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Aberdeen talks

By The Drum | Administrator

March 8, 2007 | 10 min read

A number of established agencies have expanded into

the region recently. Does this benefit the marketing and

communications industry around Aberdeen?

Spencer Buchan, director, AVC Media

Competition is good for local agencies – it lets us benchmark our ability, and more often than not, it reinforces our belief that we can challenge the stronger southern agencies and hold our own. The margins that media companies work to make it harder and less attractive for southern companies to come in and put a strangle-hold on the market – it’s simply not sustainable business.

Zoe Corsi, managing director, Big Partnership

Increased competition results in local agencies upping their capabilities and not becoming complacent. This can only be good news for the client. It is also good for the region in terms of bringing in new talent, new investment and new opportunities. The growing reputation of Aberdeen as a major economic hub will benefit all agencies, particularly in terms of recruiting people from outwith the region.

Is there ever a problem recruiting staff to the region?

Stewart Buchanan, managing director, Hotchilli Design

We’ve recruited direct from the university and got some brilliant staff and some great placements. But as far as attracting staff to live and work in Aberdeen, we have an age-old problem – Aberdeen needs to bring sexy back. No way can you sell Aberdeen against Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester... Young creative talent will always look to the other cities before Aberdeen.

Zoe Corsi, managing director, Big Partnership

There has always been a problem in recruiting good, experienced PR people. We see very few people coming to the region of their own volition. As a buoyant economy with exciting opportunities, we should be able to attract PR talent from outwith the region, but we are just not seeing that to the extent we should.

Derek Stewart, managing director, The Big Picture

Good-quality resource has been possibly the single biggest factor in our growth, and is one of the key reasons for us opening in Glasgow. We’ve worked hard to attract what we believe to be the best talent up here, and any talent we’ve attracted from outside the area – a senior account manager from The Union, the director of our Aberdeen office from brand management at Unilever in Paris and a planner from 1576 – have come north for other reasons.

Spencer Buchan, director, AVC Media

The recruitment and retention of skilled staff is a problem. AVC has partnered with Robert Gordon’s University to support its new 2007 media course – we are acting as commercial mentors and giving our facilities, advice and experiences to them in exchange for access to the skillset on graduation. We’re committed to keeping talent in the city and offer real opportunities for careers in the media sector.

From the relatively unique base that the city has offered,

a number of agencies have looked further afield to develop

the opportunities Aberdeen has opened up. Why have so

many agencies looked to establish a presence elsewhere?

Ian Ord, business development director, Fifth Ring

We set ourselves some very ambitious growth targets and realised that these could not be met by organic growth in Scotland alone. The option of an office in a crowded marketplace such as the Central Belt held no fascination, so we looked at areas where the industries in which we feel comfortable were already established. Mirroring the energy industry as we do means we are never without a contact or network on the ground, be it in Houston or Dubai.

Malcolm McGee, Covey McCormick

The role of the traditional advertising agency has changed. Work is much more project based than before. Agencies depend less on media advertising and have extended their services to offer e-marketing solutions for clients who are looking for a more integrated approach. The oil and gas industry has provided some agencies with the opportunity to expand, while the decline in traditional agency business has forced others to look outside the region to open up new markets. With a broad client base, we’re less dependent on the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry, but it can have a knock-on effect in other sectors.

How is the agency landscape changing in Aberdeen? Are

you noticing any particular trends at present?

Stewart Buchanan, managing director, Hotchilli Design

A huge wave of change across the media/agency landscape has occurred over the last two years, driven by clients and their well-developed media needs. Clients are smarter than ever, more media savvy and know how and where they need to be in terms of media platforms. The traditional agency is dying, the client is the grim reaper – agencies have a choice: adapt or die. In recent times they seem to have been happy to roll over and die.

Ian Ord, business development director, Fifth Ring

Increasingly, we’re seeing companies concentrating in specific industries and sectors, thereby building their businesses vertically. For our part, we took the strategic decision to play to our strengths and experience, and focus on energy, education, property, financial and professional services and the leisure industry. In doing that, we have built our reputation, developed a critical mass of clients and the expertise of our people. We do step out of those areas from time to time, and that allows us to keep the team fresh and stimulate creativity.

Is there an area of specialisation that Aberdeen’s creative

communications industries are renowned for?

Scott Graham, business unit, manager of digital media, Fifth Ring

Our ability to operate on a global basis has come out of the amount of international companies right on our doorstep. If you need to get an exhibition stand through Libyan customs or get a photoshoot done in Kuwait, it’s probably best to approach an Aberdeen company, given that they face these types of challenges on a daily basis. It makes our staff very resourceful and forward-thinking. And given the Aberdonian reputation for ‘fiscal assiduity’ (ahem), I think we are pretty good at working within budgetary constraints.

Has the introduction of the forward-looking Aberdeen: City

and Shire branding encouraged trading in the city?

Stewart Buchanan, managing director, Hotchilli Design

In my opinion, City and Shire has a hell of a long way to go before it becomes close to being a brand. A brand is a lot more than a device of type and colour. There is no buy-in to this, not even from the City and Shire team. Even in their own recruitment campaigns and press advertising they don’t use the device or the straplines – what does this say to the rest of the business community in Aberdeen?

Our city executives attend exhibitions to promote City and Shire, handing out polythene bags adorned with the logo. Union Street proudly displays banners which are faded, washed out and torn, and the seagulls have left there mark on most of them – hardly a brighter outlook. So City and Shire has had absolutely no effect on the business community and, in my opinion, never will in its current form.

Aberdeen’s economy fluctuates in an almost micro-economic climate due to the nature of the oil and gas industry. How does this affect agencies operating in the city?

Alan Mearns, managing director, Mearns and Gill

As we’ve been in business for 70 years, I feel I can comment on this better than most. Last year was the most successful to date by some way for M&G, but we’ve seen the good times along with the not so good times, very much in line with the micro-economy the area faces. The important thing is always to take the long view. That means running a tight ship and having a team that is flexible, enthusiastic and adaptable to change. Thanks to a huge amount of hard work and the fact that our current team has that combination of attributes, we’ve been able to grasp new opportunities and make them work for us.

Mike Hampton, managing director, Hampton Associates

The economy in Aberdeen teaches you to ensure that strategically you have a balance of clients both within and outwith the industry to spread your risk when the oil and gas industry is less buoyant. We’ve attracted a high quantity of business from outwith this area, both in terms of industry sector and geography. We have been successful here as talent and delivering beyond the expected should be a client’s selection criteria – geography should not be an issue.

Aberdeen has an abundance of oil and gas clients, as

well as a number of local firms which operate in a wider

arena. But do Aberdeen’s agencies manage to attract a

high quantity of business from outwith the region?

Alan Mearns, managing director, Mearns and Gill

The global nature of the oil and gas industry certainly opens up opportunities, and we have regular contact with client offices around the globe. We have taken the conscious decision to remain focussed on Aberdeen as a core base though, servicing existing clients and seeking out new ones which have a major presence here – both in oil and gas and other sectors – rather than specifically targeting other new business from outwith the region. Thanks to our network of contacts, a proportion of non-oil and gas business does come from clients outwith the area. Digital communication is crucial, and to an extent it doesn’t matter where you are based, but personal contact is equally crucial so you can understand clients and tailor effective solutions for them.

Derek Stewart, managing director, The Big Picture

We’ve worked on this strategy since the company started and have consistently been successful in securing a major amount of business from outside the region. This success was another part of our decision to open in Glasgow. To attract business of worth, both through reputation and commercially, from outwith the area, you have to offer something different and better than the client can get on their doorstep – and keep on doing so. This makes it challenging – but ultimately more rewarding.

Do agencies have to learn to adapt to the business climate

in Aberdeen? Does this mean the agencies are more

flexible and accommodating to change and progress?

Mark Jennings, managing director, Cynosure

Once you’ve built a business in Aberdeen you could start one anywhere. It may seem a small market – even a dirty market – but all the business lessons you could hope to learn are here, from maintaining a solid reputation (not just advertising or PR fizz) to being measured by the quality of your work or watching cash flow (oil firms can be really long payers).

All agencies need to be flexible, but in Aberdeen that is particularly pertinent. To succeed here long term and ride the cyclical energy market, you need to ensure you’re engaged by a spread of clients, and don’t just suckle the nearest teat. If you take too general an approach and don’t focus on a core speciality then Aberdeen is just like anywhere else in business – you can’t hide if you screw up.


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