Midlands Focus

By The Drum, Administrator

September 29, 2005 | 12 min read

Midlands’ advertising and marketing agencies have enjoyed better times. The noughties will not, as years ’01 to ’05 have so far indicated, go down as a halcyon period for the industry as a whole. But for some reason, the Midlands appear to have taken the knocks a little harder than other parts of the UK. Agencies have fallen from grace, broken into various smaller enterprises and, in some circumstances, disappeared. Some of the agency names once synonymous with award-winning creativity, thinking and service no longer exist or, in some instances, have had to pick themselves up from a series of falls, dust themselves down and get back on their feet, albeit as slightly different organisations.

However, out of the darkness, there are always glimpses of light and, occasionally, rays of sunshine. There are some agencies who’ve rode the bumpy times out and are enjoying a new wave of buoyancy and subsequent optimism, while others have managed to harvest their success through cold periods, continuing to be strong players in the industry.

Since January the ups have almost certainly outweighed the downs, with significant contracts and brands being won and delivered upon by agencies in the likes of Birmingham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and Leicester. In other types of news, senior figures have moved around, left and joined the Midlands scene as agencies have sought to improve and expand their offering to clients.

In January, Allied Healthcare brought its reputed £2 million marketing account into the Midlands with the appointment of Rees Bradley Hepburn. Further wins with Aston Martin, TNT, underwear brand Freya and Price Drop TV, have all gone to strengthen the Meriden-based agency’s bottom line.

Despite Subaru’s decision to move its business to London, after 14 years with Palmer Hargreaves Wallis Tomlinson, the car manufacturer retained the agency to handle the £1.5 million Isuzu account. Ad One, in Stoke-on-Trent, also enjoyed success, winning a significant chunk of new business at the beginning of the year, landing the Portman Group account, while LDV commissioned Connect in Wolverhampton to develop a £2.5 million campaign.

Big Communications in Leicester continued in its tradition of piling on new business with 2005 client additions such as Hush Puppies, Grant Thornton and Amtico, while continuing to produce high-profile campaigns for WKD, Bahlsen and Morphy Richards.

Meanwhile, Sutton Coldfield’s WAA enjoyed a flourishing 2005. After launching Sony Centres’ first ever TV commercials, the agency won in excess of £3 million-worth of new business with Sony Europe’s below-the-line activity, hotel chain Hilton, plus others.

Golley Slater won the BRMB advertising business, in September, from Edinburgh-based The Leith Agency, as well as landing the Skoda PR business and creating Apollo’s TV ads earlier in the 2005 campaign.

However, by far the biggest account to benefit a Midlands agency this year has been Floors-2-Go’s £7 million above-the-line business. McCann Erickson Birmingham picked up the business in April and has since launched new advertising in the press, outdoors and on TV. McCann also secured TV work from Alliance & Leicester, launching the resulting commercials in May.

In other account news for Midland agencies, Nottingham-based Purple Circle landed a place on the British Council’s design roster, The Dairy beat 14 agencies to the American Adventure business, Fluid created global branding for Sony’s new Playstation 2 and Cogent Elliott launched TV work for Network Q.

Elsewhere, Haslimann Taylor PR scooped the Crayola account, HRO’C produced press activity for The Pier, McConnells won the £500,000 NIACE account, BC-S and GBCS PR were appointed by Headworx, meanwhile Unsuitable acquired further Sandwell & Dudley Council business and shaving brand, Mankind as a client.

Other agencies to have enjoyed fruitful new business terms this year include Wyatt International, Yes Direct, Seal Communications, DiVersity, OWB, m360, Citigate SMARTS and Key Parker.

On the personnel front, HRO’C began the year with a management buy out, following a decision by last remaining co-founder Steve Riley to retire. A few months later, Andy Walton – former Wallis Tomlinson chief and founder of fledgling start-up Mad Avenue – joined Golley Slater as managing director.

Meanwhile, at WAA Andy Wilson’s move to chief executive saw Jacqui Lennon take over as the agency’s managing director.

In other significant appointment news, Citigate SMARTS lured heavyweight creative, Mike Murphy, out of retirement to launch a creative department at what was once, in its Citigate Communications days, a pure PR agency.

Unquestionably then, 2005 has been a year full of event. If Rover’s demise threatened to ruin the party, it’s a testament to the resilience of the rest of the Midlands marketing and media community that everyone still has a drink in their hands, ready to toast the next piece of new business coming through the door.

So, what are the main issues that are facing Midlands agencies today? Adline puts the questions to some agencies to find out what is getting under their skin at the moment.

Q1 Are large locally-based clients using Midlands agencies or heading elsewhere for their marketing support?

The simple answer is a resounding yes, and so are national and international clients too (well that is true here at GBCS and BC-S anyhow!)

I’m sure every client, wherever they are based, has different objectives when selecting a new agency. In a recent pitch for an automotive retailer we were up against local, Manchester and London agencies. We won the business on strong creative and a solid understanding of their business, though I dare say our fees where a lot less than the London agency too.

Murray Carmichael-Smith MIDM, Joint Managing Director, Boyden Carmichael-Smith

The point is that local clients – big or small – don’t need or expect to be serviced by local agencies. The question is more one of whether the agency has the relevant experience and is a good fit for prospective clients.

Our view is that if you have the right offering and the expertise to match, then it doesn’t really matter where you are.

In fact distance can be an aid to the relationship. Meetings are properly planned to get the best use of the time available and are therefore more strategically focused.

After all, most of our work is done over the phone and via email with clients nationwide.

David Patrick, Managing Director, Yes Direct

One major disadvantage for its marketing scene, even in the light of a newly-found desire to excel as a region, is its persistent inability to compete against London – a mere 90 minutes away on the train. Many endemic clients, therefore, are pulled by the metropolitan magnet. The North West and Yorkshire are too far away from the capital for this to happen and so a stronger agency scene has been built there over the last thirty years, simply as a necessity for its local manufacturers. There are, of course, a number of clients who see the benefits in opting for a Midland-based agency [over say, a London counterpart] – especially if they receive the same or higher level of creativity, capability and service, at a considerably lower cost, due to the difference in the level of overheads.

HRO’C, for example, succeeds because it has a multi-disciplinary base, intelligent thinking and a strong product. Its regionality has never been a consideration, with many national and international clients choosing to use its services.

Carl Hazard Managing Director, HRO’C

In truth the answer is yes to both. However, the real frustration is, bar one or two exceptions, the Midlands Mega Brands seem to draw a line at using Midlands agencies when they are briefing out the stuff that may result in them having to explain to their friends what on earth their latest TV or poster campaign is trying to achieve. This may be a lack of confidence or a lack of knowledge, but if they were to take a good look, they would find thinkers here as sharp as anywhere and no doubt wonder why they had never thought of going local before.

Mark Firth, Managing Director, Big Communications

Q2 Why should agency staff looking to relocate consider a move to the Midlands?

The Midlands has a growing market across several business sectors. It is also a great part of the country in which to live with excellent communications links.

On the business side, the internet and recent developments in mobile working mean that location is a reducing factor – taking GBCS PR for example – 4 people in 2001, now 13 and a growing customer base across 3 continents.

Brian Dolby, Managing Director, GBCS PR

The Midlands has enormous potential for growth over the next few years. Clients are becoming increasingly cost-orientated and, rightly or wrongly, assume that Midlands agencies will work harder for their business at a lower cost. Couple this with a better standard of living for agency staff, and it becomes quite a compelling proposition.

Amanda MacDonald, Senior Account Director, Ad One

Q3 In terms of marketing and media services, what areas can be considered the Midlands’ biggest strengths?

There are pockets of expertise throughout the region. Direct marketing in particular is an area where the Midlands is going from strength to strength.

You can see specialist DM agencies here competing successfully for the big brands with those in the South West and the North West and with London agencies.

If you consider our client list in the four years since inception which includes JCB, Syngenta, Ciba and Rumenco, it shows that success has little to do with location and everything to do with the people, experience and know-how you can offer.

By concentrating on what you do best, not trying to be all things to all people, you will earn more respect from clients and inevitably win more business.

David Patrick, Managing Director, Yes Direct

The Midlands offers marketing clients a combination of hard work and uninhibited creativity. The Midlands agency scene is made up of smaller companies with a lack of the constraints that you tend to find in larger agencies. Overheads are smaller, the politics are eradicated and this leaves agencies geared up to concentrate on developing insightful creative work.

Amanda MacDonald, senior account director, Ad One

Q4 Do you feel the likes of the North West and Yorkshire have stronger creative identities than the Midlands? Why is this the case?

There are certainly some big reputations in the North West and Yorkshire, but then there are simply more big agencies there than in the Midlands. There’s some brilliant work being produced in our region, and I wouldn’t say that Northern agencies are any more creative than Midlands agencies – they just seem to be blessed when it comes to creating opportunities for themselves.

Jamie Puttnam, Creative Director, RBH

Since its purchase by the Marketeer, Adline is now a northern-based magazine. Is trying to provoke some kind of reaction from the second city just another manifestation of the North West’s witless superiority complex?

[Actually, Adline is a magazine based in the Midlands – Birmingham in fact - focusing on all key centres outside of London – editor]

The death of a number of small Midlands-based agencies over the last few years signifies nothing more than reinforcement of the survival of the fittest syndrome. HRO’C, McCanns, RBH, Big, Cogent, GSB, WAA etc... the bigger ones remain and continue to grow and strengthen, perhaps to the cost of those smaller outfits who remain obsessed with self-publicity, but who are not always quite so consistently good at publicising their clients. The Midlands today has some fine agencies and creative talent, produces and attracts quality creative staff and offers an impressive collective portfolio of clients handled in the region. The future is promising for those companies that are sensibly structured, are committed and demonstrate good old-fashioned integrity.

Carl Hazard Managing Director, HRO’C

For North West read Manchester, for Yorkshire read Leeds, for the Midlands read ermmm? And that’s it in a nutshell, the Midlands is as diverse and talented as anywhere, but where is the creative identity centred? Some might say Birmingham but, as an agency based in Leicester, I’d say that it’s far wider. All that said, at the end of the day, if the region produced a consistently high level of work across the board, instead of one or two pockets of excellence, then that is where the identity will be spawned, this may also go some way toward giving some of the larger clients the confidence to divert some of those plum briefs out of Soho.

Mark Firth, Managing Director, Big Communications

Q5 Are the regional development agencies doing enough to promote the Midlands marketing and media service providers?

Not necessarily. At the moment it feels like Midlands agencies are the UK’s best kept secret.

Amanda MacDonald, Senior Account Director, Ad One


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