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By The Drum | Administrator

August 30, 2005 | 8 min read

Last month, Grant Mercer, chief executive of Tequila\\Manchester, fired a parting shot to the North West marketing and media scene, as he left for the bright lights of London. The decision for his departure from Manchester (where he had, 12 months prior, overseen the merger between direct marketing agency MKP with the TBWA group) was down to the lack of opportunity within the North West arena.

Strange then, that in the last few months, some of the industries most well-known, respected and talented individuals have done the opposite to MKP’s former managing director. Having joined the London scene early on in their careers, these key figures are now leaving to help unlock the potential of agencies outside of London.

Curious as to whether Mr Mercer did indeed, have a point, or whether he was simply unable to see the potential in existence north of the Watford gap, Adline is sitting down with Ray Barrett, Kate Harris, Mike Murphy and Jonathan Rigby – four illustrious marketing and creative talents, who’ve turned their backs on the London scene to take on significant roles at agencies in Birmingham and Manchester.

Jonathan Rigby, Partner, Love

First up is Rigby, who after spending 15 years working for London agencies, including WCRS, AMV BBDO and Lowe, resigned his post as managing director of FCB London to become a partner at Manchester-based Love.

“It didn’t start off with a particular desire to join a Manchester agency,” he remarks, of his move, “It was more about joining an agency that was doing great work, had a strong client list and was on the up – wherever they were.”

Rigby first found Love, the agency, while speaking to friends at TBWA and Wieden & Kennedy, who raved about the firm’s work for Nike and Playstation; however, he did give the move serious thought before jumping on the next Pendolino. “When I canvassed opinion about a move to Manchester, a few people were concerned that I’d find it too provincial, too limiting and that I’d get bored very quickly. They were wrong. We’re pitching against some of the best agencies right now and on the basis of the work I’ve seen from our creatives, I’m not worried.”

Rigby believes Love’s “collaborative and responsive” approach is well suited to client needs nowadays and believes with less bureaucracy and tantrums than some of the London operations, this is leading to a more “energetic, fluid way of working.”

He adds: “In the near future one of the UK’s best known and highly rated creative hot shops will just happen to be based in Manchester. I hope that agency is going to be Love, but whoever is ends up being, I’ve no doubt that there’s enough talent in Manchester for it to happen soon.”

Mike Murphy, Creative Director, Citigate Smarts

Unlike the other three movers and shakers, Citigate Smarts’ new recruit, Mike Murphy, has returned to his native Birmingham, rather than Manchester. His move comes after his decision to retire from the agency fold during his tenure as creative director at JWT in London. Explaining his decision to leave the Midlands scene in the first place, Murphy, remarks: “I started out in the Midlands some 25 years ago, but went to London because, at the time, there was no TV work in the provinces, however, this is no longer the case.”

While some of those who migrated northwards were, perhaps, surprised by the talent, which existed outside of London, Murphy has always had a keen eye on the wider market. “I’ve not been surprised by the quality, because I’ve always known what was available.

“In fact, I have worked with some of the best in the business and I can say, unreservedly, that the finest creative mind in advertising has worked outside of London throughout his entire career. Steve Hall, who runs Rhythmm in Bristol, is far and away the sharpest and brightest creative I have ever had the pleasure of working with and while it’s maybe a shame that he never went to London to work on higher profile brands, his decision to work in other parts of the UK is proof that you don’t need to be in London to be a great creative.”

Now working in a part of the UK, where he believes the market is “very healthy”, Murphy is striving hard to convince clients that there is talent that shouldn’t be ignored. “There’s no longer a need for clients to go to London. With budgets tighter than ever, agencies in other parts of the country are able to provide work same, if not higher standard, as London, but that is considerably lower is cost.”

Kate Harris, Marketing Director, Cheetham BellJWT

For the last five years, Harris has been in the controlling the reigns of marketing and media industry charity, NABS, making significant strides in taking the organisation into the 21st Century, generating funding and boosting its profile. However, earlier this year, Harris decided it was time for a change. “For quite a while, I had been thinking about moving out to the country, but knew that I couldn’t do that and continue in this role.”

As difficult a decision as it was, Harris took the plunge, to the North. Despite working as an account director, prior to her time at NABS, Harris’s latest foray into ad land took a less obvious turn, opting to make use of her NABS experience and take on a marketing role. “As soon as I left, agencies were keen to talk to me about opportunities. I made so many contacts with NABS, working all over the UK, and it was CheethamBellJWT which was the first out of the blocks.”

Proving to be just what CheethamBellJWT was looking for, Harris assumed the role of marketing director and has been overwhelmed by the way in which the firm works. “I don’t see any disadvantage in being in Manchester. Everything that goes out the door is as good, if not better, that what I saw coming from agencies I was in contact with during my time at NABS. There’s a freshness and raw energy here, which fully embraces collaboration; something which is often talked about yet so rarely put into practice.”

“Of course there is another reason for wanting to work outside of London,” says Harris, “the quality of life is infinitely better, something which clients working with Manchester agencies can also enjoy.”

Ray Barrett, Creative Director, BJL

“It was the temptation to do something left field and different,” explains Barrett of his move to become creative director of BJL in Manchester. “I’d done the London thing, both working for big agencies and running my own business, and winning the awards, but this opportunity was a venture into the unknown. It’s very exciting.”

Barrett has been creative director at both WCRS and Ogilvy and Mather, working on brands such as Nike, Bass and Prudential. Barrett also launched his own ageny p Barrett Cernis, attracting Britvic and Metro Newspapers.

“They approached me and put a really interesting offer on the table. BJL has some extraordinary clients for an agency that I had previously never heard of.”

Now fully clued up about the agency’s offering to clients, Barrett is adamant that the North has plenty of opportunities. “Some of the best music, fashion and arts come from Manchester,” he claims, “So why should creative agencies be added to that list? The creative team at BJL is one of the most talented departments that I have ever had and so I believe the most important thing is to make sure clients are aware that agencies like this exist outside of London.”

Barrett believes too many London agencies rest on their laurels, taking for granted new business on the back of their heritage. However, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the work ethic of Northern agencies. “Up here, there’s a determination. The agencies work harder and are more focused because they really want to prove themselves to clients.”

He concludes: “The only way I can describe it is in football terms. There’s the top three, who aren’t going to be toppled, but if you have talent and you work hard and play with your hearts, like Everton did last year, you can be really successful. That’s exactly what we’re doing really well here.”

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