Grid Club workCitigate Smarts has been going through a period of transition. Even before its recent sale to Media Square, as part of a bigger deal, the agency was expanding quickly with offices in Manchester, Dublin and Birmingham. This expansion has seen a range of opportunities arise, none more so, perhaps, than for the agency’s digital division, which has metamorphosised in recent months with the introduction of a new team and a new, more creative way of thinking.
Citigate Smarts has had a digital side to its business since 1998, but it wasn’t until the digital division won the First Group account in 2001 that the team kicked up a gear.
“It’s a massive job,” says chief executive Mark Gorman. “That [First] became the focus of the business for the next few years. If truth be told, I think that immersed the [digital] business until the end of 2004, perhaps stagnating it. That was the point when I’d just started and we thought that the time was right to invest in the digital business.
“Having been at Whitespace for the year before, I had seen the potential for proper income in the digital side of the business. We hired Malky Brown in January 2005 and that was the turning point to where the business is now.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic year, all told. There’s been a big turn around in staff and we’ve refocused the business dramatically. As a result we now have a [digital] team of five in Glasgow with the relevant support staff, with Malky essentially leading the team.”
Brown joined from One O Clock Gun where he had worked for three years: “I had worked with Paul [Magee] for a year in the late nineties at Black ID,” says Brown. “Myself, Paul and Toby Freeman, who’s now here too, did work for Burger King, J&B, Home Nightclubs... we were half the team behind Black’s rise to fame. Eight years later we came back together again at Citigate Smarts.”
Paul Magee set up ItsNotRocketScience with Freeman, in conjunction with Coltas, before selling the business to Wheel in London. But later they took ItsNotRocketScience back in a management buyout from Wheel. In the meantime Brown had been talking to the Freeman and Magee about the possibility of doing something “more creative” at Citigate Smarts, with the pair joining the company last year.
“If we were going to do this, we were going to do it properly,” continues Gorman. “And the way to do it properly is to get the right people around you, with the right set of skills.”
Citigate Smarts has an almost unique proposition in Scotland, boasting a fully-integrated range of service – creative, digital, research, planning and PR, although Gorman is keen to be disassociated with the ‘integrated’ tag. “Integrated is not my word. I don’t like it. Our model is to grow centres of excellence in whatever discipline we do. If we have a digital team, we have excellent digital people - same as our advertising business and our PR business.
“There is a difference in Scotland about how people express this integrated proposition. What you find is that creative agencies offer different kinds of creative services. An ad agency will add on design or a digital wing. The difference for me in what we offer is the PR element of the business. To get the PR and creative to mesh together is a very hard task to achieve. And if you look at all the agencies out there that are professing to be ‘integrated’, they are not - they just have a wider creative services footprint than they used to have.
“Coming from a digital standpoint,” continues Magee, “PR is a perfect match to what we do. Online advertising – collecting and gathering information – is a perfect source for PR activity. For the mental well-being campaign for the Scottish Executive we create viral support campaigns,” adds Brown. “It gives us a stronger strategic standpoint in terms of being able to give real facts and figures.”
“A big part of what differentiates us in our marketplace is that, at the core of what we do, we have strategic planning unit,” says Gorman. “That planning unit is experienced and well versed in dealing with PR people as well as digital people, which means they can widen their service, providing strategically robust solutions for clients.”
Recently Media Square bought the Marketing Services Group [which included Citigate Smarts] from Huntsworth, and the agency is now starting to notice the benefits.
“Media Square are focused and they really want to move forward, encouraging a much more collaborative way of working,” Gorman says. “Huntsworth had a different agenda. Their focus was on their PR brand, and on how to assimilate that worldwide, rather than a side of the business that was peripheral to their core proposition. We were in a bit of limbo for a wee while, but that isn’t the case any more. We’ve been expanding quickly.”
Are plans afoot to expand even further then? “Yes,” smiles Gorman, although he won’t be drawn on how much expansion. “No,” he laughs, “all will be revealed in due course. There are plans afoot. The new media department has grown 50 percent in the last year, and that’s including a period of turmoil, if truth be told. But I would hope to be growing the same this year.”
“I was expecting you to say you’d be wanting a 200 percent growth next year,” jokes Brown.” We can relax a little, then.”