Fifth Ring's Dubai officeThe fact that a taxi on a sunny Friday in Aberdeen is rumoured to take three and a half hours to arrive in the middle of the day, is simply testament to how successful the city is at the moment.
However that was the experience when I travelled to the Granite City to visit some Aberdeen agencies.
Aberdeen has enjoyed a boom time recently and the news that The Big Picture has recently opened a second office in Glasgow’s Union Street shows that business is obviously good.
Fifth Ring opened its Aberdeen office in 1991 and, in 2004, opened an office in Dubai. In the two years since, it has built a solid reputation through a reasonably sized client base.
Earlier this month, it acquired Signature Dubai LLC, a Dubai-based creative advertising and design company.
“Following a strategic review three years ago, it became apparent to sustain our growth aspirations we would have to break away from operating as an Aberdeen company with a purely Scottish clientele,” Ian Ord, Fifth Ring’s business development director says. “Our first option was to pursue business in Houston as we already work for many companies that are headquartered there. We were well down that particular avenue when one of our most significant clients decided to relocate a large part of its operations to Dubai. Given the strength of our relationship over the last ten years, we had the opportunity to enter perhaps the world’s most vibrant economy with a relatively soft landing.”
Although Dubai may seem an obvious choice for an agency specialising in oil and gas, Zoe Corsi, who opened up The Big Partnership’s Aberdeen office in 2002, believes there are enough opportunities for agencies without them having to rely on oil and gas. “I’ve always said we are always very careful about putting all our eggs in one basket,” she says. “We are extremely conscious about keeping a spread of business in all sectors.”
Corsi was headhunted by Beattie Media to open its Aberdeen office, before joining former Beattie stablemates at Big when she decided to leave. Beattie Media subsequently closed its Aberdeen office. Corsi has experience of agencies looking at opening there from her experience working at the Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of PRs would try it, but try it from a distance,” she says. “Which just wouldn’t work.”
The company has no plans to go international, with a Dubai office, although Corsi says the directors haven’t ruled that out.
“Obviously by the very nature of the oil and gas industry, it’s a global industry, so a PR agency that is servicing that industry has to be global,” she says. “We can’t claim to be an international agency unless you can count Glasgow! This office of BIG is extremely international. We’re dealing with the Houston press on daily basis, and a lot of the oil and gas trade magazines are very international. We are doing very international PR. Certainly our clients that have asked us to work for them in their main locations are Calgary, Houston, Stavanger If we were to say we’d open an office in Houston, it probably wouldn’t be to service our clients in Aberdeen, it would be to grow the business. There are so many PR businesses over there, so why would we want to do that?”
Ord is still looking at Houston, however, seeing Fifth Ring’s strengths in the energy market. “Although our plans for Houston were temporarily put on the back-burner whilst we coped with our Dubai operations, we are actively pursuing the option as part of our overall aim of establishing Fifth Ring in the major energy centres of the world.”
Another company which is managing to work globally, but from Aberdeen, is AVC Media, which has been in existence for 31 years. Specialising in every part of advertising from creation to film and media production, it employs 65 people and many more on a freelance basis around the world. “These days with the technology we have, we can do that,” says Michaela Waddell, marketing manager at AVC. “We would look at opening elsewhere in the world but we don’t really need another office in Scotland. In the short term we have no plans.”
Corsi believes Big’s strength in having an office in Aberdeen is that clients can choose which office to work out of. “What we’re tending to do at Big and I think doing really successfully, is the inter-office working,” she says. “I know a lot of PR agencies say we’ve got offices throughout the UK and we all work together, in reality, how closely does a network of agencies work? Take the Scottish Executive – which we’re on the roster for – a lot of the work we do for the Scottish Executive is handled by Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and the guys on the team work extremely well together. Another one is Eastern Airways, they’re based in the south of England, but we do their PR for the whole of the UK out of Aberdeen. I think they come to Aberdeen because it and Inverness is one of the key routes.”
But despite the positivity client-wise, the biggest problem in Aberdeen is recruiting people. “Sometimes when you’re looking at the speed at which we’re growing it’s difficult to find the level of experience,” says Corsi. “A lot of people down south don’t realise what a great place Aberdeen is or that we often pay the same as the main cities down south.”