On arrival at 1576’s new Leith-based offices a sweeping staircase greets you. At the top of the stairs, David Reid is in his new office. Already it’s obvious the move has affected the agency. “The new space has really changed the dynamics of the office,” Reid says. “In the old building, it was possible to come and go for as much as a fortnight without seeing somebody, just because they worked in the basement while you worked on the top floor.”
The agency was in the old office [in Edinburgh’s West End] for around ten years. However, it actually opened its doors in Tweeddale Court, just off the Royal Mile, in 1994, which is where the agency’s name came from [the date 1576 was carved into the stone of the building]. It moved to Rutland Square two years later, where staff numbers grew to 28 but the impact of 9/11 forced the agency to lose 8 people.
“We did that because of massive client cutbacks across a number of accounts that, until that point, had been spending a lot of money,” Reid says. “Suddenly their spend was cancelled overnight. But we’re back up again, to over 40 now... 47. Double what we were three years ago. The only area we’ve found difficult to get the right people is in PR. We would like to start a PR side to the business and getting the right person to run that has been very difficult... needless to say, we are still looking.”
People speculate as to why the agency didn’t follow the formula of taking the founders names.
“We didn’t want to be called Reid Jeffery Gorman,” he says. “We couldn’t agree whose name would go first – or rather who would go last... Who would be the one whose name was lost when people shortened the title... which, inevitably they do. Despite people saying that no one would ever remember it, 1576 has done us well over the years.”
Co-founder, and then MD, Mark Gorman’s departure in 2003 had a big impact on the future of 1576. But why, to the surprise of many in the industry, did Reid step in as MD following Gorman’s departure?
“The day after Mark announced that he was leaving, I went away and thought about things,” Reid says. “That evening I had few drinks with Mark. The next morning I, literally, jumped out of bed with a crazy idea. I phoned Adrian and said that I wanted to be MD. He agreed.”
So why did Gorman quit the agency he founded? “You would have to ask him,” Reid says, diplomatically. “Perhaps he felt he had done as much as he could. Perhaps he was disillusioned with the industry at the time.
“If you believe in yourself, you want to be in charge of your own destiny,” he says. “I was the first person to be hired in The Leith Agency’s creative department. I saw the agency grow from six people to 60 in eight years. But there was perhaps a bit of a glass ceiling. I was just part of the creative team. There were people brought in with more experience internationally, people that were younger, people that were wackier. I was probably mindful of the fact that I needed to move, needed to do something else. But if you believe you are good at something, it’s pretty risk adverse.
“You put in your money to start a company, but if it had all gone wrong, we could have always got our jobs back somewhere else – there wasn’t a plethora of good, experienced creatives about. For us, it was a no-brainer. There wasn’t a risk. We had a lot of support and good feeling from others around us in the industry, though... especially The Leith Agency.”
Since its launch in 1994, the agency has grown its offering, launching a direct marketing arm – Metis, which has since been brought in under the 1576 brand – and, more recently, acquiring Carnegie Worldwide, a sponsorship division.
“That’s just the way the industry moves... It’s diversifying,” says Reid. “Traditional above-the-line advertising is no longer as big a market as it was. Digital has made major inroads. So has relationship marketing, direct marketing and sales promotion. Sponsorship is another growth area. Within a week of [Carnegie] joining us, three of our clients had started to put money into sponsorship – money that wasn’t already being put into marketing.
“At the moment there are three in our digital team, but that number will grow. Definitely. The work is growing exponentially on a monthly basis. However, in terms of setting defined staff structures, it’s hard. The lines are blurring. We use people as their experience dictates.
“When we launched I never thought that the industry would be as it is just now. We focused on pure traditional above-the-line. We didn’t envisage the business naturally turning to areas beyond the realms of Mark, Adrian and I. But quickly we realised that Scotland is such a small country that the more services you can offer a client, the better.
“We tried to launch our own direct marketing arm pretty early on [after three and a half years]. We actually tried to recruit Gary Smith [now with the agency] who, at the time, was at One to One. But that didn’t come about.
“By the time that we became serious about launching into this area, we had already launched Metis, which was a separate company. But we came around to the view that having separate companies is not a good thing. Then we eventually got Gary [Smith] a couple of years ago, that was a bit of a coup.”
Although he is ‘not sure’ he’d do it all again, Reid believes that starting a company from scratch now would be so much harder. “If you look at the number of start-ups, I think it’s declined in the last five years or so,” he says. “It’s got that much tougher. There is more competition. Agencies are diversifying. Large agencies are going for much smaller work. Now, if I wanted to pursue a career in advertising, and I was 20 years old again, and I wanted to be a very wealthy person, I’m not sure if advertising or marketing would be the way to go. If you look at the amount of talented people in Scotland that work in marketing, there are very few that have made a sizeable amount of money. Very, very few.”
That comment brings on the question everyone asked when 1576 ‘moved in’ with NavyBlue. Is the agency for sale? Reid is guarded. “We’re not looking to.”
But they would? “If someone came along and said, ‘here’s £30m’ then of course we would consider it. I like the fact that we are genuinely independent. We aren’t part of a network. We have been approached in the past. We have been approached on three occasions in the last four years. But it doesn’t interest me at the moment, because I don’t think we have maximised our potential. Right now there is no appetite from the directors to sell. We enjoy what we are doing and we enjoy being masters of our own destiny. We enjoy the fact that business is going through a real renaissance – why give that away, why let someone else have all the fun?”
Despite ‘having fun’, there are still certain things that Reid misses from his former incarnation as a creative. “You miss the more glamourous sides of the business,” he says. “The shoots; casting; fancy restaurants in London. You miss the creativity and the buzz you get from cracking problems. But equally you don’t miss the horrible nagging feeling when you’ve worked for four days solid on a brief, and you wake up in the middle of the night with a gnawing question that you can’t resolve. In my job, I can sit down on a Monday morning and complete nine tasks by lunch time. You can go home in the evening satisfied that you’ve done a good day’s work. But if you’ve been looking at a blank sheet of paper for two or three days, through no fault of your own, without that bolt of inspiration, with two or three ideas that you think are ok but not THE idea, then that stays with you for days. There is no doubt that the hardest job in marketing is coming up with good creative work. That’s much harder than being an MD. No question.”