Unsung Heroes

By The Drum, Administrator

June 15, 2006 | 15 min read

Morton Ward

As Mortonward approaches its twentieth anniversary next year, it has become a time of change and reflection for the Edinburgh-based design and marketing agency.

Established in 1987, the agency was originally based in Kelso in the Scottish Borders, where design work was plentiful with knitwear (Pringle of Scotland) and the electronics sector (STC and MEPD) raising opportunities for a professional design studio.

During the company’s time in the region, the agency built up relationships with a number of private and public sector bodies, producing design work for the Health Education Board for Scotland, Forestry Commission and a large chunk of the Scottish tourism industry.

Eventually, the company outgrew its surroundings and looked to develop, expanding its client list and specialised skills, with Edinburgh being the natural choice. It now boasts a team of 11 working across a range of services.

Mortonward’s director, Steve Morton, having worked in London and Manchester, decided the city was the correct place to re-home the company, allowing for an expansion in creative, as well as offering a more diverse client list.

Mortonward now offers a range of services, including marketing communications, campaign and planning development, branding and corporate identity, graphic design, web design, advertising and annual reporting, marking a move towards being a full service design agency, and it’s clients that are demanding it.

“I think it’s a demand from our existing client base that they want more from us than we offered in the past,” says Morton. “What we’ve been doing is moving towards a full service operation. That’s where we see our future growth. We’ve a number of clients who have moved to have a more strategic relationship with us.”

Recent developments include working with Aquapharm, Communities Scotland, VisitScotland, Gretna Gateway, The Peak District Visitor Guide, East Lothian Council, Smiths Gore (pictured below) and Heriot-Watt University.

“We had been in the borders for so long that we had built up a strong client base, but a lot of our clients couldn’t understand why were based in Kelso and not in a city,” he says. “It was client pressure as much anything that made us move. It’s also more of a demand from our existing client base that they want more from us than we offered in the past, leading us towards a full service operation.”

Business Perceptions

Marketing and communications consultancy Business Perceptions is proud to admit that the backgrounds of its directors Kay Blair and Carole Haddow have been a key factor in helping it build up such an impressive client list. Clients include Royal Bank of Scotland, Abbey, Fidelity, Standard Life Investments and Hymans Robertson, among others. Blair is a former deputy editor of Scottish Business Insider magazine, and also worked for several years as a marketing columnist for The Scotsman. Haddow - who joined the consultancy three years ago - is a former marketing director of the WM Company and Edinburgh Fund Managers.

The company was formed over twenty years ago and has built up a ‘blue chip’ client base, mainly in the financial sector. Through Business Perceptions, Blair and Haddow aim to help their clients improve business performance through effective communications and improved client service. Blair explains: “Clients appreciate that they get Carole and me working on their projects. We provide financial and technical copywriting, high level client research and both internal and external communications. And we offer interim management at a senior level.”

Blair continues to explain: “We handle marketing material for clients, advise on PR and branding and offer training in effective writing. Clients like our approach; it’s pragmatic and delivers results.”

Another aspect that Business Perceptions deals with is helping companies motivate and enthuse their staff through better internal communications, by producing marketing material ranging from newsletters and brochures to annual reports. The directors also conduct high level client research for financial clients to assess the effectiveness of their service delivery.

“This type of research involves senior interviews where we assess various aspects of client service” says Blair.

Design Links

Edinburgh-based marketing and communications agency, Design Links, has been developing its services for nearly thirteen years now.

“The agency was set up with a clear ethos in mind. That design is only useful if it makes an impact for your clients,” says Mike Stevenson, managing director of Design Links. “What Design Links does is work much more with our clients in the lead up period so we help to clarify the vision. We try and involve staff in creating that vision, and we talk to our clients and customers. We have got a workshop approach that is really fun and participative, helping to clarify what an organisation needs and that precedes our basework.”

Stevenson recently participated in a debate at the Leith Festival in ‘Leithal Thinking,’ discussing the contribution that Leith makes to the design world and how the area can move forward in the future.

He says “We are particularly interested in the notion of regeneration advertising. We’ve got a very good customer attention rate, and that’s because of the way in which we approach our work.

“If it is to be successful and lasting, regeneration must be married to marketing and real imagination and creativity. All too often regeneration agencies do not reflect the language that people are using, and they certainly don’t reflect the humour,” adds Stevenson.

Design Links has a varied client list including the University of Leeds, Aberdeen City Council, Edinburgh City Council, East Lothian City Council, NHS, Children’s Hospice Association of Scotland and the SFA.

media education

Having studied drama at The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Iain Shaw initially worked in theatre, radio and education throughout Scotland.

However, early on in his career, while working with Forth FM, he saw first-hand the challenges and frustrations faced by individuals in dealing with corporate companies and other large organisations. Likewise he identified that there was often a desire in companies to understand and engage with their customers. So, in 1990, Shaw set up Media Education to apply his arts and media experience to help organisations and their customers work together to “create positive change”.

Media Education's work is multi-layered, combining expressive arts with production-based video, audio and new media skills. The firm, which employs ten staff, currently works with a wide range of organisations and businesses, including the Care Comission, Scottish Business in the Community, Standard Life, the Big Lottery and City of Edinburgh Council on everything from live events to online and film production.

For example, Media Education uses its extensive audio facilities to produce audio information for blind and visually impaired customers of Edinburgh City Council.

The company provides a wide range of staff training and development seminars on the themes of creativity, teamwork and media – it’s currently taking bookings for 'Radioactive', its latest offering. Set to take place this summer, at the height of the Edinburgh Festival, the training scheme, held at Dynamic Earth, will use the deadlines and pressures of radio journalism to help participants improve their communication skills in the workplace.

Shaw says that harnessing creativity is often about taking the time to explore issues to find an improved solution. “Whether they are problems internal to an organisation, or challenges faced by external audiences, using creative processes to consult with audiences on a deeper level can provide insight, solutions and improvements way beyond expectations.

“Involving people through media and creativity is an excellent way of handling problems, finding solutions and increasing the sense of ownership and identity which leads to increased happiness and satisfaction. Most people receive messages all the time yet few have any expectation of making them. All that potential and energy for solutions, for improvements in service and effectiveness is lost. With the diversification of the media and the additional platforms for delivery - through the internet and the mobile phone for example - the expectation of passivity is changing. People now expect to be actively involved much more.”

Gourlay Graphics

Gourlay Graphics was formed in 1991 by Allister Gourlay and his wife Elaine.

A graphic designer by trade, Allister Gourlay spent his formative years in the industry working for the likes of Channel 4, livery companies and in exhibition design.

He confesses that throughout the eighties he avoided the traditional agency designer route due to the high number of redundancies in the industry at that time.

However, Gourlay always harboured plans to be his own boss, and with the advances in desktop design computers - he claims to be one of the first to embrace the technology - Gourlay made the move to start up on his own in 1991.

“A lot of design companies then were wary of design through computers but its just a tool,” he says. “The ideas still come from your head.”

Fifteen years later and Gourlay Graphics now works for Glasgow City Council, Linn Products, West of Scotland Housing, Glaxo Smith Kiline, Lanarkshire Council, Argyll and Bute Council, DTI, NHS, Glasgow College of Nautical Studies and Stena Shipping Group - working across print and online design, as well as exhibitions, DVDs and consultancy.

“Larger organisations with marketing budgets you could choke a horse with - such as Scottish Enterprise – often skip past the smaller companies, and will only give the ‘big boys’ the time of day when it comes to any design contracts,” he says. “Maybe they don’t see the kind of work the smaller business can produce. But, size does not matter when it comes to creative ideas and keeping with budgets.

“In saying that, while of course money is important when you are working for yourself, quality of work and satisfaction plays a big part in running your own design consultants,” he continues.

“We get our share [of business], but there are a lot of design companies out there – and it is very much a buyer’s market. Design is now very diverse and we felt that we needed to move into other areas, so to keep the business fresh we started a sister company called Geewhiz Digital Media, expanding into new areas such as corporate DVD production, investing in the best technical equipment and training. As our background is in graphics and media we can apply our knowledge to corporate and informational films.

“We storyboard, produce, film, edit and master to DVD, we write the music and have access to voice-over artists worldwide. Just like the big change the arrival of the Apple Mac heralded in the graphics and design field in the late 80s - video production has changed the film production world in the same way over the past five years. Our studio was in Glasgow for 13 years but we decided to move to a new space where we built our design studio - the best decision we ever made.”


Combining digital and traditional illustration styles alongside adventurous photography, design studio IfLooksCouldKill, based in Edinburgh’s salubrious south-side, was formed by Julie Firkins and Colin Hewitt in September 2001.

The unlikely business partners - Hewitt had studied computer science, while Firkins was an artist, who studied fine art - saw the opportunity to launch IfLooksCouldKill and, despite having little experience in the graphic design industry – let-alone in running a business – they set out to make their mark in the competitive sector.

To help distinguish the agency, from the start, IfLooksCouldKill extended its services beyond the standard realms of graphic design, offering photography, illustration, and film production – all in-house. This is an area that has caught the eye of many clients, who draw on Firkins’ more classically artistic background. Another area that looks set to become profitable for the agency, also utilising Firkins’ illustration skills, is fashion design. The team has formed a separate brand – ILK industries, using designs created by Firkins printed locally on sweatshop free t-shirts.

The T-Shirts have retailed well for two years in independent stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Brighton including Analogue, Odd Ball Mall and CAKE. Recently, ILK hired Lincoln Rozelle – a former merchandiser from Jenners department store – to help expand this successful side of the business and target new markets.

“The first five years for us have been about building a good, strong portfolio of work,” says Hewitt. “As for most agencies, the challenge is to make it onto the pitch lists and show what we can do. Once we are there, we have won bids against the biggest agencies and we’re starting to bring in bigger clients, who are attracted to our relational style of working. We are growing, but we need the right people and the timing is important. The business has to be sustainable.

“It’s definitely taken longer that we thought, but we are certainly breaking through.”

Thanks to its caution and strategic approach to growing the business, the agency has won a number of plaudits, working for an eclectic mix of clients that include recently-launched arts magazine MAP, SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health); Edinburgh City Centre Management; Northern Ireland Boarding Schools and Hot Tin Roof. The latest string to their bow has been producing a promotional DVD for Tempest – a growing Northern Irish fashion retail chain, which they filmed, edited and produced in house, using both digital and super-8 film.

The founders, and latest addition to the team [Cold Fusion developer] Mark Flewellen, have continued to build on this wide and varied, but ultimately ambitious list of clients, now, with a self-imposed five-year breaking-in period over, the creative studio behind IfLooksCouldKill might well be worth a watch.


Intellis, the Glasgow-based outsourcing specialist, recently launched a campaign to promote the importance of accurate data. The one off ‘health-check’ offer involves Intellis taking a client’s data, running it through specialised software that looks for accuracy and compliance with data protection, providing a full audit report, which clearly sets out what needs to be done to update any necessary data.

Patrick Byrne, the company’s managing director, feels passionately on this matter. “One of the single most important factors for any growing business is to ensure that you’re targeting the right people,” he says. “If the information you hold on current or potential customers is out of date, you may be missing valuable opportunities. With data decaying at a rate of up to 40 per cent per annum, it’s quite surprising how quickly your information can become outdated.”

Intellis was launched in 2002 by Patrick and Roma Byrne, specialising in data brokerage (advising on who to target and how best to reach markets with communications campaigns, as well as supplying high quality data); data cleansing, (ensuring clients’ databases are accurate and up to date); handling inbound-outbound telemarketing and undertaking telephone surveys.

Clients [past and present] include a wide range of government agencies and SMEs including, GS1 UK; Xerox Office Solutions; Highlands & Islands Enterprise; Scottish Environmental Protection Agency; Beattie Communications; Jenners; Meridian IQ; USP Marketing Consultancy.

The shift towards permission based marketing has been a great challenge for the industry, but also an opportunity to differentiate services. “Intellis only supplies premium quality data and leads through positive opt-in schemes,” says Byrne. “This has enabled us to steal a march on our competitors, and position ourselves as the informed alternative to the less ethical data suppliers.

“The recent introduction of the Corporate TPS (Telephone Preference Service) has provided an additional challenge in generating high volumes of qualified leads for clients. This has, however, made the task somewhat easier, as the targets we are now contacting are generally more receptive.

“With data decaying quickly, business databases become useless unless data is cleansed and validated. So many companies have extensive lists of customers, prospects and enquiries. These are hugely valuable sales and marketing tools that are often dramatically under-utilised. Companies engaged in direct mail, telemarketing and even regular invoicing all need to know their communications are reaching the right person.”

Poorly planned outsourcing can have a negative impact on brand equity. There has been massive publicity surrounding the outsourcing of essential operations to ill-informed operators in locations remote from the client’s market. For these reasons, any company thinking about outsourcing should take simple steps to avoid these pitfalls.

“First of all,” says Byrne, “companies should never outsource their core activities. For example, a design agency shouldn’t be outsourcing design jobs if they can be done better in-house. On the other hand, if designers are spending time on the phone that would be better spent on more profitable activities, then it might be a good idea to consider outsourcing.

“Crucially, companies should only outsource to specialists they really believe in. You have to believe your outsourcing partner will communicate the ethos of your organisation in every single contact with your clients and prospects. Any reputable outsourcing provider will take the time to ‘get under the skin’ of your brand. Only then can you be confident your hard won brand name will be maintained.”


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +