Unsung heroes

By The Drum, Administrator

December 15, 2005 | 10 min read

360º communications

An ethical advertising agency – surely a contradiction in terms? Maybe so, but 360° Communications is an exception. It only tackles ethical, health and social issues, working in the voluntary and statutory sector. “We work a lot with clients that are scared of the term ‘advertising’,” says 360° boss Hamish McDonald.

McDonald came to 360° from a client, a Scottish Executive-funded HIV prevention initiative, where he employed the company to work for him on a communications campaign. After a good working relationship, he jumped ship to join 360°.

McDonald is the only full-time member of staff at the eight -year-old agency, working with a ‘patchwork quilt’ of part-time staff and freelancers, people from design and advertising as well as the voluntary sector.

“The clients that we work with, work with small budgets,” says McDonald. “Working this way allows us to give the maximum return for their investment. There might be substantially less money in these sectors, but we believe in the issues we cover, and that is a privileged position to be in.”

This month, 360° is launching a new alcohol awareness campaign for Lothian and Borders Police, and has also worked with NHS Health Scotland on drugs and HIV campaigns, as well on the impending smoking ban.

“Direct results make it worthwhile,” says McDonald. “Some advertisers have tools to measure their success, but we deal with far more tangible outputs.”

Alternative Designs

Fife isn’t a region that gets much space dedicated to it in The Drum, but just over the Forth Road Bridge lies a number of agencies all working hard to service their clients.

Alternative Designs has been in operation for four years now, having been launched by Brian More, a former Edinburgh-based creative director who also held posts at the Boroughloch Agency, Strathern Advertising, Logomotives and Marketing Advantage.

Based in Kirkaldy, the design agency works for a number of high profile clients including Age Concern Scotland, Careshare, Fife College, Royal Bank of Scotland, Scottish and Newcastle and YMCA Scotland.

One of its biggest clients is architecture firm, Hurd Rolland, which has four offices throughout the UK.

The advantage that More has, having worked across all the creative disciplines (DM, advertising and design) is that he can offer a range of disciplines to his growing client list.

“I believe that if you have got creative ability it is easy to go from one discipline to the other,” he says.

“When I launched Alternative Designs, I decided that it was time to move back home to Fife,” he continues. “It is the perfect location for me, the overheads are smaller, and while I am in no way cheap and cheerful, the lower overheads translate to the fees we charge.

“Clients aren’t put off by the fact that we are in Fife either. Modern technology now means that you don’t have to turn up on their doorstep with a pile of proofs under your arm... although I do still do that on regular occasions.”

Axis Media

“It was the new millennium, I had just turned 50 and it was now or never,” says Paul Murricane, speaking of the launch of Axis Media Group. The company has now been operating for five years offering a range of media services.

“Clients are comfortable with our contacts,” says Murricane. “And the fact that I’m not just working from a database.”

And Murricane certainly has plenty of contacts. He is a former business correspondent, presenter, producer, and head of corporate affairs at Scottish Television. At STV, he was also editor of Scotland Today for two years, and later produced documentaries for Channel 4, before spending five years as director of broadcast with Countrywide Porter Novelli. “In PR there is a great expertise in print media,” he says. “But broadcast media can still be a bit of an unknown entity. You have to know what makes a good story.”

With this in mind, Murricane launched training company Media Mentor. Media Mentor offers training in broadcast and print media, bringing in an A-list string of journalists to aid in the training, including Kaye Adams, Hazel Irvine and Bill Turnbull.

“It is important for anyone dealing with the media to know how to approach journalists properly,” he says. “If you don’t have a good story, you just end up making enemies. There is sometimes a bunker mentality from those that are publicly accountable, but that is not the mentality that should be adopted. ‘No comment’ is not an option. These days public image is so important, when you talk to the public, be it direct or through the media, you have to make sure that you do it well.”

The Gapp Studio

The Gaap Studio is celebrating a second year in business this month. Although it started as a marketing and design studio, after picking up work with a translation business, founder Scott McPhee stumbled across a new Gaap in the market.

“At present, it [multi-lingual design] is a niche market, so it’s not as saturated as other areas of design in Scotland.

“I started working closely with a translation firm, and the opportunities for both of us were apparent. It’s been a steep learning curve, but it is proving to be worth it. I think we are one of the only agencies in Scotland to offer full multi-lingual design.

“A lot of the work from design agencies looks great, but they don’t, for example, take into consideration the extra space need for various languages,” McPhee says. “German, on average, needs 30 percent more space, and Urdu requires 25 percent more space.”

Although he works with a lot of clients directly, including Glasgow Housing Association and Glasgow Association for Mental Health, a lot of the work that Gaap Studio currently undertakes is community-based translation projects and the company is also looking into the export market.

McPhee also works with larger design agencies to help in their translation problems when it comes to design. “There is obviously an element of trust, but I try not to step on anyone’s toes,” he says.

Precision media

Founded two years ago, Precision Media started out with a £1000 investment and a computer in an 8x4ft box room. Now, employing nine staff, the media agency turns over £1.75m.

Its growth has been quite phenomenal. Even more so when you bear in mind Precision Media does not charge its clients for its services. Not one penny.

Michael Cochrane launched Precision Media having worked for Viacom, and Clear Channel. “I came up with what I thought was a novel idea – an agency that doesn’t charge. An agency that is completely free to its clients. We plan, devise media schedules and place adverts, do all the work that a client would have to do themselves, and do it all free of charge.

“We take our 15 percent agency commission from the media owners. That’s it.. In an age where price is everything, agencies will not be able to justify taking money from clients as well as money from the media owners.”

Precision Media has seen a growth of over 500 percent in the last year, working for a range of clients including, Forth Ports, the Wellgate Centre, Dunfermline’s Kingsgate Centre, the TA, a number of automotive clients and the Royal Navy.

The nine-strong team of nine is based in Dundee. “We deal with budgets that go as low as £10,000,” says Cochrane. “ But this is the future. I believe agencies soon won’t be able to charge clients a holding fee.”


The expanding range of publishing across many sectors of industry is being reflected in the demand for training in page layout and web design software applications which Tidalfire is experiencing.

However, managing director Louise Scott says her company is seeing clear evidence of growth in training for corporate users over the last few years. “Companies in the corporate arena are working on Adobe and Quark applications,” she says. “People assume that when you say you’re a specialist trainer in Adobe, Macromedia & Quark, it’s going to be really design-led stuff. But, we do a lot of work with companies such as Standard Life, where these tools are used to provide business solutions.”

As well as a continuous growth in migration projects from Quark to InDesign, Scott says another major pattern is Adobe Creative Suite 2 migrations, often hand-in-hand with a transition to Mac OS X, which has seen strong activity in the last 18 months. “People are upgrading fast, and they’re quite excited about a number of things. They’re looking under the bonnet and investigating for themselves,” she adds.

Waterfront studios

Waterfront Studios has probably worked with every advertising agency in Scotland as the longest-running independent production house north of the border.

As well as writing and recording work for practically every ad agency in Scotland, Waterfront has established a name for itself south of the border too, working with a number of London-based agencies, producing work for the likes of BA and Guinness.

“Waterfront was one of the first companies in the UK to pioneer ISDN link-ups,” says Steve Thom, Waterfront’s managing director. “13 years ago we were the only one in Scotland to have that technology. Now it is commonplace.

Thom was head of creative services at Radio Clyde throughout the 80’s before leaving in 1990 to set up the production house.

A few years ago the company launched Brand Radio, a new string to its bow, offering tailored, ‘as-live’ radio content for big-name stores including Toyota, HBoS and Reid, as well as content for B&Q and IKEA.

“The software technology we use gives the impression of a live radio station, allowing the store to add their own jingles and commercials.

“The system is really reliable, and once it is installed, it can be updated remotely,” continues Thom.

“We install and programme the system, and write and produce the commercials. Brand Radio is broadcast through 200 Toyota dealerships throughout the UK. Also almost every Bank of Scotland Branch in the country utilises the system. Brand Radio is certainly expanding and evolving. I’m forecasting a four-fold growth over the next year or two. In the next couple of years that part of the business alone we aim to be turning over £2-3m.

“We are now looking to push forward the visual side of Brand Radio – “Brand Media”. We will be offering six channels of high definition TV content. We will produce the content for that here too. That will mean that we will probably have to expand the staff here quite dramatically too.”


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