In an industry so full of double-speak and silver tongues, stretched budgets and high demands, one of the true challenges a client faces is finding an agency that will actually deliver everything it promises. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the famously honest residents of Yorkshire are proving increasingly popular with the north\'s client companies. And as the county enjoys continued investment and development, the marketing industry is working to firmly establish itself as one of the UK\'s leading creative and strategic hubs, pulling in business both from the region itself and from further afield.
\"I\'d say things are on the up,\" says Richard Benjamin, a director of Sheffield-based Uber. \"There\'s a general consensus that the first half of last year was a bit touch and go. You never know whether it\'s just you that\'s feeling that way, but towards the end of last year it transpired that everyone had felt it.
\"January is a weird month because you never know what\'s going to come up in the year ahead. But if the rest of the year is as busy as this month has been, it\'s going to be a good year.\"
\"It\'s extremely healthy at the moment,\" agrees Oliver Sowden, sales manager at Leeds-based Ripe Design. \"We do a lot of work for the property development sector, coming up with marketing strategies for new sustainable mixed-use developments that are regenerating areas of the region and beyond. We\'re heavily involved in branding, logo design, brochure design, signage and web design, a fully integrated multi-channel approach for these developments, so as you can imagine there are a lot of projects for us to get involved in.\"
Helen Wallis, business development director of Sheffield\'s Technophobia, has also noticed an upswing in new business opportunities in the last year. \"We\'re finding it quite buoyant,\" she says. \"We\'ve been presented with several opportunities in the last year and embraced them. As a company we\'re trying to bring business into Yorkshire from outside the region.\"
B&W Studio, one of Yorkshire\'s younger agencies, has found that recent months have brought opportunities for the company to work on larger client projects. Director Steve Willis says: \"From our perspective it\'s very healthy. For us the major development has really been getting in with bigger, more established clients. When we started we were working for smaller companies, but we\'re starting to work for a number of national names now.\"
Leeds stalwart Principles Agency, meanwhile, enjoyed arguably Yorkshire\'s highest profile win in 2006. The agency\'s head of business development, Emma Sanderson, says: \"Principles Agency is continuing to go from strength to strength, working with a number of high-profile brands and notably scooping the largest new business win in Yorkshire during the last 12 months. In a five-way pitch, we went head to head with some of the biggest hitters outside of London for the Salton Europe account, home of household brands George Foreman Grills and Russell Hobbs. We ended up getting the contract, which was a massive win both for us and for Yorkshire.\"
Alongside this increase in business there has been an increase in the number of graduates staying in Yorkshire after university, as opposed to them immediately heading south to the glamour and bright lights of London. More experienced staff, however, can still be hard to find.
Julie Hanson, managing director of Brahm, says: \"I think more people want to be in the north than we\'ve seen in previous years, and I think people here are moving around less. That\'s good because you keep hold of your good people, but bad because you\'re not being approached as much as you used to be. I think it\'s still a fight for the good people.\"
Changing attitudes towards Yorkshire as a whole, though, mean that the recruitment fight can be taken to the region\'s neighbours. Duncan Slater, new business manager at Poulters, explains: \"There\'s far less of a chip on the shoulder about people coming over the Pennines now, which makes it easier to take people from Manchester. I also think people are not automatically going to London now. They\'re actually checking things out before making a decision.\"
B&W Studio has found recruiting through existing contacts to be the best way of finding talented staff. Willis says: \"We\'re lucky in that myself and [fellow B&W director] Lee Bradley have been working together for a number of years and have got to know a lot of people in the industry, so we\'ve not found it to be much of a problem to find staff.\"
Another factor in the area\'s increasing popularity among graduates could well be a solid increase in digital business, something that seems to have been noticed throughout the Yorkshire industry. Yorkshire\'s full-service and specialist agencies alike have seen a marked increase in digital business over the past 12 months, and an increased demand for specialist digital skills.
Mike Phillipson, managing director of Propaganda, says: \"There are two areas that are developing: strategic consultancy and digital consultancy. They\'re the two main areas growing in Yorkshire. There\'s been a lot of interest in our offerings in those areas, but it\'s not just us. I\'ve seen it at other agencies as well.\"
\"I think like everybody we\'ve been seeing an increase in online,\" says Uber\'s Benjamin. \"It never happened with the click of a finger like some people were expecting. It happened gradually, and it was just last year that you could say, \"Woah, that\'s really changed.\" There\'s an infrastructure in place now that ensures online work is seen. You\'d be foolish not to include online in a campaign now, whereas in the past it was more of a bolt-on.\"
\"I don\'t see new media as a thread anymore,\" agrees Hanson. \"I see it as fusing with the other disciplines. We offer it as an expertise, but it\'s affecting everything we do. It\'s opening up a lot of new opportunities with us, including with our existing clients.\"
Wallis adds: \"Online is no longer just complementary. It\'s a necessity for any client. To reach their audience they have to acknowledge and invest in the online sector.\"
It\'s the same story at Principles Agency. \"There has been an immediate growth in digital, and this has been clearly evident through the work our dedicated digital agency, Pilot interactive (Pi), has carried out during the last 12 months,\" says Sanderson. \"The whole online arena is buoyant, with everything becoming interactive and available online. That\'s where I feel a lot of clients are focusing a lot of their energy and activity.\"
Clearly the Yorkshire agency fraternity has been working on building its client base and specialist skills, but there have been challenges to overcome along the way. Perhaps chief among these has been convincing the larger Yorkshire-based clients to appoint Yorkshire agencies, instead of spending budgets with agencies elsewhere.
But Slater believes the battle is being won. \"Almost all of our clients are based up north,\" he says. \"Clients are realising now that they\'re a lot better off up here. There\'s a non-linearity to their thinking now, and I think as a county-wide phenomenon that\'s good.\"
Uber is another agency which has been seeing increased confidence from locally based client companies. Benjamin says: \"My colleagues and I worked in other agencies in the past and always had to work to get the business from London, but that\'s changing now. There are a lot of companies based locally that are now happy to use northern agencies. It used to be that the London companies were coming north for clients and we were going south, but there\'s been a very natural settlement to local companies using local agencies. We don\'t need to be going down south to get the good accounts.\"
However, there is also a belief that more effort has to be made in some areas as the industry moves forward. Gordon Bethell, managing director of Gratterpalm, believes the Yorkshire community as a whole has to change its perspective in order to grow. Embodying the Yorkshire reputation for honesty and straight-talking, he says: \"To use a phrase that originates from one of our clients, it\'s time for the Yorkshire scene to take a brutal reality check.
\"For me, there is not enough innovation and teamwork across the sector. There are a great deal of hard-working, well-intentioned people within the marketing industry who put a great deal of effort into sector-specific societies and groups, but personally I would love to see a fresh approach, rather than the same old circuits, meetings and agendas.\"
And, despite Yorkshire\'s increasing success at attracting and retaining local clients, some say that Yorkshire agencies still need to be more aggressive in pursuing business from the capital.
Phillipson explains: \"The real seismic shift that Yorkshire needs, like any other region, is to stop business going to London. We still need to tip that balance. There\'s still a degree of healthy competition between agencies in Yorkshire and the regions, but from Propaganda\'s point of view there\'s a bigger game to be won in stopping business from going to London.\"
Sowden agrees: \"I think Yorkshire companies need not be shy about going after the big projects thinking they can\'t compete with the London agencies. Because of the reputation Yorkshire agencies now have in terms of creativity, there\'s no excuse not to be competing with agencies in London.\"
And with that reputation firmly in place, the Yorkshire agency scene might well be looking forward to further growth in 2007. )