arranged in Yorkshire in the past have been entirely relevant and effective. While agencies that have been involved in events organised by the likes of Leeds Media and Yorkshire Forward found some value in attending – whether it be guest speakers or meeting peers – the common outcome was that there is still a void to be filled within the Yorkshire marketing scene.

However, last year Yorkshire Forward launched a Business and Design initiative, whereby, it took five Yorkshire clients to Barcelona to meet, network and socialise with five Yorkshire agencies. At least two of the five agencies managed to secure some business out of the sessions and found it extremely useful to chat with their peers. The success and positive feedback of the inaugural event has ensured a repeat this year, with a trip to Prague planned later this month. An account of this trip will be feature in Adline next month.

Aside from Yorkshire Forward’s efforts to galvanise the industry, agencies turned their attention to the all important issue of identity, where they feel that more opportunities to meet with one another could be hugely advantageous to developing an identity and to the industry as a whole. Many felt that the area has a lack of cultural identity compared to Manchester and would like to see both Leeds and Yorkshire as something more that an area ‘up North’. This many felt would have a positive benefit when it came to encouraging clients to stay within the area, and may also help to ttract business into the area at the same time.

Recruitment continues to be a challenge for some Yorkshire agencies. While locally-based further education venues, such as Leeds University, have demonstrated a fairly prolific rate of churning out good quality graduates, there is an overall feeling among agencies that they are only getting the ‘bounce backs’ from London. They feel it’s the graduates that have been to the capital and didn’t like it, or spent a few years there and decided to come back or couldn’t get work there, whose CVs are coming in.

One of the observations made by agency heads is that students who possess a natural ability are being advised by lecturers to try their luck in London before considering options in other parts of the country. Agencies say they’d like to be in a position to get first refusal of graduates, but suggest that the lack of an identity for the area marketing scene is a primary factor as to why graduates will head straight to London instead of staying in the area.

While students will often have an idea of a few agencies in the area, many will be unaware of the clients that Yorkshire agencies work for and will see London as the only place to go to work on the sexy brands.

It was suggested that if there were to be a stronger identity for the Yorkshire marketing scene, the region would be a considerably more appetising option for talented graduates. Agencies feel that regardless of the bright lights lure of London, graduates are far more likely to go to Manchester than, perhaps, Leeds or Sheffield, because of the identity that the Lancashire city’s marketing scene has. It was claimed that within Manchester there is a sense of young staff feeling part of an exciting environment, something which appears to be missing in Yorkshire cities.

In discussing the further opportunities to mix with peers in the future, many ideas were suggested, from purely social get-togethers to Creative Circle-type events, paid for by Yorkshire agencies. Whatever the event, it was suggested that younger marketing professionals should be given ample opportunity and encouragement to take part in the event in order to produce the kind of energy and atmosphere that can be found in Manchester.

Another idea that was touted at the discussion was ‘Fuck up Friday’ – a largely social event, whereby the opening 20 minutes could feature agency heads taking to a stage to recount a tale of how they had dropped a clanger in their line of duty. It was an idea that was met, with enthusiasm, reflecting how open the industry now is.

Gone is the old-fashioned guarded advertising agency stance of \"I’m not talking to you about our clients because you’re a rival and you’ll nick ‘em\".

Nowadays, it would seem, agencies are open-minded to the idea that collectively they stand a greater chance of drawing clients into the area.

When it comes to attracting clients from either outside or within Yorkshire, many of the agencies are of the mind that it is far more difficult to sell the option of using a Yorkshire agency to locally-based clients than it is to selling their offer to potential clients in London. Clients using London agencies may feel disenfranchised with the London prices or, in some of the bigger agencies, the lack of a personal touch. However, the agencies are keen to point out that this is not a case of ‘Us versus London’. Yorkshire creative firms are eager to sell there businesses individually based on what they can offer the client they are talking to.

However, it was noted that some Yorkshire clients have been very traditional when it comes to placing their marketing budget, a fact that is reflected by some major chunks of business, which are retained within the region. The agencies feel that it is up to them, to set an example to the rest of the country and educate clients as to the expertise and talent that operates from within Yorkshire.

With agencies achieving success individually, all that is left is to be making a noise about it. By creating a united effort to bring clients and talented staff into the region, it can’t be long before the Yorkshire marketing scene has an identity that people can’t fail to notice.


Representing Leeds-based agency Thompson were Messrs Ian Thompson and Phil Dean. The agency has clients such as Harvey Nichols and Yorkshire Forward, and is currently working on the Leeds branding project.


Having upped sticks and moved out of Leeds city centre to luxurious new offices in Garforth, Propaganda is geared to servicing clients such as ghd and Deutsche Post. Creative director, Steve Dixon and, commercial director, Nicole Connolly attended.


Represented by, chairman, Carl Hopkins, JDA is celebrating after scooping the £7 million Cattles business. Working out of its Leeds base, JDA also works with clients such as Dulux, HBOS and Asda, specialising in direct marketing.


Operating out of Leeds, Edinburgh, and now Australia, Elmwood is firing on all cylinders. Elmwood was recently crowned the Robert Horne North of England Design Agency of the Year, and was represented at the discussion by, managing director, Jayne Barratt.


Marianne Del Garbutt, managing director at Lowd+Klea, was representing her agency at the meeting. Lowd+Klea, which was launched in 2002, works with Respect for Animals and Studio 12.

The Thinking Agency

The Thinking Agency was also ably represented at the meeting in the form of, managing director, James Eate. The firm, which was originally launched in 1960, works with clients such as Ryalux Carpets, Leeds City Council and Arriva.


With 120 staff, Brahm is unquestionably one of the leading lights in the Leeds scene. Its client base includes brands such as Del Monte, Warburtons and Somerfield. Brahm’s joint managing director, John Morgan, attended.


Attending the meeting was head of PR, Richard Rawlins. The Leeds-based agency has a number of major brands on its client base, including Dalepak, First Choice, Fox’s Biscuits and Asda.

Dig For Fire

Working with the likes of Little Chef, Showerlux and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Dig For Fire is one of the agencies putting Sheffield on the marketing map. Making the trip for the meeting was, managing director, Charles Glover.


Creative chief, Greg Clarke was in attendance for Sheffield-based agency, Uber. The firm, which was formed following the closure of The Source, has an impressive and ever-expanding client base that features DFS, Hutchinson 3G, Start and Top Up TV.


Group strategy director, Darren Hawkins was in attendance on behalf of the Poulter Group. The agency works with clients such as Eversheds and Jet2 and recently scored big when it landed a seven-figure account from Wagg Foods.


An agency called england’s ceo, Tony Stanton was on-hand to throw in his opinions in at the discussion. The Leeds-based agency was founded in 1989 and provides a full service offering to clients such as Leeds City Council and LSC.


Launched in 2002, Home has already attracted big name clients such as Littlewoods, Thomas Cook and Remington to sample the firm’s design and advertising offering. Director, Martin O’Toole attended.


PWLC purports to be the fastest growing agency outside of London, and with clients such as Fox’s Biscuits, BSkyB and Superdrug, it’s of little surprise. Appearing on behalf of the Leeds-based ad agency was Guy Brook.


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