The Scottish Advertising Awards have passed for another year. Hangovers have been nursed, daggers polished and shelving reinforced.
Now, perhaps, is the traditional time for Simon Mallinson to dig out his stepladder and make some space on his award-laden walls for a few more winners’ certificates.
However, as timing would have it, when The Drum called in to visit Mallinson at his MTP studios the daggers had yet to be dished out.
Despite this Mallinson is in a optimistically celebratory mood. He has invited The Drum to MTP’s eclectic offices to talk advertising – all that is good in Scottish advertising, no less. And when Simon Mallinson talks advertising you tend to listen.
Founded back in 1988, MTP now produces around 80 percent of Scotland’s TV commercials. This also means it has had a hand in the majority of the work winning plaudits at this year’s Ad Awards.
“There is great work being done here,” says Mallinson. “And there are some great people coming to Scotland because of the work that is being produced.
“Look at some of the work in Scotland – the Executive work, Grolsch, Sunday Herald, Baxters, The University of Abertay, Tennent’s, Irn-Bru, Diet Irn-Bru – it is of a very, very high standard.
“The ‘Ice City’ Coors advert is now running in America. It was written in Edinburgh by Leith and produced in Glasgow. Now it’s been adopted [by Coors] in the States to advertise one of their most popular beers.
“The Irn Bru advert was directed by Steve Burrows,” he continues. “Burrows is based in LA with Back Yard, a comedy production company that we represent in London.
“However, the home-grown directors are really up there with the best. Look at the quality of Martin Wedderburn’s work. From his very first work with The Union for Scottish Screen through to Ice City last year, Martin’s work stands up against most directors. David Eustace’s work, in only three or four years of directing, is fantastic. The Herald ads are beautifully directed – work that stands up at an international level.”
A native Geordie, Mallinson left for Australia after finishing school. He returned to the UK to study English Literature at university before returning to Australia where he worked as a private detective, which was more helpful to his future career than you may think. When Mallinson arrived in Scotland he worked at SSK where, under Roland Kennedy, they put in an edit suite. And the rest is history.
When Mallinson started out, MTP was a room in Park Terrace – a flat in the basement and the room above it. MTP now runs its offices from the Trinity Towers suites. Literally hundreds of awards adorn the entrance hall, with oil paintings hemming in the reception desk. Monitors and mirrors adorn the desks allowing the staff to see around corners while the mesh iron mezzanine ensures an open environment (however, it also pretty much eliminates the chance of staff wearing high heels and short skirts).
“Working as a private detective helped make production a little bit simpler,” recalls the MTP boss. “David Eustace says that us producers always have to think around corners. He’s right, it’s problem solving. Production for me is all about identifying what you need. It’s boiling a problem down into 95 different tasks and finding someone to do each of these tasks for the right amount of money.
“There is a tried and tested way of making an ad. A creative writes a script; they speak to directors; directors do treatments; they choose a treatment that they feel will best communicate the idea; and producers make it happen for the money. Any departure from that usually doesn’t work.
“You have to know that there is a structure there to make it all work – to keep your promise. If you can’t keep your promise then you’ve let your client down. Simple.
“It is very easy to hide behind economic circumstances or a crowded market place. At the end of the day, you have got what you have. You set out your stall with apples and oranges. If someone comes along wanting a leather handbag you tell them that you don’t do leather handbags, just apples and oranges. Will Atkinson taught me that fifteen years ago. But there are other markets that we can look at.”
Mallinson, by his own admission, can go four or five months without going anywhere near his Glasgow base, scrutinising locations, facilities and scoping out further opportunities.
“We were in Amsterdam recently talking to agencies, and came in for a lot of praise. The work that we’ve done now is good enough to export. After we did the Tennent’s ‘Big Gig’ ad we had some enquiries about doing a similar exercise.
“I was in New York showing David Eustace’s reels recently. The business question is ‘do we set up another production base?’ To crack London you have to be in London. We own Mustard in London where we’ve just finished a huge retail job (Electric City, for Currys) and we’ve just completed a job in LA with William Shatner. But to be in New York, do you need to have a base there?”
Yet, as Mallinson continues to wax lyrically about the positives of Scottish advertising, an element of frustration seeps into his tone.
“There are places opening up behind the iron curtain. Next week I’m off to Latvia to have a look. You have studios there, actors, camera crew, all available at the fraction of the cost of even places like Budapest and Prague now. London’s got so expensive that it’s prohibitive to shoot there. Everybody started going to Budapest and Prague so they became expensive too.
“Scotland’s always been really, really good value. But Scotland doesn’t have a film studio.
“We are trying our best to get this off the ground, but it needs the political will of Scottish Enterprise. They have a tried and tested criteria, and the project needs to meet the criteria. That’s difficult as a film studio costs a few million to build and it rents for around a £1000 a day. The figures are daunting, but it’s value to the economy would be quite significant, and of course it’s about culture and identity... but it’s also about spending £50k per day in Scotland, not England or Eastern Europe.”
There have been several proposals to build film studios in Scotland, but most have run into problems for being over-ambitious and unworkable. In 2002, Scottish Enterprise ruled that proposals to build a national film studio were not commercially viable following a lengthy study.
However, the agency said it would consider providing financial backing for a smaller production house, in which TV and commercials could be filmed.
MTP identified a number of sites for this, and saw off rival bids to be named preferred bidder, identifying a site under the Erskine Bridge.
But, at present there are still some jobs that come in and you know that it’s not going to make sense to shoot in Scotland, says Mallinson. “We either need a different climate or simply, there is still no film studio here.”
But despite his misgivings on some of Scotland’s more inherent problems, Mallinson would like MTP to persist in the route that it has been steering by continuing to invest in and grow fresh and exciting talent.
“Martin (Wedderburn) is living in London now. David (Eustace) is living in New York. The talent does outgrow Scotland and needs to move on to fulfil its potential sometimes. However, there is no better place to learn and grow. So, I’d like to think that our current young talent can really push through. Bringing up the next generation is really important.
“If someone phones me up and says will we do a viral film for two grand? Of course we will do it. We have youngsters here that have never had two grand to work with. They’ll do it. They’ll do it the MTP way and they will learn.”
And there is plenty of scope for talent to develop, continues Mallinson. “There are good companies up here. Although a lot of business has been lost to London of late, the reverse can also be said. When I started out there was a whole load of business that is now handled in Scotland being worked on in London. Tennent’s is a good example. Halls had closed and Saatchi and Saatchi had the business. But Leith pulled it back and they did it so well that Bass gave them Grolsch and Coors as well. When they couldn’t do it anymore because the brands fell into different ownerships a new Scottish agency had to be born, and the work is there for everyone to see, and it’s good. I was in the pub watching football and the new Tennent’s ad came on. The pub went quiet, and then everybody burst out laughing – how good is that? Scotland’s ad agencies must be doing something right.”