Edinburgh: Creative capital

By The Drum, Administrator

June 14, 2007 | 11 min read

“Edinburgh isn’t just Scotland’s capital, it’s also the creative capital,” asserts Gary Cameron, director of Marketing Concepts, knowing full well that the other cities of the country would happily argue with him.

“Edinburgh’s always had a reputation for having a very active creative community that has real strength in advertising, design and digital,” explains Yvonne Balfour, managing director of Navigator. “There are really well known agency names whose reputation and creative talent have successfully travelled further than Scotland to extend across the UK and beyond, look at The Leith Agency’s long creative heritage and more recently agencies like The Union and Newhaven are scooping up awards.”

Nick Cadbury, at 3 Brand Design, feels that while the city is home to some of the big names in the industry, the smaller agencies are able to grow their own reputations on the strength of the city’s high standards.

“As a major centre, with some of the more prominent and creative agencies based here clearly the impact the city has had in Scottish terms has been significant!” he says. “The birth and rise of some of the newer and smaller agencies demonstrates that it is still a hot bed of talent too. Add to this the fact the colleges here are turning out loads of talent, which means the city is in a good place.”

While the industry may celebrate its own achievements through awards, business seminars and network events, the city itself never seems to have promoted its achievements publicly, which seems rather ironic considering that these are businesses, paid by clients to promote and build brand names to the public. Surely, in some way the city is missing a trick in not publicising the strength of its creativity to an international audience?

“We need to put Edinburgh on the map,” says Ian McAteer, managing director of The Union, someone who has long felt that the city needs a stage to build its reputation.

“We’re famous for the Fringe, the TV festival, etc, but what we need is an event. The IPA, SMA and Scottish Enterprise should collaborate to create a big noisy international event… Given the strength of the arts in Edinburgh I feel there is huge untapped potential here. The ad world goes to Cannes, Kinsale, London, and with EPICA; all over Europe. Wouldn’t it be great if the advertising world came to Edinburgh?”

Cameron believes that the city holds some of the UK’s best marketing agencies which is something that is perhaps, not appreciated due to a lack of marketing on its own behalf. “Edinburgh has always been at the vanguard of Scottish thinking whether that was the arts, politically or philosophically,” he says. “I think we have to look out with traditional confines of what would be considered the communication industry and strive to get a combined message of creative excellence out.”

Industry stalwart, Ash Gupta of The Gupta Partnership, also believes that an event should be held to inspire and motivate the community. “The city and Scottish Enterprise should feature this service sector strength in Scotland’s promotion when attracting inward investment. We should elevate the best of the best work to “art” and have an annual exhibition held in the Gallery of Modern Art like the D&AD show.”

Ian Dommett, managing director of Golley Slater, agrees with McAteer and Gupta that a more public celebration of the city’s creative output should be funded in order to showcase the work that is being produced.

“It has to reclaim its boldness,” says Dommett. “Take photography for instance: Edinburgh should have grabbed the chance to be an international centre for excellence. That there is no museum or gallery specifically promoting photography [shows] there is a real gap. There also should be space for new media presentations as a counterbalance to the traditional museums and galleries.”

Susanna Freedman, managing director of Tsuko, is also behind the idea of finding a way of promoting the industry to achieve better recognition. “We need a champion or group to really push this at many levels such as industry, education and government, if the industry is ever going to be truly developed and recognised. I know efforts have been made in the past, but unless we distill what this means to us and engage the right people, set an agenda, agree a clear strategy and identify appropriate actions, then it’s never going to happen,” declares Freedman.

Dave Mullen, creative director at Story, highlights the diversity of the work coming out of the city across a range of marketing platforms, which maintains a consistent level of high quality. “There is a lot of multi disciplined work going on both commercial and otherwise,” he says. “If you want animation you’d look to Bristol for instance but Edinburgh has a lot of talent on our doorsteps in all the creative fields.”

Moyra Harvey, managing director of Jump Marketing questions why there is not a larger number within the city’s community with a more global approach to winning new business, highlighting her own company’s work for companies in places such as Miami, Madrid and Mexico.

“Edinburgh agencies regularly work for enlightened clients who are more concerned about the quality of work than the postcode of your office,” she says. “Unfortunately not everyone has this mindset and feel they need the comfort zone of a local agency ‘just in case’ regardless of whether they are the best choice.”

Design is especially strong in Edinburgh, with companies such as Navyblue, Elmwood, Crombie Anderson, Tayburn, Design Concepts, 442 and 3 Brand Design to name but a few, are all producing interesting and highly creative design for clients.

Many agencies over the years have pointed to the growth of the digital sector as the future of design and advertising, with a whole new world available in which to create and clients actively looking to get its brand involved in the new media revolution. Edinburgh is no different, as more and more agencies look to expand their service offering to include new media.

“What we’re beginning to see is bigger online thinking from all corners of the industry – not just the digital firms – and this will continue to grow,” says Fiona Proudler, creative services director of digital company, Realise.

Proudler continues. “Clients and agencies are seeing the power of the web through its increasing impact on everyday lives and modern culture and over the next few years, I believe, we will see more and more campaigns delivered entirely or almost entirely online.

“There is a healthy rivalry amongst Edinburgh agencies, but also a willingness to collaborate. That environment stimulates big thinking and an exciting sense of purpose. What you also find is that as a consequence everyone is ready to put in a lot of hard work to make something the best it can be.”

As Iain Valentine, managing director of Whitespace highlights, despite being a growing sector in the city, the digital industry has its problems too in attracting and retaining the best people and educating the business community on how to buy good strategy, creative and technical agencies.

“There seems especially to be a lack of understanding about how to commission online services and which agencies have achieved expert status,” Valentine says. “Online is not a bolt-on service, it’s a key part of your marketing strategy. With proper integration of offline and online, measurability is probably going to be the real focus in the next couple of years. Now we can properly measure what’s happening from first sight of creative right to the end of the customer journey.”

The public relations industry is another element of the communications scene that has been forced to become more and more creative as it aims to achieve stand out for its clients, raise the awareness and interest of the media and deliver impact for clients.

“PR is an important part of the industry, but too often is not tied in enough with other sectors. Other creative industries also sometimes have too narrow a view of what we do and still think only in terms of a narrow media relations function,” says Ian Coldwell, managing director of Pagoda PR.

Coldwell also believes that Edinburgh’s creative industry should capitalise on its financial sector strength in finance to gain a ‘global perspective’.

Everyone involved in some way with marketing in Edinburgh has a perspective on the best way to promote the work in the city. Perhaps the time is right to mount a creative offensive to showcase the city’s talent to the wider world.

Creativity by Ron Hewitt

In business, you learn certain key ‘rules of thumb’ which apply across boundaries. The first is that, as George Bernard Shaw said: “The only Golden Rule is that there are no Golden Rules.” Everything is open to change and uncertainty, but realising that can be the surest stepping stone to a new idea, new markets, new profits. As Tom Philips has taught, the only certainty in present markets is chaos, so get good at it, or you’ll be left behind.

There are other ‘rules’ which belie the first: ‘Cash is King’; ‘Our People are our best asset’; ‘Grow your capital.’ My role is a bit like that of an Admiral who is directing a fleet from a small yacht.

Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce has a tight-knit and highly competent team of creative people, but there are only fifty of them. Our asset base is small compared to the cause we support. We cannot let up on our central mission for a moment because our margins are lean. Yet we punch far above our weight. Why’s that? Because we are sensitive to exploiting our capital. We can only do that by being creative.

Forgive the pun, but trying to lead the cause for business representation in Edinburgh, our Capital City, you become acutely conscious that capital comes in

many more forms than money. There’s the resources and skills of our team. There are our connections and our ability to communicate. Over two hundred years of history, and a sense of vision that is creating our future. And the chief of all of these is creativity. If we do not fire people’s imaginations, if we cannot dream the impossible – and then make it happen. If we have no ability to find, create and use levers to influence beyond our size then we have no right to our role.

This is one reason that I am passionate about creative industries. They are feeding on their understanding of history, thriving in the present to build an enduring future. Scottish Enterprise has listed creative industries as one of its core sectors for development. My only concern about that is to ask ‘Have they defined the field in too narrow a way’. Apart from that I agree and applaud the sentiment.

We’ve all seen the tea-towel about how the Scots invented everything. American Arthur Herman’s book ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’ first appeared in the U.S. as ‘How The Scots Invented The Modern World.’ He wasn’t wrong. We have created so many intangibles as well - from economics to geology; The Bank of England. The boyhood derring-do novel.

So many ideas, artistic endeavours and functional achievements.

What is a creative industry? Arts and crafts, performance, design, fashion, software, games, advertising and media. The risk is that we see these contributions to our economy as frivolous.

Far from it. I heard an old socialist/feminist song on the radio this morning ‘Bread and Roses’. The idea is we need enough sustenance to keep our bodies together, but also our souls. The ‘roses’ in the song are the fruits of our creative industries. We can and should be passionate about this. I know I am. ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul…’

Soul is what it is all about. That’s why Edinburgh (festival capital of the world) is ‘Capital of the Mind’ and why however big financial services get, however successful our tourism, the creative industries are the glue that bind our economy together, making people want to live in our most beautiful city, feeding our minds and getting us to work (or play) eager for more and bursting with ideas. Long may it be so.

Ron Hewitt is chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce


More from Edinburgh

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +