Highlands and Islands

By The Drum, Administrator

February 23, 2006 | 6 min read

Steve Jones, director, Velocity Design

I had spent the last 6 years building up a successful design business south of the border with a client base which ranged from SMEs to blue chips. Then my wife and I decided to make a lifestyle choice to move 500 miles north with a one year old and one on the way.

It was difficult to predict what would happen, would I end up stacking shelves at Tesco? – all we knew was that we wanted to give it a go.

Fortunately, the reality has been somewhat different and business is good. I have found and formed relationships with forward thinking businesses and highly skilled individuals who far from seeing themselves as highland companies are actively trading much further a field.

Collaboration is commonplace and the creative/innovative industries are strong in this area – championed by organisations such as Aim-hi, Fusion and HIE.

If you were to ask what has been the most difficult aspect of the move north – I would have to say the lack of affordable office/studio space in and around Inverness. Although this is changing, a regeneration group has been put together to explore the possibility of public/private partnership to create a Creative Industries Centre in Inverness.

For Velocity in 2006? We’re moving into our new premises in May and hope to build on the foundations which we have laid down in Scotland.

Shaw Marketing and Design

While Edinburgh-based Shaw Marketing and Design is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, its Shetland ‘offspring’ recorded its own notable occasion in 2005 – its fifth birthday. And Isabel Johnson, who runs the Lerwick-based office, is looking forward to continued success.

For Alastair Bruce, joint managing director of Shaw, the Shetland experience has brought many benefits. “We’ve learnt a great deal about the challenges faced by companies and organisations marketing themselves from the fringe of Europe. Because of the geography involved, the perceptions, the associated travel, and the hard costs for clients’ customers, we have had to ensure that our communications expertise – whether marketing, design, or public relations – is geared to deal with these challenges rather than those typically faced by our mainland clients. It’s not every Edinburgh-based designer, for example, who is comfortable working with a leading European fish processor targeting the Chinese market, but that’s the kind of project which our Shetland office has delivered.” And while the Shetland economy has taken some serious blows in recent years, the Shaw team is confident about the future. “There is no hiding place in the communities in which we work and everything here comes down to the quality of service and the quality of delivery,” adds Johnson.

Platform PR

When Platform PR was set up in 2002 its intention was to be a PR company based in the Highlands rather than a Highland public relations company. That may sound picky. After all it is a Highland PR company in the sense that it has lots of experience of working in the northern half of Scotland.

But it’s also a public relations company with broad experience in a number of sectors that just happens to be based in the Highlands. And from the beginning it wanted to offer a range of services that would match its competitors in the central belt.

It set out to build a good client mix and the agency believes that’s what it has achieved. With public, private and voluntary sector clients - some with Highland links, others with none - it now has offices in Beauly and Edinburgh, as well as a satellite office in Aberdeen.

Although it’s grown rapidly in the last three and a half years, it hasn’t lost control of the quality of its output. And along the way it has won the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Scottish PR consultancy of the year in both 2004 and 2005.

Platform PR believes the business has grown because it understand that what works in the Central Belt doesn’t always work in the Highlands and Islands...and vice versa.

One of the other reasons for its success is possibly its obsession with good quality writing. It cares about grammar and punctuation, and admits its staff are apostrophe anoraks and proud of it. Last, but not least, it believes clients know they’ll get the truth from the agency – even when it hurts – and as a result they respect their advice.

The approach seems to work. Scotland’s not a huge country: if you do a good job, the word spreads. And that’s regardless of whether you’re a Highland PR company or a PR company that’s based in the Highlands.

Dynam

The biggest full service design and marketing agency in the Highlands, Inverness-based Dynam, is also the only agency working from a city centre base. The past year has brought new clients and new challenges for the busy agency.

Attracting a mix of large corporate organisations and independent companies, Dynam counts Tulloch plc and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Network among its clients. Last year, Dynam won the design contract for Highland 2007, a tri-partite project celebrating Highland arts and culture, involving The Scottish Executive, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and The Highland Council – Dynam’s emerged triumphant from a list of 50 competing agencies.

Outwith the Highlands, Glasgow-based solicitors Wright Johnson Mackenzie recently won the Cuthbert Scottish Legal Award for Marketing Initiative of the Year for their newsletter which Dynam produce.

Partner Eleanor Neilson explains: “The agency now has a staff roll of eleven, giving Dynam a strong mix of skills to meet a varied list of client demands. Everyone has absorbed the company team spirit, and works towards common goals of creative excellence and business commonsense.”

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