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Agency Profile: Hookson

By The Drum | Administrator

January 12, 2006 | 7 min read

The term ‘best kept secret’ is an old cliché The Drum hears around ten times a week. Most of the time the account or company being referred to is neither especially well-kept or particularly secret, but every once in a while the expression is still relevant.

And while ‘best kept secret’ may not fit exactly with an agency that’s won several awards for its creativity and client service, Edinburgh’s Hookson still manages to operate below the radar of some of its contemporaries.

The agency was founded in 2001 by managing director Bryan Hook after he departed from Tayburn, taking clients Wedgewood, Taylor Woodrow and the Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as several staff members, with him. “I think it was about taking control of your own destiny, really,” recalls Hook. “It was just going out and doing your own thing. Being in control of your own thing.

“But also in moving up to Scotland from Partners in London [where Hook was prior to Tayburn], it was a long-term plan for me.”

With three sizeable clients under its belt, the company didn’t have the usual frantic rush to put its name on the map. Making a profit in its first year, Hookson continued to add clients to the books, until an increased focus on offering a full branding service led to the recruitment, early in 2004, of account director June Carroll.

Hook explains: “June becoming involved in the business was quite important, quite instrumental, in sorting out our brand strategy work and also our client relationships.”

Hook admits that the support of the agency’s initial three clients took the onus off of building the agency’s profile, particularly north of the border. Much of the agency’s initial client wins were in England or Dublin.

“I think it was a bit of a safety blanket and that was part of the reason June was brought on board,” Says Hook. “I think I relied on that safety blanket for too long, so you get into that habit of thinking ‘well the money’s coming in, it’s rolling in, we’re doing some nice work’, so that’s probably the biggest thing I would have done differently – brought June on when we were starting up.”

With Carroll on board the agency moved farther away from being a traditional design consultancy, setting out its stall as a branding expert.

“Our core strength, I think, is between an ad agency and design consultancy,” says Carroll. “And it’s understanding what the brand is about and the company’s about and the values that they’re communicating. With a lot of our clients it’s not just the external communications which are our concern, it’s the internal communications.

“We get the brand proposition right, the brand strategy right and the communications plan right and that’s when the results come into the business. It provides a great pipeline of work for Hookson because you can actually see a lifeline to the projects, as opposed to a one-off design project.”

“What we try and do is work out a communications plan,” agrees Hook. “To understand what are the correct communications that will help generate the result that the business wants. That may be to grow into new markets or it may be that they want to increase enquiry levels or they just might want to double their business.

“They’ll need comms materials to try and drive that business forward, so we’ll put a communications programme together that would have a variety of material from advertising to internal comms.”

2004 also marked the agency’s further expansion into the Irish marketplace with the opening of its Dublin office.

“The motivation for opening in Dublin was clients, really,” Hook explains. “We were working with a major healthcare company in Ireland. And also working with Waterford Crystal. Those clients needed a bit of on-the-ground project servicing.”

Later the same year the agency also opened a third office in London, again providing a base to service existing clients. While not manned full-time, these offices are occupied on a regular basis by Hookson staff working on projects with local clients.

The last couple of years have brought some solid growth for Hookson, but it hasn’t been straight-forward. “I think growing our awareness in Scotland has been the biggest challenge,” says Hook. “Because when we started the majority of our clients were not in Scotland. A lot of our income was coming from Wedgewood, Taylor Woodrow, Jaspar Conran, from Ireland or from Health Clubs in London. I think we’re still working at trying to grow our awareness in Scotland, but I think that’s starting to evolve now.”

The evolution has included account wins for Scottish organisations such as Scottish Water, the City of Edinburgh Council, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Scottish Arts Council and the Scottish Ambulance Service, from who the agency won the commission to design its much sought-after annual report.

Aside from the Scottish clients, however, the agency is also establishing its name on the international stage.

Last year ended with the announcement that Hookson had been chosen by Zurich-based company Peoplemovers to brand the company as well as handle its global marketing.

Peoplemovers is a new international company which specialises in recruiting professionals from countries and relocating them to countries with a specific skills shortage, either permanently or for the duration of a specific project. The first marketing campaign produced by Hookson will run in India and the UK and will request skilled construction workers to relocate to Canada, where there is a distinct shortage.

The company chose Hookson, whose first task was creating the Peoplemovers name, after a four-way international pitch.

Securing a range of different clients has been a long-term goal for the agency, which has been purposefully moving away from relying on a small number of large accounts. Hook says: “There should never be one client that’s fifty per cent of your turnover. It’s not like that anymore. It’s taken us the last two and a half years to get that balance where there’s not that one client that’s worth fifty per cent.”

An increasing number of clients doesn’t appear to have slowed the eight-strong Hookson team down, though. At the 2005 Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year lunch the agency was named winner of the Client Satisfaction Poll and earned a place in The Drum’s Recommended Agency Guide.

With the agency’s fifth birthday approaching in July, Hook states that there’s no big expansion plans on the horizon. Now with three offices and work in Scotland, England and abroad the team seems keen to keep going on its present course. Hook says: “I think we’re ambitious, but I think what we want is a good solid business that delivers good work and delivers a return. We’ve got Dublin, we’ve got London, we’ve got Edinburgh, and if an opportunity takes us outwith that then it would need to be addressed, but we just want to produce good work, have fun and enjoy our lives. I don’t want to be worrying about money.”

Carroll adds: “I think one of the key things as well is to have the balance right. It’s not a dictatorial environment. Everybody’s involved, everybody’s input is vital. We have this balance now and we don’t want to have 40 people or 50 people. It has to be small enough to manage and so that everybody gets an area to grow.”

With this steady growth, Hookson may just turn out to be the worst-kept secret of 2006.

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