Road trip

By The Drum | Administrator

October 6, 2005 | 8 min read

With what is essentially its own micro-economy, Aberdeen has long been considered a very different beast from the other Scottish cities. But do the city’s various marketing agencies lead a vastly different existence to their counterparts in Dundee, Glasgow or Edinburgh?

The Drum asked five Aberdeen-based agencies to talk about their experience of working in the granite city. The agencies included below span different disciplines and consist of a mixture of the city’s older and newer marketing businesses, from 70 year-old Mearns and Gill to Rhino, an Aberdeen-based consultancy formed just last year.

Despite its separate economy is Aberdeen really a different world? Take a look below and see for yourself.


Bryan Campbell, managing director

Founded: January 2004

Staff: Four

We were actually in a lucky position when we started up because a lot of the clients from our former agency came with us to Rhino, meaning we didn’t have some of the traditional start-up problems.

We do a lot of leisure work and a lot of pharmaceutical work, as well as some Scottish Executive projects. We’re making a conscious effort at the moment to target new start-ups, as there’s a real buzz in Aberdeen at the moment about renewable energy and a lot of those companies are still at early stages. We’re working with them in the hope that we’ll grow with them.

In terms of the larger agencies we do tend to work in different circles. Occasionally there’ll be a high profile review and we will find ourselves on the same pitch list, but it’s rare that that happens.

Aberdeen is a great place to start up an agency because there’s a really buoyant economy here. It’s also a real springboard to other local areas. We’ve done work in Dundee and Glasgow as well as Skye and Orkney. The doomsayers are all moaning about the future decline of the oil industry, but the area is set to become a world centre of excellence in renewable energy.

The only time there’s a disadvantage is when you’re involved in bigger pitches and you’re seen as unproven ground because you’re young, which is unfair because a lot of these young agency people have worked in the older ones.


Mark Jennings, director of strategy

Founded: 1999

Staff: 13 in Aberdeen, 3 in Australia

A challenge we regularly faced back in 1999, but thankfully never nowadays, was trying to convince an MD that the website “his son created” was so awesomely inappropriate for an international company.

Our industry suffers from a significant lack of self respect. I often hear about web projects where the client has played the part of lead designer – changing colours and layout as it suited them. You don’t hear about this from architects, because they are good at setting the ground rules for respect.

When I started my company from university, I spoke to my bank manager about overdrafts. He replied that that would be “quite impossible”, saying “students can’t run companies”. This really spurred me on.

In 1999, we faced a challenge in that the web technology marketplace was very new. Few people in positions of power - investors for example - had a real grasp of what it all meant. This was a hurdle in many ways but to some was a significant advantage, as some ideas got huge start-up capital on flimsy IP. The same issue raised its head the other way round when the bubble burst, investors with fingers burnt seemed to go through a period of purgatory where the majority shunned technology investment opportunities. This of course, has a knock on effect with potential clients, who sensed the air of unease with the web. Thankfully we’re past this now, due in part to more people at the top using and enjoying the web in their everyday schedule. I feel that the next few years will be seen as the halcyon days for our business, before it becomes just another service.

Mearns & Gill

Mike Robson, marketing director

Founded: 1936

Staff: 22

Mearns & Gill’s broad skill-set allows the agency to become involved in every communication aspect of a client, across branding, advertising, web design and events.

Jack of all trades? Naturally we would say no. The problem with that is you then have to live up to your own publicity, but sometimes that's part of the challenge and often the motivation for pushing ourselves into new areas of expertise.

Having been around for so long – 70 next year – it's hard not to constantly bump into our work. For example, within around half a mile, Mearns & Gill has re-branded His Majesty's Theatre and The Music Hall, prepared the marketing material for the current major exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery and re-branded the Bon Accord shopping centre.

Meanwhile our events team is busy with oil company events for over a thousand guests over two weeks, our new media team is developing two 3D animated TV commercials, several websites and interactive Cd-roms and our design and print department is creating a suite of brands for a new entertainment development while servicing the advertising requirements of a range of retail, business to business and recruitment clients. Mearns & Gill is a busy place.

However, it's the overlap of these various disciplines, talents and skills that makes us unique in the marketplace and ultimately leads to a deeper understanding of our clients’ businesses and their needs.

Over the years, we have learned from every client and project. That acquired knowledge and experience becomes part of the recipe for our clients’ success.

Fifth Ring PR

Kelly Kilner, director

Founded: 1999

Staff: 5

Until recently the public relations business unit of Fifth Ring comprised of non-Aberdonian professionals, luring staff from Blackburn, Durham, Northern Ireland, Edinburgh and Leeds to the granite city.

With a wealth of PR and media relations expertise, we were a melting pot of professional acumen having worked on highly respected media titles and high street brand names. Six years later, the talent base now touches on every nerve centre of industry this city has to offer and it would be fair to say that the North Sea is a key factor in the types of businesses we represent.

The oil and gas industry is exciting, challenging and, in some ways, unpredictable but for those who grasp the opportunity there can be a real sense of achievement on overseeing the day-to-day activity on accounts that make up the world’s largest industry.

A global portfolio and our successful Dubai operation does mean that the contacts and clients are as far afield as Moscow, Houston, Abu Dhabi and Melbourne. Aberdeen is an energy centre, one that attracts people from all over the world and it needs energetic marketing communications people; people who can deliver their core profession in what is a dynamic environment.

Opportunities are plentiful here in the granite city and for those professionals seeking a global edge to their skill base, a move to the north east should be given serious consideration. The temperature might be somewhat cooler but the oil and gas industry and indeed the marketing communications industry continues to warm up at a hellava pace.

I know I would be keen to see more professionals relocate from the central belt. Our key focus is to attract the best in the industry, to date we have been successful but as our base grows and our team develops, this continues to be an ongoing but welcome challenge.

Covey McCormick

Raymond Morrison, managing director

Founded: 1987

Staff: 16

Covey McCormick ‘comes of age’ at 18 years in business – a substantial achievement in these days.

The core of the agency’s ethos is ‘friendship’. The founding directors; Patricia Allan, Raymond Morrison and Kevin McCormick, had been friends long before the agency began and their camaraderie and mutual trust permeates the whole company. There are few titles used and then mostly on business cards. It is a strong team on mutual respect of everybody’s capabilities.

The agency is known as an award winning agency and all the awards are for effectiveness – work that works with outstanding creativity. Recent awards include the 2004 Scottish Marketing Award (winner) and Marketing Society 2005 Marketing Excellence Awards Scotland (commendation) for the Archie Foundation. Their client,The Press & Journal won the 2004/05 Newspaper Society ‘Best Multi Media Campaign’ with the agency’s work ‘Every Day is Different’. FirstGroup’s Leeds and Aberdeen companies are both shortlisted in the 2005 UK Bus Awards for projects created and developed by Covey McCormick and the agency is still one of the few ever from outside the central belt to win an IPA Effectiveness Award Silver Plum.

We believe that customer loyalty is a two way thing. We dedicate ourselves to our clients and have been lucky enough for a lot of them to stick with us. It is a theme we will be taking forward for the next 18 years.”


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