If there’s a theme running through this issue of The Drum it seems to be companies that fly decidedly under the radar. While some marketing agencies profit from fame, it’s true that there are several who are doing nicely, making a name for themselves and just getting on with it.
Based in Glasgow’s East End, DB Advertising has been steadily building its reputation for almost nine years. The company, headed by managing director Debbie Bennett, has specialised in creating marketing solutions for medium-sized businesses based in the west of Scotland and late last year picked up the Most Enterprising Business Award from the Association of Scottish Businesswomen.
Bennett earned a degree in advertising in Manchester before spending time working at advertising agencies in both London and Hong Kong. After returning to Scotland, Bennett had stints freelancing at both 1576 and Faulds Advertising.
She says: “Having worked for a lot of the big agencies, and working on big accounts and dealing with large budgets I thought ‘where do medium-sized companies go when they’re looking for advertising and marketing solutions?’. I did a bit of market research and found that they tended to either create something themselves in-house or they would get a single graphic designer to put some ideas together. They didn’t really have a professional company to approach who would give them professional advice in an affordable way.”
Targeting this market, DB Advertising was set up in July 1997. Two years later it earned its most high-profile account – Glasgow 1999, set up to promote Glasgow’s status as UK city of Architecture and Design during 1999.
Bennett admits that that win was not representative of her gameplan. “That’s not really what we’re about,” she says. “We’re not trying to get these big clients, we’re trying to get medium-sized companies. So when I quote some of my achievements with clients, it’s usually ones The Drum’s readers probably haven’t heard of. But we’re not about name-dropping to some of the big companies, it’s about producing great work for medium-sized companies.”
The agency’s client list includes Scott Oiler, a Glasgow-based company which makes oil lubrication systems for bike chains; Ollie Clothing, a company that designs children’s wear which is sold in stores such as Selfridges and Glasgow coffee shop Kember and Jones.
Recent projects have included rebranding Glasgow-based iron-monger, Colquhoun’s, to appeal to a younger and more affluent target market, and developing marketing material for Vector Aircraft Services, a company which helps small airlines with their regulations and aircraft maintenance.
“It’s important that our clients are usually Glasgow based or West Coast-based,” says Bennett. “There’s more than enough clients in that region for us to cover without going to England or the East coast or up north.”
Although occasionally getting involved with traditional pitches, Bennett tends to adopt a more proactive new-business strategy, actively targeting local businesses that the four-strong team wants to work with. Bennett is also a keen networker and has tirelessly worked to build the agency’s profile in the Glasgow business community.
And, despite the advertising industry continuing to be male-dominated, Bennett states that she has never been challenged by sexist attitudes. “We’re a service industry and women have a good reputation in providing good service,” she says. “So I think it’s worked to my advantage in terms of when I go in and see clients. I don’t think it’s worked against me – they’ve maybe quite liked that. I’ve never really encountered much sexism but maybe that’s because I nip it in the bud quite early if I do hear anything. I don’t take much nonsense in that respect.”
Finding new staff however is always the biggest challenge. Employing a small team of creatives, and no account handlers, Bennett needs her staff to be able to communicate well with clients as well as deliver on the creative side.
“I always think it’s important that they have a good balance between graphic design knowledge, creative, and being good at communicating, good at presenting, friendly and accommodating with clients, “ she says. “It’s quite tricky to find people that have all these characteristics.”
With that in mind, the following months are set to be strenuous ones as DB Advertising enters into a period of growth. As the agency steadily builds its client list, Bennett aims to double the company’s staff numbers and is considering a move into larger premises.
“I’m quite happy with the fact that I’ve grown the business solidly and slowly,” says Bennett. “I’ve heard that’s quite a female characteristic, as opposed to men in business, who usually attempt a faster growth. I’m pleased that I’ve taken my time, and have built up an excellent reputation over the years.”