The migration debate

By The Drum, Administrator

April 20, 2006 | 5 min read

One of the highlights of my rather middling rugby career was when our club occasionally managed to persuade the head groundsman at Murrayfield to allow us to play our club games on the main pitch.

The experience of playing on the hallowed turf heightened my resolve to one day get involved in the marketing of the SRU. A decade and a couple of failed pitches later I have still to realise that dream. Now it appears that, despite having ditched their ‘foreign policy’ on the playing and coaching side, the SRU is giving the job to an agency south of the border.

An English agency handling Scottish rugby – after the recent Calcutta Cup result as well! Predictably, there has been a wailing and gnashing of teeth as another iconic Scottish brand leaves the already shrinking Scottish advertising industry.

Yet, looking at the facts, what did the SRU do wrong? They picked five agencies for their short list that had previously done some work for them. They were also at pains to stress that the pitch process was a completely level playing field.

As one of the agencies, Cravens, had a proven track record in rugby marketing – having both worked successfully on the IRB Under 21 World Cup and with the Newcastle Falcons – I have no doubt that the marketing team at the SRU felt that the winning agency had developed the best answer to the brief and made their decision accordingly.

No one in Scotland has a god given right to handle home grown clients. After all, we are all happy to take accounts away from other parts of the country. Yet historically, a view persists that particular businesses have a special status and should almost be considered as Scottish marketing’s ‘crown jewels’. If so, what would these be?

Great entrepreneurial brands such as Kwik Fit (before sale) and Baxters of Speyside have generally showed great faith in the Scottish advertising industry over the years, despite their markets extending well beyond our borders.

These decisions haven’t been based on charity. No matter how patriotic they are, these clients’ primary concern has been to run their businesses as successfully as possible. The agencies that work on these accounts will also testify to the blood, sweat and tears that is required to service them The clients themselves are rewarded by great work, dedicated servicing and undoubtedly lower fees compared to London.

Conversely, most of the drinks industry has long since left and many financial institutions have followed suit. I have no doubt that we have the ability to handle most things on home turf but, on certain accounts, it appears that agency expertise is too thinly spread, so there is quite often a talent gap between ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams. Furthermore, a lack of networks and partnerships can be a handicap for certain agencies.

Not surprisingly, there is great satisfaction behind closed doors when the move out of Scotland does not work and is reversed. ScottishPower left Scotland in 2000 for the first time, seduced by BBH’s ‘Scottishpowered’ strategy. They returned to Scotland a couple of years later, wiser and without their retail division. More impressively, the Leith Agency successfully seduced Irn Bru back into the fold after a tenacious and long running campaign.

Prising certain accounts away from Ireland has always seemed difficult, so should certain business here be sacrosanct? In my opinion there are a small number of brands that are so intrinsically tied into the Scottish psyche that it is difficult to accept that they will be better handled out with their homeland. Take, for example, the huge controversy at the time when Saatchi & Saatchi won Glasgow City of Culture 1990. This appointment was made soon after Scottish agencies had created the world wide success of ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’, and later, the Glasgow Garden Festival, the first of its type to make a profit.

Part of the justification at the time was that Saatchi would create jobs as the agency was going to open a Scottish office. This eventually amounted to a telephone line on divert, some Rennie MacKintosh artwork, and the stunning strap line ‘A lot Glasgowing on’. I’d have eaten my hat if a Scottish agency couldn’t have beaten that.

Cravens will no doubt do a good job with the SRU; they might even open a Scottish office. They may put a Scottish account handler on the business who will appreciate and understand the troubled history of Scottish rugby and the foibles of the average supporter. I still believe that the job could have been done at least as well by a Scottish agency.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be having a go at the SRU though. Maybe it should be those of us who failed to persuade them to choose us, or even the new business guys who didn’t get their agencies on the list in the first place.

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