Consider the following facts: Employment in Glasgow has increased to a record 25 year high, with Glasgow’s jobs base growing at nearly twice that of the UK over the past 10 years; Key sectors in Glasgow include the creative industries, knowledge economy, retail, tourism and hospitality as well as financial and business services; Glasgow has seen higher employment growth in its knowledge economy than any UK city; It is retaining graduates within the workforce – 35 percent work in Glasgow after graduation, with a further 17 percent finding employment in the surrounding region; And the city ranks fourth in Europe in terms of offering value for money office space.
The city is in the midst of a boom, a boom that hasn’t been seen since Glasgow’s City of Culture status in the early 90s. And it looks set to continue with a number of high profile events and initiatives planned for the coming years – including a well-backed Commonwealth Games bid – Glasgow is leaving its unique print on the economic map.
Glasgow’s creative industries, in particular, have been at the forefront of this push. Glasgow is developing a strong creative culture – from the smaller, highly individual, creative teams to larger media institutions.
And, with the media hub developing at Pacific Quay (that already plays host to STV and XFM, with BBC’s offices soon to open on the site too), The Lighthouse (Scotland’s centre for architecture, design and the city – with its various off-shoot festivals and shows), and an array of international events and programmes, Glasgow continues to build its creative profile.
“The Glasgow creative scene is developing well,” says David Freer, co-founder of O-Street Design. “At present, the Six Cities Festival - in particular The Scottish Show - is really helping to develop the creative community in Glasgow.
“We as individuals, and as an agency, are relatively new to the design industry in Scotland, having worked in London until recently, so we were worried that we might be the odd ones out, that there might be a cliquey, insular feel to the community.
“However we were happy to be proved wrong. There are a lot of young, fresh companies working in the city.
“The feeling is one of collaboration, with a large number of agencies all keen to work together to showcase the industry. There is a broad range of work being exhibited and this, in turn, is really forging a sense of community.
“In the past it’s been difficult for young teams to establish themselves, having to work through the ranks, but now there seems to be more opportunity.”
However, it is not just industry-led initiatives that are causing excitement in the city, at present. Glasgow’s ambitious bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games is looking ever more like reality, with the city now going head to head with just one other bidder – Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city – following the withdrawal of Halifax.
“I envisage the games bringing unbelievable benefits to the west central Scotland conurbation,” says Alasdair Gibbons, client services director at Clayton Graham Communications.
“Many new opportunities will be presented to our industry from existing clients and, hopefully, considerably more from new clients who will see the games as a significant opportunity to address local and wider arching markets.
“The Garden Festival in 1988 and the City of Culture in 1990 each had inordinate impacts both on the city and on the creative industries and we should learn from these legacies. If we are successful in the bid, I fully expect the Commonwealth Games to have a similar impact, which is why we should all be enormously supportive of the efforts being made by the bid team.”
The focus that the games could put on Glasgow would, no doubt, deliver a host of opportunities to companies that operate within its locale. Look at the reinvention of Manchester and Melbourne as recent examples. However, BD-Network’s operations director, Steven Pearson, warns that if Glasgow was successful in its bid for the Commonwealth Games, the opportunities for businesses based in the city won’t be built in. “Businesses will have to go out and actively seize their chances,” says Pearson. “One thing that businesses in Manchester learnt in 2002 is that it’s not a right bestowed upon those that work in the city, but an opportunity to be exploited.
“However, Glasgow agencies have a good track record in developing long-term relationships with clients. That’s often down to the quality of the work, but also the individual character of the team. Glasgow’s agencies are often out-with the establishment. There are many independent agencies in the city, with independent outlooks, which can only be healthy for the industry.”
Gerry McCusker, managing director of Dog Digital, agrees: “Glasgow, as a place to operate from, is coming on leaps and bounds. The city has an amazing amount of small yet hugely creative agencies and individuals and the culture isn’t being driven by the big teams.
“Glasgow’s culture is one of creativity. While the city’s industry has changed, the grittiness remains. Glasgow has a sense of differentiation. Its niche areas of old have gone, but it keeps a proud tradition and work ethic. These can be seen through design, through music and through other creative arts,” continues McCusker. “And Glasgow’s Scotland with Style campaign deserves credit for helping to communicate this. The campaign has always had its skeptics, however, it’s attracted business to Glasgow, and positioned the city as a Northern European hot-bed.”
Scott Taylor, marketing director, at the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, is one of the team behind the Scotland with Style campaign. Despite varying degrees of criticism since the launch of the city’s brand in March 2004, the campaign has been deemed a success with hotel occupancy levels shooting up, as have outsider expectations, which culminated in Glasgow being voted the UK’s favorite city by the leading global travel magazine.
“The brand itself has some considerable longevity,” says Taylor. “It takes time to get brand equity under your belt. Glasgow: Scotland with Style is integral to the tourism strategy for the city and it’s written into the tourism strategy for 2016.
“Still, for any successful brand the questions ‘how do you keep it fresh?’ and ‘how do you grow?’ are always going to have to remain at the front of mind. Certainly with Glasgow’s brand - a young brand - it’s got a long way to continue to develop.
“But, if you’ve got a well thought-out strategy and you have clear backing from the people who matter, then the rest will follow. Already we have The Scottish Executive’s support for the brand, Scottish Enterprise, Visitscotland, Event Scotland, Enterprise Glasgow and the support of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. We got half a million pounds of finance in our coffers last year to support the brand, and this year we’re on target for that to increase to £800,000.”
“In every sense Glasgow is continuing its renaissance,” adds Nick Maguire of Maguires. “The city is going from strength to strength and we are fortunate to be involved in the ongoing branding and promotion of a city that we are all very passionate about. Simultaneously I believe the buzz that surrounds the city is also evident in the creative sector. We continue to see excellent creativity coming from the Glasgow School of Art, whilst agencies are developing and shaping talent from within with young, fresh, ideas people from throughout Scotland and beyond complementing the experience and pedigree of the stalwarts of the city’s creative sector.”
“There is a sense that things are more serious than they have been in a while in the city,” continues Stuart Gilmour of design agency Stand. “The creative community in Glasgow is on the way up. There are a group of agencies that are really growing and producing fantastic work.”
“Glasgow’s creative industries are developing well and any initiatives that communicate the importance of design must be good,” agrees managing director of Red Cell Scotland, Simon MacQuarrie.
“However, the market continues to be pretty challenging and, if anything, we have seen a reduction in new agency launches. This is probably reflective of the current market and I don’t see much change in the coming months.
“Still, I’d like to think that collectively, we’re producing good work - work that generates a commercial return for the client. Return on investment is crucial in all that we do and we must ensure that our creative product helps to deliver this.”