Auld Reekie gained its name from the thousands of chimneys that once splurged black smoke into the city’s smoggy atmosphere. However, unlike Glasgow and other thriving UK cities at the time, Edinburgh was never a city renowned for its industry.
The coals which burned to give Edinburgh its most enduring of nicknames were not found in the factories or steel works – they were more likely to be found in the roaring hearth fires of the elegant New Town blocks which housed lawyers, financiers and other professionals. While heavy industry flourished elsewhere, Edinburgh remained the preserve of the professionals – and to some extent, this remains the case today.
While Edinburgh’s golden age dates back to the enlightenment, could it be that the capital – which is now (after a hesitant start) beginning to embrace devolution and the new powers the Scottish Parliament brings with it – is again set to witness a new period of enlightenment and renaissance?
The city is experiencing an economic growth fuelled by a booming professional sector. Could this rub off on the city’s creative services industry?
Early signs, at least, are positive. While Edinburgh’s agencies have long held financial business at the top of their agenda, the recent appointment of Newhaven by the Bank of Scotland is, for many, an indication of brighter things to come.
“Design and advertising act as a barometer for what’s going on,” says Graham Duffy, managing director of Graphic Partners. “We are busy in the financial, house-building and leisure sectors at present – with the boom in property development and leisure being fuelled by the strong growth in the city.
“Twenty years ago we were quoted as being the second financial capital in Europe, and while things have changed since then, Edinburgh is still incredibly strong in this area. This rubs off on the creative services. The city’s design, advertising and PR agencies have a great deal of experience in dealing with financial clients.
“The parliament too has had a positive effect but in a subtle way. It lends a greater presence to Edinburgh as a capital city in a symbolic sense, which is good for any business – from financial to creative services.”
The fact that there’s more money in the city is also helping to stimulate growth across a variety of sectors. “Many financial organisations now have the funds to recruit the best people irrespective of where they are currently based,” says Mike Lynch, a director at design firm Nevis. And this has resulted in an influx of executives who are driving the house prices up and contributing to a more competitive, robust economy.
“This, in turn, fuels all service industries, not just those in the creative sector,” adds Lynch. “But if you look at the strong agencies and where their main revenue streams come from, there is an obvious link to the city’s strengths – construction, financial services and tourism.”
Edinburgh is moving forward with its objective to develop as a key business hub. The ‘Edinburgh City: Inspiring Capital’ brand launch in 2005 created an environment for commercial and business development. Under this initiative, the Scottish Executive’s ambition for Edinburgh to become northern Europe’s most successful and sustainable city by 2010 has resulted in significant support for new businesses.
And many of these companies – especially the small firms and start-ups – are interested in the Scottish Parliament and its impact on their business, according to Melissa McNally of PR firm Fleishman Hillard. “Savvy businesses realise that Scotland must be treated as a separate market,” she says. “Apart from a devolved parliament directly affecting industries with legislation, each industry will be subject to uniquely Scottish consumer trends and habits of consumption.
“Successful communications require careful targeting and consideration of specific audience needs. What works in London might not be relevant for Scotland, so a separate strategy could be needed.”
David Reid, managing director of 1576, believes such realisations are fast leading Edinburgh to become one of the great European capitals. But this growth is down to more than any one specific area of investment: “The importance of the city’s financial standing should not be underestimated, but the investment in retail and leisure infrastructure has seen the city make a quantum leap forward in the past decade.”
However, with such leaps should not come complacency, he continues: “There are further challenges that now face the city if it is to truly embrace its status – city centre traffic congestion; real investment in well-run alternative public transport; the relative poor quality of Princes Street; investing in a decent concert venue that is worthy of a major European capital; and creating a concerted marketing campaign that attracts a higher value tourist to the city, and not just the stag and hen weekend tripper.”
Like it or not, though, Edinburgh has relied heavily in the past on tourism as one of its chief earners. And this has not changed overnight.
“Like any capital city we enjoy our share of tourism and that will always remain,” says Family’s Jill Taylor. However, she is quick to concede that it is not the only staple of Edinburgh’s advertising agency diet. “You would be hard pushed to find an agency in Edinburgh without a financial client in their portfolio, but I think that is true of every agency in Scotland. The financial market is without a doubt one of the key sectors we rely on.”
Angela Casey, director at Porter Novelli, agrees: “Business and tourism often work in tandem, and with Edinburgh having a profile as a centre for business and innovation this results in the city being thought of as a good place for a conference or business event.
“Success breeds success. The growth of the business environment will inevitably bring in more business for the service industries.”
“Edinburgh has redeveloped its image from being largely focused on tourism to one where it is taken seriously as a stand-alone business hub in Scotland,” adds Teviot’s managing director, Jane Hall. “This has perhaps been exemplified by the increased investment in headquarters in the city, particularly by Royal Bank of Scotland.”
Yet the incremental benefits of such redevelopment is not always felt by the city’s creative services. “Sadly the larger financial centres sometimes still seem to think they will get a better service using agencies south of the Border,” says Hall. “We, as a country and as a city, need to believe in ourselves a bit more.”
Despite there generally being more creative work in and around Edinburgh – thanks to the influx of professional industries using the city as their base due to the devolution – full independence could have mixed fortunes for the creative industries.
“Scottish design would be highlighted as that: Scottish,” says Hall. “But equally it could act as a focus for our creative industries strengths and highlight our design value as a nation.”
However, it is not just the symbolism of the Scottish parliament that is paving the way for Edinburgh’s industries. The building itself acts as inspiration for many in the city.
Now that the Holyrood building is complete we should ignore the negative comments surrounding the cost and focus on the positive aspects, says Campbell Laird, of Three Brand Design. “The parliament has seen us gain this internationally recognised creative icon,” he adds. “It can only help with the perception of Edinburgh as an international destination for creativity and business.
“Whenever I meet clients from outwith Scotland, whether it be London, Paris or further afield, they all seem to be envious of working in Edinburgh. The manner in which Edinburgh is portrayed does suggest ‘creativity’ which, together with the internationally renowned reputation of our financial sector, does give us a high profile within the creative and business communities, certainly more so than anywhere else in Scotland or in the English regions.”
Perhaps, then, it is slightly ironic that all those years ago, following the Act of Union in 1707, Edinburgh flourished when parliament ceased in the city. Instead of the city’s ambitions being derailed, there was period of energetic building during the enlightenment which made the city one of the most prosperous in the world.
The irony lies in that, after almost 300 years, it is arguably the introduction of a new Scottish Parliament that has seen a renewed vigour in the city’s growth.