Boarding the Arc
It’s one of the stormiest days in recent memory. Commuters leaving Edinburgh’s Waverley Station open umbrellas to shield themselves from the elements only to find their brollies unusable. Casting their useless accessories aside, they push past, head bowed against the wind and rain. Judging by the weather, it’s perhaps apt that my destination is the nearby Arc.
While there are no animals queuing at the gates, it’s a relief to arrive at Arc Worldwide’s offices in a converted church building and escape the rain-beaten city outside. Arc’s new managing director, Carolyn Laing, is equally pleased to be here.
She joined the company at the end of last year from Glasgow agency Good Creative. “I had a good time at Good,” Laing says – no pun intended – when quizzed as to why she left the agency after only a matter of months, having returned to Scotland following a successful spell in London. “It is a good business, but I get excited about marketing communications and everything that includes. Good’s core competences lie in design. It was great for me to work within a such a creative environment, but it’s not my strength and this is my passion.
“I also wanted to get back into agency management, and coming back to Scotland and being given an opportunity like this, at a top-ten marcomms agency, is rare.”
The Publicis Group, Arc Worldwide’s parent company, recently purchased London-based agency Triangle, which it merged with Arc London to create a formidable below-the-line agency. And Laing reveals that the UK business has gone through a lot of changes over this period. But through this change, Arc’s Edinburgh office has continued to work steadily, and Laing saw her chance to get back into the below-the-line sector – a sector she was more than familiar with having worked at BD-Network (then BD-Tank) as managing director and associate director, in Glasgow and London respectively.
Arc’s two UK offices now work in tandem whenever necessary, and Laing makes it clear that she would rather refer to the agencies as Arc UK than Arc Scotland or London. “The key from a market perspective are the dynamics between a Scottish and London agency,” she says. “Obviously we’re owned by the same group, but I’d say more than in previous agencies I’ve worked with, there is a real synergy and camaraderie between the locations.
“The UK market is particularly buoyant at the moment. So I guess there’s more opportunity to work with London as one team, and that’s worked well for us and is beginning to reap rewards.
“At the moment I have an account manager who has been seconded to London. The plan is that we then bring someone else up here. We have the opportunity to not only move intelligence around the network but also staff, to give them an opportunity to gain that experience. It means that processes are shared, and hopefully we will be able to adopt one UK process for delivering best work.”
As one office in a network that spans the globe – Arc is also based at three locations in the US, and has offices in Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Singapore – there is an established intelligence network for Laing and her Edinburgh-based colleagues to tap into whenever necessary. “The Arc UK brand is the most important thing that we’re pushing, and what that means for us is ultimately trying to be best in class in all the different disciplines that we work in,” she says.
“We’ve got the benefit of having a fairly one-stop-shop offering in Scotland, but we also have the intelligence of a global network at our fingertips. So if we need to know what’s hot in Japan, I can find that out. If we want to know what’s cool in Russia, I can find that out too. Furthermore, being linked to above-the-line teams that are also part of the Publicis Group – such as Leo Burnett – is fantastic and allows us to tap into an advertising brain.”
In the past, Arc has been known for its drinks marketing through clients such as Diageo and Scottish Courage. This is something that Laing aims to continue under her guidance. “Like any Scottish agency, you have to have a drinks client on your books,” she says. “Usually drinks marketing is something high up on the agenda and, in terms of the work that Arc has done previously, an awful lot our work has been for drinks brands.
“But we don’t want to be pigeonholed, as we work across a wide range of client sectors. The recent HBOS win for Arc UK will see us working with the London team to service that client on a regional level. Because there are some differences between England and Scotland, from a cultural and a market perspective, we can certainly offer our London team a Scottish accent.
“Elsewhere there’s a current public sector pitch which we’re working on with the London team too. Again, such collaborative work enforces the fluidity of the two teams.”
During Laing’s absence from Scotland, sales promotion companies have become a rare breed. Recent years have seen the demise of The Marketing Store, KLP, Marketing Advantage and Draft, as a number of the large, networked agencies have pulled out of Scotland.
“Arc is one of the few networked groups that still has a presence in Scotland,” says Laing. “And I was keen to make sure that their investment was going to work for them and that the investment was going to work for the Scottish market.
“It’s always sad to see a marketing agency shut its doors. I can only guess that if they were being run through London and they weren’t making enough money, or weren’t offering enough back into the group…” Laing pauses for a second. “But, whatever the reason, it very much sent a shudder through the industry, certainly from a below-the-line perspective.
“Now the fact that Arc is a part of a network means that in terms of finance, the Scottish branch is more secure than any independent company.
“Arc has been here throughout. It’s been a consistent employer and a consistent supporter of the marketing industry in Scotland. And because we’re part of a bigger network, if we have a bad year, it can perhaps be buoyed up by somewhere else in the network. That’s fine because it’s treated as a family of businesses. Arc UK is a combined force, drawing from both London and Edinburgh, and as a result, the group’s stuck to its guns and is reinvesting in the business, which is great news for the industry.
“And, in the bigger picture, Arc UK is only a division of the the worldwide network. So investment and resources are areas that are not left wanting.
“What we are trying to do in Edinburgh is build a brand for Arc and make sure that we treat ourselves like a brand – make sure that we are integrating and that we have got a consistent message out in the marketplace. Any opportunity that comes into either office – if there’s a conflict, or if there’s a better skill-set based in another location, or if a client has a specific request that they have a certain locations input – then we can deliver.”
Arc has further strengthened its Edinburgh team, with the appointment of Gregg Imlah as business development director. He was previously the marketing director at Brand Ambassadors and was, before that, new development brand manager for Inbev UK.
More recently still, the agency has secured a number of new accounts for its Edinburgh base, including a point of sale project from Grant’s Whisky and a brief to develop a strategy to promote Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
And, to prove it’s not all about hard work, Arc has set up an industry sports day which it hopes will rally agencies across Scotland to have fun and raise funds for NABS.
“We all work very hard and it’s been a fairy eventful year for us and a lot of our agency peers,” says Laing. “There are lots of opportunities for senior management to get together, but we want to try and get junior people from the industry together, sharing experiences and having a laugh to make them feel part of a wider industry.
“It’s a chance to have some fun, get to meet people outside of the formal corporate environment and to celebrate the different characters within the industry.”
Busy times at the Arc, then. And as the weather outside goes to prove, it never rains, it pours.