Northern Ireland agency focus

By The Drum, Administrator

August 25, 2005 | 8 min read

Citigate smarts belfast

Founded: Became part of Citigate group in 1995, rebranded as Citigate Smarts in 2003.

Number of staff: 25.


Services offered: PR, Marketing Communications, Advertising, New Media, Design, either independently or as part of integrated campaigns.

Key clients: Bank of Ireland, British Airways, Marie Curie, Prudential, Diageo, Yell.

Views on the Marketplace: “There is growth in the market, but it’s a much more discerning marketplace.” Says Alan Watson, corporate PR director. “There’s a lot more emphasis on measurements. We’re one of the only agencies in Northern Ireland to have obtained the PRCA’s management consultancy standard. It’s not easy to acquire but it’s worth acquiring. We’re able to measure our work and prove it works for our clients.”

On being based in Northern Ireland: “One of the interesting things about Northern Ireland is that it’s a self-contained industry. The downside is that it’s a limited market. It’s geographically discreet, not like Manchester where you can find yourself working in Leeds or Birmingham. However the easing of the troubles has encouraged increased development and growth so we’re quite positive.”

Fire IMC

Founded: Originally founded as Manley’s in 1992, became Fire IMC in 2002 following an MBO.

Number of staff: 39.


Services offered: Advertising, Design, PR.

Key clients: Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Viridian, Tesco, Ulster Bank, Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, Equality Commission.

Views on the Marketplace: “There’s a lot of good quality agencies in Northern Ireland, around 10 IPA member agencies.” Says managing director David Mackey. “It’s competitive, and it’s not getting any less competitive, and I think most of the agencies are busy.”

Main achievements: “I suppose on the client side it would be the retention of our clients post-MBO. The public sector is a big part of the marketplace here and we’ve been fortunate enough to win some new public sector business as well. We’ve also really been able to continue to develop the capacity of the organisation.”

On being based in Northern Ireland: “I think one of the advantages of being based here is that until recently the full-service mentality has been retained here. Whereas elsewhere in the UK there have been clear demarcation lines introduced by clients when it comes to their marketing disciplines, that hasn’t happened in Northern Ireland, which I think is better for clients.”

Black Advertising

Founded: 2003.

Number of staff: 4.


Services offered: Advertising, Graphic Design, Exhibition Design, Web Design.

Key clients: Ballymena Council, Eurotile, Lifetimes magazine, Acorn Homes, WR Kennedy, RTU.

Views on the Marketplace: Johnny Black, creative director, remarks: “From an advertising and design point of view the industry is quite heavily saturated around Belfast. We decided to set up in Ballymena, where nobody else had a presence, and it’s proved quite effective.

“There’s a lot of business and more than enough work to go around. The move now is probably more towards the smaller agencies and away from the larger ones.”

On being based in Northern Ireland: “There’s a good network here. It’s a small place, and really accessible so there’s good opportunities to network and meet people. The graduate talent pool is also very high.”

Main achievements: “Our main achievement has been to offer a service not previously available in the North East area of the country. We have four people here working for a broad cross-border customer base, and the results of some of our campaigns have shown that we are making a difference.”

Jelly Communications

Founded: Founded 1990 as Murray Richmond Bell, trading as Jelly Communications since 2002.

Number of staff: 15.


Services offered: Fully integrated advertising plus internet and brand consultancy.

Key clients: Ford Motor Company, Dale Farm Dairies, Ulster Bank, Grafton Group.

Views on the Marketplace: “I think the market is quite buoyant at the moment.” Comments managing director Tony Bell. “The big threat at the moment would probably be government spend in the next few years, though. The government is reviewing how it spends its budget at the moment. At the moment there’s a lot of money that’s spent by different departments and it’s all competing for the same airtime.”

AV Browne

Founded: 1926.

Number of staff: 50.


Services offered: Advertising, Media Buying, Design, Event Management and Online marketing (through wholly-owned subsidiary Blue Cube Interactive, founded in 2003).

Key clients: BT Northern Ireland, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Hastings Hotels, Intertrade Ireland, Invest NI, Irwin’s Bakery, Crimestoppers.

Views on the Marketplace: Sam McIlveen, client services director, comments: “One of the big things that’s going on just now is a review of all government advertising. There’s a feeling that the spend will be decreased. They’re talking about doing a similar thing to the Scottish Executive in that they’re going to rationalise it. My view is that the agencies that are professional and accountable will benefit from the review while those that are not will suffer.”

On being based in Northern Ireland: “The benefits would be that we have a lower cost base and an intimate market-knowledge. Northern Ireland media is a bit more complicated than others given the political past we’ve had so we have much more intimate knowledge about the media and the consumers.

“We’re also lucky in that Northern Ireland has a high level of education. The quality of graduates we’ve taken on have been very good – very enthused and beneficial to the business.”

Main achievements: “Retaining accounts such as BT Northern Ireland, Invest NI and Intertrade Ireland in the last six months have been very pleasing. We’ve also grown our design department significantly and won several IPA Effectiveness Awards, including one in London, which was a big achievement.”

Lyle Bailie International

Founded: Was founded as McCann Erickson Belfast in 1986, became Lyle Bailie in 2004 following a management buyout.

Number of staff: 30.


Services offered: Provide an integrated above and below-the-line advertising service.

Key clients: Road Safety (DOE in Northern Ireland and National Safety Council in the Republic), P&O Ferries, Department of Transport, Peugot.

Views on the Marketplace: Chief executive David Lyle says: “It has been fairly buoyant but, obviously, when you look at the Republic of Ireland, the market has been extremely successful because of the economy. In Northern Ireland one must remember that, although there are a lot of positive things here to report, the economy is totally public-sector dependent, and that is a major flaw. The economy needs to be weaned away and made much more entrepreneurial. Every business in Northern Ireland has a very high dependency on the public sector and that’s something that needs to be tackled.”

On being based in Northern Ireland: “We’ve got good access to communications here. In terms of connectivity it’s a good place to be. And obviously from a running cost point of view it’s an efficient place to do business from. It’s also a well-connected place in terms of airline routes, which is very good for business and good for the future.”

Archer Advertising

Founded: March 2004.

Number of staff: 8.


Services offered: Advertising, Design, Media Planning, Multimedia, Sponsorship, TV, Video and Film Production (along with sister-company Visionworks).

Key clients: MDS Pharma Services, Modern Tyres.

Views on the Marketplace: Managing director Tony McIlwrath remarks: “Because we’re a small agency starting out we’re finding that work is on the up. We are finding that there are a lot of small to medium-sized businesses that are just coming to the stage to need a full-service advertising agency.”

On being based in Northern Ireland: “We’ve been winning a lot of business from the Republic of Ireland. The economy there has been strong for a number of years now but I think that a lot of companies are starting to look around for more cost-effective alternatives. We’ve also found the sponsorship market to be particularly effective here as it is a relatively un-tapped resource.”

Main achievements: “We did a campaign for suicide awareness last year, which is a major issue in Northern Ireland at the moment. Eight months after the campaign research was conducted amongst the core 18-25 year-old target audience and awareness was still very high. We were quite chuffed with that one.”


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