The Road North/ The heart of Scotland

By The Drum | Administrator

November 30, 2005 | 7 min read

It’s strange to think – considering how established the web has now become – but it’s actually been less than a decade since companies started to look at the internet seriously as a way to reach their potential customers.

Digital media (the internet, along with its siblings CD-Rom, DVD and SMS) is commanding an increasing amount of attention from Scottish clients and, as a result, from the country’s numerous marketing agencies. What was initially seen as a bolt-on to the other marketing disciplines is now being taken a lot more seriously.

And nowhere more so than in Dundee, where the sector has been growing unabated for the last few years.

Now nationally recognised as a digital media ‘hub’, the City of Discovery has been busy carving a name for itself as a centre of excellence in the sector. However, Dundee’s growing digital reputation has thus far centred around the gaming industry, where companies such as Real Time Worlds and Visual Science are leading the way in video game development.

Slightly more under the radar, however, are the city’s marketing agencies, who are also getting in on the act, expanding their core services to include new media.

“We’ve been actively going after new media business, but we have also been working with existing clients, which has helped build our reputation in that field,” says Jim Patrick, managing director of Blue Square. “Thomas Mitchell Homes was a new client who commissioned us to create their website, and on the back of that have appointed us to handle their advertising and brochure work as well, so that’s actually worked the other way around, and we’re hoping that will continue to happen in the future.”

“The amount of web and software development work in which we are involved continues to increase,” comments Scott McCallum, client services director of Avian, which acquired an IT development company 6 years ago.

This team forms the core of its web and software development team, which has recently completed projects such as a web based e-business application for Lloyds TSB Scotland, ecommerce solutions for House of Bruar and Scotia Flowers and a mix of more conventional website development projects for clients based throughout the UK.

As the city’s digital community expands, some companies have already emerged that focus almost entirely in the new media sector. Splash Scotland Digital states that 80 per cent of its work is in the new media field. “Dundee is having quite an exciting time at the moment,” says its director, Ross Arroll. “We’re hoping to move into a place in the new Seabraes Yard development, but where we are now is a Scottish Enterprise unit and it’s got everyone from games companies through to web designers like ourselves. New media is growing to be as strong as the games sector.”

The Seabraes Yard development is Dundee’s strongest endorsement of the digital community.

A joint project between several property companies, Scottish Enterprise Tayside and the European Union, Seabraes will consist of a number of new buildings purpose-built to accommodate companies working in the digital industries. The first building, called Vision, is almost finished and is located on the site of the former Seabraes Mill. More than £50m is to be spent on the development of Seabraes Yard over the next decade.

Scottish Enterprise director Nick Day says: “Seabraes Yards is an ambitious, long term project and our investment in it is part of a wider package of activity to encourage the growth of creative and digital media companies in Tayside. This growing sector is extremely strong in Tayside, including around 350 firms. The industry employs over 2,300 people and the combined turnover is more than £100 million. Two-thirds of companies in this sector predict growth of 20 per cent over the next three years.”

The rise in new media projects isn’t just restricted to Dundee itself, of course, and in nearby Perth and Stirling marketing agencies are also investing more time in developing their digital services.

Perth-based Ad Shed remains predominantly an advertising agency, but has steadily been building its online workload. Director Crawford Mollison comments: “I think a lot of people are becoming more aware of online now, plus there are people who are already online but are looking for a revamp because of new technology. I’ve certainly been doing more online work this year than ever before.”

Mollison has also found that the nature of web work also lends itself to working with clients who are based further afield. He adds: “After the initial meetings a lot of the work can be done on emails and by uploading the test sites for the clients to look at. It allows them to view it in their own space and in their own time. I think it does make it easier to work with more remote clients than it would be with print projects.”

Meanwhile Stirling-based Vizibility has been branching into other areas of the digital industry. As well as developing web-based projects for clients the agency, which also has offices in Canada and Bulgaria, develops its own software products. Managing director David Guthrie comments: “Digital is now the larger part of what we do. It’s been a progressive thing. We’re in our sixth year now and when we started we were 60% print but over the years we’ve poured everything into growing the digital side of the business.”

Baseline Graphics, another Stirling-based agency, has found that, although it remains largely a print agency, new media projects can bring with them some creative benefits. “I think one of the main advantages for agencies is that there’s relatively low overheads,” says Douglas Walker, the agency’s managing director. “Also, because of the low cost, clients are sometimes willing to let you try things that they wouldn’t if it was a print project. So there’s some more creative freedom there as well.”

In spite of the undisputed upturn in the area’s new media business, however, the traditional print design projects are expected to maintain their importance.

Despite recently completing a number of web and multimedia projects Bill Bruce, managing director of Stirling-based Voice, is adamant that the agency will continue to work in other media. “I can’t see us ever solely doing digital work,” he says. “I can see digital work being the majority of what we do in the not-too-distant future. We look at communications so whichever project we do we’ll be looking at who the target market is and what the best way to reach them is. It’s really about how people want to be communicated with.”

His opinion is shared back in Dundee. Despite the city’s digital specialisms the growing new media field isn’t expected to push out the print projects. Good news, no doubt, for the area’s print companies.

Mark Findlater, creative director of Dundee-based Oomph, says: “I think we’ll always get design for print work. Quite often we’ll get print projects that develop from web work. A company will approach us for a website but will want other materials to back it up. There are certain projects where it will go hand-in-hand and it’s making sure that all the materials match up and sit together.”

Evelyn Hardie, managing director of The Puffin Room, agrees, stating: “I think there will always be a market for traditional graphic design projects. Everybody uses the internet but I think people still want brochures and there will always be a need for corporate identities. We also do a lot of exhibition design and packaging – which can never be done online.”

With new media now occupying its own slice of the marketing cake it’s likely that companies in Stirling, Perth and Dundee, as well as everywhere else, will continue to hone their skills in that sector. As time moves on, it’ll be interesting to see how the specialisms in these cities develop.


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