A Good Profile
Candleriggs, early Friday morning. Delivery vans trundle slowly past the continental-style tables outside Glasgow’s Metropolitan Bar - Good Creative’s adopted ‘meeting room’ for the morning.
In Good’s office, across the road, the meeting room has been taken over. What was once a spacious room for such occasions has now been engulfed by account handlers, planners and directors. The upstairs design studio is just as ‘busy’.
The agency has been expanding fast since its launch by Keith Forbes (former 999 managing director) and Chris Lumsden (ex-BD-Ntwk) two years ago, and now a new location for the growing team is being sought.
In the meantime, on a warm Glasgow morning, the cafÃ©-culture of the Merchant City is a welcome alternative.
Good founders, Forbes and Lumsden, are joined by the agency’s (relatively) recent senior appointment Carolyn Laing, who arrived at the company in March this year, having previously been managing director of BD-Ntwk.
They are busy, but relaxed. Ordering coffees, they talk freely about life, business and Forbes’ coffee order.
Having scooped the title of Ones to Watch at this year’s Robert Horne Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year, they are obviously keen to continue growing their reputation. A reputation that has been fuelled through their working practice.
“In any creative agency it should be a given that you are very good at what you do,” says Forbes. “You can design a job, lay it out, your typography skills are good. That’s a standard now.
“What really differentiates is the core idea – one that is driven out of good research and planning.
“We do a lot of serious research before we even put pen to paper. The creative teams work off Macs before we transfer the ideas onto computers.
“Before we even get to design we spend a lot of time thinking. We don’t rush into creative solutions until we have got an idea that works. This means we can go to a client with just the one idea.
“If you are going in with multiple ideas that just means that you probably don’t believe in any of them.”
“When a client buys into an agency, all they are buying into are the individuals that make up the team. That’s what makes a good or bad agency.
“Finding good people can be a bitch,” continues Forbes. “Keeping them is an even harder job. There are so many people that have had their confidence knocked. There are also many people who can work very well on one job. They can design a brochure or a piece of packaging or a website or exhibitions. But there are very few people out there that can just think to come up with a solution, whatever the problem or brief.”
And that’s exactly what Good has set about to do, seemingly successfully. The team has grown rapidly. “A lot quicker than we ever envisaged,” says Lumsden, growing from two initially to 22 within two years.
Good’s most senior appointment, to date, is that of Carolyn Laing, former managing director of BD-Ntwk. Being Lumsden’s former managing director at BD, there was a potential for some awkward situations arising, however, says Lumsden, the move has been a beneficial one.
“It might have been easier for us at the time to say that we didn’t need someone like Carolyn,” says Lumsden.
“Another senior head with ideas and thoughts. It would have been very easy to say no. But that would have been the wrong decision. There is no power struggle.
“Keith and I acknowledged that the growth, while extremely fast, was unsustainable in the long term. We were winning a lot of business from existing clients, but that was going to be a finite resource. Having worked with Carolyn before, I knew her contact book was fantastic. But hers is not just a new business role, though, more strategy and development.”
“We look for ego-less individuals,” says Forbes. “That allows you to ask questions of your own capabilities. And specifically that allows me to ask questions of what I can do. I’ve been an MD before [at 999] and I knew which bits I was bad at, and what I was good at. And now I’m doing what I was good at – the creative. Although Chris has a different set of strengths, we still have weaknesses between us... Carolyn fills in the gaps between us - from dealing with the press to new business and account direction, as well as her skills learnt as a managing director. All these things come into the pot and now we feel a lot more comfortable.”
Certainly a lot more comfortable than when the agency first launched. To their own admission, the launch of Good saw Lumsden and Forbes “flying by the seat of their pants.”
However, since then, its roster of clients has grown dramatically with Good now having worked for a raft of household brands, including BenQ-Siemens, Vladivar Vodka, Klick, Salon Services, Bunnahabhain, The Rugby Football League, Ogilvie Group and McLelland Cheese, to name a few.
“We launched with no clients at all,” says Lumsden. “We were sitting in Starbucks and the phone rang. In these situations you have to have a bit of luck – and we got a lot. A client asked if we had started the agency yet as he had a job for us. We wrote a business plan and hired a very good accountant who pointed us in the right direction to find a small amount of funding.”
“It’s nothing revolutionary that we are doing,” he carries on. “We just try to do what we do as well as we can. We have started with every client on small jobs, and work has grown out of that.”
CL World Brands - owners of Black Bottle and Burn Stewart Distillers - is a typical example. Good started on a small project and the business has escalated to the point where the agency is now the company’s main creative supplier.
Siemens is another. The agency was given a packaging job by BenQ-Siemens in the UK, however, the resulting work – the creation of the new ‘Mofi’ brand – spread to Europe and then globally.
“It’s a wide range of work that we undertake [for CL World Brands],” says Laing. “Everything from design for print and packaging to above-the-line and direct marketing. It is an excellent blueprint for what we want to do with other clients.”
“We’ve been wrestling with how we position ourselves,” she continues. “Agencies have to challenge their position in the market, as the market is continually changing. As requirements change, the skillset of the agency changes to meet that demand. It’s a constant evolution.
“Integration has become such an important thing for clients going forward. Because we are not hung up on any one route to market we can take a budget, find out what they want to achieve and then plan how to best achieve these results. No axe to grind.”
However, due to the way that Good works with clients, the agency has had to work closely with lawyers to make sure that its intellectual copyright of ideas is protected.
“The way that clients are operating by taking so much more in-house,” says Laing. “And with procurement becoming our friend, agencies are often only trading on execution of ideas, and not actually charging for the idea.”
“It’s important for us to [ensure ideas are copyrighted] because of the way we work. Not all agencies lead with concept ideas,” adds Forbes.
“For us to answer a very small problem we look at the bigger problem. But if you don’t value your ideas, who else will?”