The new creative team at Reid Furniture
The process was kicked off in November 2006 running on until January. So, in February, it was with some surprise that Curious Group, Reid’s long-term incumbent, was re-appointed to the business – for the time being, at least – without having been included on the initial pitch list.
Cue some head scratching. However, all was to become clear later.
Unbeknown to the agencies pitching for the business, ideas had taken root within the furniture giant to bring the account in-house.
Ann Gibb joined Reid last September from Feather Brooksbank as head of marketing.
The review of the creative account, she claims, was a joint decision between herself and the chief executive.
Following a management buyout in May, prior to her appointment, the then managing director Alan Marnie became chief executive, while the owner, Sam Reid took a back seat due to personal reasons.
“Reid had a very strong relationship with The Curious Group – or Coltas, as it was then,” says Gibb. “Alan felt that he wanted to see what was out there, but I asked him to hold back until I’d been in the role for a couple of months and was able to come to that decision myself, rather than having it forced upon me.
“By the end of the year, due to Reid’s business strategy, it became apparent that it probably was a good idea to put the account up for review,” says Gibb.
By all accounts, it was a huge trawl. Gibb was presented with a list of around 35 agencies. Distance was no issue with agencies for London, Ireland and Scotland all on the “short-list”.
Gibb, working with Agency Assessments, then held a series of chemistry meetings, followed by workshops for those who were invited.
“The whole process that we went through was definitely worth it for us. We didn’t know which agencies were coming through, what the personalities were, and what each was capable of.”
However, as the process developed over Christmas, the client decided it was only fair that Curious was involved in the pitch when the presentations were held in January.
Yet, between the decision in November, to put the account out for pitch, and the final pitches coming in, the plan to consider bringing the business in-house was hatched.
“We debated it a long, long time,” Gibb stresses. “The reality was, how we wanted to move the company forward, bringing the business in-house was the best way to progress.”
There are few businesses in Scotland that have taken the step of creating an in-house creative department. But, then again, there are few retail businesses in Scotland – not withstanding Arnold Clark – that demand the same level of service and tight turn-around times as Reid.
But how does Gibb think, following a lengthy pitch process, the creative agencies involved will view the move to bring the business in-house? “We genuinely went into the creative review looking to employ another agency. We got a lot out of it. We met a lot of good people and we enjoyed discussions with them.”
“All the final teams pitching, had their own strengths. A situation developed, however, due to the demands that we have. Because it’s such a competitive market, we have to turn work around extremely quickly.
“Curious was very good at that. And one of our main concerns of the teams involved in the pitch was whether or not they would be able to work at the same pace as Curious.
“The agencies that we picked were all good creatively. It was whether they had the back-up and processes within the agency to handle a business like Reid’s. They proved they could. But, at the end of the day, they are commercial companies and they have to work on other business. We felt that the amount of time and input that we needed would just be prohibitive.
“We either had to go for a budget that suited us or the hours that they could then afford to apply – which wasn’t really giving us enough development time.”
Arnold Clark is another big Scottish retailer that handles all of its marketing in-house, now employing a marketing team of over 40 – larger than many of Scotland’s agencies. However, despite the car company succeeding in this strategy, Gibb says that she has no plans to emulate Arnold Clark’s approach.
Despite a strong media background, having spent 12 years working on the media for Reid, amongst other accounts while at Feather Brooksbank, Gibb maintains that she has no plans to bring the media planning and buying function in-house too.
“To try and do that would be a nightmare,” she says. “At present we have between 40 and 50 TV, radio, outdoor, POS and press adverts running every week in Scotland and Ireland.”
Reid splits the account between Feather Brooksbank and its parent company Carat, with Carat buying media in Ireland, while FB buys media in Scotland and the North West of England.
“Media is such a specialised area,” she continues. “We might be able to buy a couple of ads marginally cheaper than a media agency, however, with their buying power and ability to keep ahead of what’s happening in the market place, as well as the human costs, I wouldn’t dream of getting involved at that level.”
The new creative team started at Reid this week, but Gibb is quick to admit that there will be a period of transition, “We have 12 years worth of files to trawl through, to identify existing photography and art work before we go live. 50 ads a week is something you can’t rush into.” And while she also admits that Curious Group is unhappy to lose the business, they have been “comfortable” with the hand over period.
“It’s been a long relationship. This is an evolution. What we want to do is get to a campaign that we’re comfortable with and we can move forward.
“Jane Seymour [former Bond girl and current campaign figure-head] is signed with us until the end of the year, so she will remain with us until then. The campaign, as it is just now, is working in a competitive market.”
The new creative team has been assembled from a variety of different Scottish agencies. However, all have one thing in common. Each of the three-strong team hired by Gibb to-date has had experience of working on the Reid account previously – “so will be under no illusion as to what’s expected of them”.
New head of creative, Charlie Boyle joins from BD Network; Angela Brown arrives from Levy McCallum where she was studio manager and Steven Lally comes from Kemsley in Glasgow, while Gibb is currently still recruiting for a graduate trainee to complete the team.
“We have a budget to recruit further, but decided to hold back until we understand fully the dynamics of the team and what we need,” says Gibb. “We are also using Jim Stephenson, who used to be production director at Curious [left three months ago], as a consultant. He has a great reputation in the industry.”
With furniture retailers one of the few advertisers to still pump a large amount of money into above-the-line advertising, competition is fierce. DFS, one of Reid’s rivals, spends over £100m a year. However, Gibb says that this is actually a good thing for the market, as it drives footfall. “We all benefit from it, as long as we can compete.”
Yet, such competition means that any investment needs to stand out. “If you take a logo off a lot of the furniture shop ads they’d all look the same. This has to change. I think trading standards will force furniture retailers to change what they do. They are becoming much stricter about what you can and can’t say. We need to move more towards what appeals to customers.
“But you can’t do it over night and you have to be careful. You have 32 store managers that will scream at you if you don’t deliver footfall. To be completely radical might not be suitable. But I know what appeals to me as a consumer, and furniture adverts don’t appeal to me. I don’t like being shouted at. But we are often forced down this route.
“We need to create a point of difference,” continues Gibb. “Our USP is that we are a manufacturer – and that’s something that we haven’t been shouting about. That’s a fact that’s been a bit lost. Now we will have a creative team that is 100 percent focussed on the business.”
However, despite the step-change involved since Gibb joined Reid last year, she maintains that she is thoroughly enjoying her new role and the challenges that it brings, although there are certain aspects of client life that can be hard to deal with.
“I love being on the other side of the fence. I loved my time at Feather Brooksbank – I was a board director there, I ran the Glasgow office, and I miss the people, but I have no regrets. Coming into an operation like this one, it’s a different mindset. I’ve always been agency side before this.
“The first two or three months were a bit of a struggle, learning everything and discovering the impact that doing one thing will have on another.
“I’ve worked with the people at Curious for a long time and they had become friends, then all of a sudden we had to part-company with them. I found that very hard. But now I’m confident that what we are doing will work.
“This is going to be a long-term investment. It’s got to be. And I have no doubt it will work – we’re quite a stubborn client – now we have the opportunity to control our own destiny.”