Marketing Birmingham’s Dave Hodgson admits \"the problem with Birmingham is perception\". In recent years, agencies in the likes of Manchester and Leeds have far outshone their Midlands counterparts when it comes to shouting about what they’ve been up to. Hodgson, for one, is adamant that the problem lies not in a difference in quality, but in each city’s ability to blow its own trumpet.
As marketing director for the organisation, Hodgson had the task earlier this year of appointing a roster of agencies. WAA in Sutton Coldfield and McCann Erickson in Solihull were duly appointed, along with a third agency outside of the region. \"We wanted agencies that were capable of marketing Birmingham locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We met a lot of agencies that ticked one or two boxes but WAA and McCann ticked all four,\" he says.
Hodgson isn’t the only one to appreciate the benefits that Midlands-based agencies provide. David Shadbolt, marketing manager (UK regions) for Arriva, works with Meriden-based Cogent and Haslimann Taylor in Sutton Coldfield. \"Both of the agencies have been absolutely excellent for us. We have a fantastic relationship with them and are delighted with the work and creativity they deliver for us.\"
Cogent, which was first appointed in 2000 and retained the account after a pitch in 2004, has been the driving force behind the Going Your Way campaign. \"It has been very successful for us since it launched in 2001,\" Shadbolt reveals.
Haslimann Taylor was appointed in 2003, as Arriva sought to increase its use of PR. \"We wanted proactive PR to help support the Going Your Way campaign,\" says Shadbolt. \"Haslimann Taylor came in and helped build anticipation of our door drop activity. They also continue to support the core values of the company with proactive PR campaigns.\"
Another firm to employ two Midlands-based agencies is Beverage Brands, which works with Leicester-based Big Communications and Birmingham’s Willoughby PR (WPR) on its WKD brand. In the period in which the two agencies have been working on WKD, the ready-to-drink (RTD) brand has overtaken both Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice to become number one in the market. Brand controller for WKD, Deborah Carter, says: \"We started working with Big in 2000 after holding a four-way pitch. They have embraced the brand and fully understand who our drinkers are. Over the years, Big has demonstrated it can get under their skin and produce relevant work. They also have a thorough understanding of our wider business needs.\"
WPR’s most notable PR campaigns for WKD have been National Kebab Week and Pub Olympics. \"They’d been working on some of our other brands,\" says Carter, \"but we wanted them to look at this new brand and they’ve done a great job. It’s a testament to the relationship that we’ve continued to work with them all these years.\"
One sector that’s had a long-standing association with the Midlands is the automotive industry, with agencies in the region working with a number of the major groups. Ian Major is head of marketing at The Automotive Academy, which works to address the skills gap in the UK automotive industry and employs Rees Bradley Hepburn for its marketing. Previously, Major held the role of Jaguar’s marketing director and where he worked with RBH. He says: \"They understand the way that car dealers think. They are able to produce sharp creative work, fully in line with the way dealers operate.\"
The agency is currently busy working on the extension of an online game for the Automotive Academy. \"RBH is a very responsive agency,\" Major reflects. \"They make things happen, even when working within tight budgets.\"
Another agency that had the right experience for the job was Birmingham’s Golley Slater, which was recently appointed to handle the above-the-line account for Computeach. \"They do the recruitment advertising for the Army, which has careers bases across the UK,\" says Jenna Jensen, Computeach’s marketing manager. \"We’re in a very similar situation and found Golley Slater to be a perfect fit for us.\"
Computeach has also recently appointed Birmingham-based Unsuitable to handle its below-the-line account. \"Unsuitable is a fantastic creative hot-shop,\" Jensen enthuses. \"We were extremely impressed with their pitch and we’re delighted to be making use of their creativity. We are looking at a calendar of tactical activity with Unsuitable.\"
Also working on a retained basis with an equally impressed client is Nottingham-based BC-S, which was appointed by Pirelli Equities in November last year. The agency was tasked with handling the rebrand of Central Tyres. Marketing manager Mark Tomkinson admits the choice was between local and London-based agencies. \"We deliberately wanted to compare them against one another. We wanted to see if there was a difference in the standard of creativity on offer. We also expected a difference in cost, which there was. What sealed it was that BC-S came in and met the brief perfectly. As soon as we saw the ideas they pitched, we instantly knew it was what we wanted.\"
So there you have it. Regardless of the perceptions it may have inherited, the Midlands might just be the place to visit if you’re searching for an agency that suits all your marketing needs.
Jon Dixon, brand development director for Corgi’s Collector range.
Agency: Rave Communications, Birmingham
\"I had a relationship with Rave at my previous company since early 2005. They were responsible for some product launch activity, so when I came to Corgi and had a new range to launch, I knew exactly who to speak to. They really get under the skin of a product and can be extremely creative with the campaigns they produce. They really do make the products come to life.\"
Lloyd NaakÃ©, head of marketing for St Tropez
Agency: Greenlight Advertising & Communications, Derby
\"We first started working with Greenlight around two years ago, when we commissioned them with a specific brief to help us build campaigns for the salon side of our business. Greenlight produce promotional campaigns for both our range of products and our spray tanning booths. We’re also currently working with them on an email marketing campaign to drive people into the salons.\"
Sue Pennington, brand manager for Worcester (part of the Bosch Group).
Agency: Market Link, Worcester
\"I view Market Link as an extension of our marketing department and a valuable resource. It has developed and implemented countless successful campaigns for us, from a business initiative designed to help installers become more professional and profitable, to product launches and extremely well targeted direct marketing campaigns, in terms of both audience segmentation and message delivery, all of which have yielded unexpected and unparalleled response.\"
Sukhi Ghuman, managing director of Octavian Security
Agency: GBCS PR, Nottingham
\"They really do go above and beyond to provide an excellent service for us. In particular, Trevor Palmer (account director at GBCS) should be singled out for a special mention. He takes time out of his own schedule, after hours and at weekends, to call us and check everything’s OK. I was sceptical in the beginning but they’ve exceeded my expectations and prove that you don’t have to go to London for a top quality PR agency.\"
Clare Gibbard, marketing manager for uni-ball
Agency: Wyatt International, Birmingham
\"We’ve worked with Wyatt for three years on a number of marketing and PR projects with the ultimate aim of raising the profile of the uni-ball range of pens. The main volume of work, however, has been PR initiatives as the team at Wyatt manage our whole PR function. Through this they have gained us valuable coverage in a wide range of consumer and trade publications. The level of service from the PR team is excellent, in fact we see them as an extension of our own team.\"
Nikki McCluney, marketing manager, Hi-Q
(part of Goodyear)
Agency: Connect, Wolverhampton
\"At Hi-Q, we operate in a highly competitive and challenging sector, where we really have to out-think rather than out-spend our competition, so we place great value on the thinking that our agency, Connect, offers. Every marketing pound we spend has to deliver against our business objectives. Connect are a creative but pragmatic team who work very closely with me to ensure that the activity we create impacts positively on our bottom line.\"