Barker

Barkers Social science

By The Drum, Administrator

September 20, 2007 | 7 min read

Social animal

That left managing director Chris Wallace.

He too then departed the agency in February this year after more than a decade overseeing Barkers Scotland.

The upheaval was complete.

However, following Wallace’s departure client-side to Scottish Water, the agency announced the appointment of Andy McArthur in April, joining from IAS Smarts. This move raised a few eyebrows. Many speculated that he would be a direct replacement for Wallace, but this turned out not to be the case.

McArthur’s arrival was to see the launch of a newly created role – head of social marketing.

Following the departure of Wallace, the management structure at Barkers Scotland sees chief executive Robert Bain and John Tarrant, the agency’s chairman, continue to have a hands-on approach.

However, the agency is now steered by a team of department heads with McArthur heading up the new social marketing division, Christina Kelly overseeing PR, Andy Hughes in charge of retail, Mary Lamont as head of recruitment, with Carter Anderson and Jenny Simpson joint creative directors.

This structure is aimed at allowing the senior management figures to be very much in control of their own departments, interacting when necessary.

Having finished his contract at IAS Smarts, McArthur has been in his new role at Barkers for just over two month now, which he describes as “a bit of an exciting whirlwind”.

The force of the whirlwind, no doubt, added to by a recent trip to Paris to see his beloved Scotland football team conquer last year’s world cup finalists France on their home turf.

A long-established Tartan Army ‘soldier’, following the team through its highs and lows will surely have left McArthur well prepared for the ups and downs of agency life. However, how will he cope steering Barkers down a dedicate route to the public’s conscience?

Well, Barkers has long been an agency geared towards social sector work, having been on the Scottish Executive’s roster for 13 years. The agency has already been branching out, picking up work through out Britain, as it uses its experience in the social marketing field, most recently working on an anti-smoking campaign in Hull and a blood pressure testing campaign in Birmingham. Barkers Scotland has also been appointed to work for several boroughs around London.

“My main aim is to secure a widely recognised position for Barkers as a centre of excellence for social marketing through out the UK,” states McArthur.

“It’s a big challenge, but it’s also an excellent opportunity. It will call for effective globalising of all the Barkers resource, both in terms of skills and capacity, existing contacts with public sector bodies and in delivery infrastructure from its network of offices – two in Scotland, one in London, six in the regions.”

It’s a big task that McArthur has been set, but in terms of social marketing and Barkers, the fit between man and agency, it would seem, could not be better.

“Prior to coming on board, a number of important developments had taken place where Barkers had done social marketing projects south of the border… I had the opportunity to pick up the baton of that work and I now have the opportunity of developing the London market and working with my colleagues across the company. The UK content is incredibly challenging, but exciting as well.”

These new accounts have meant that Barkers Scotland has branched out to work alongside its colleagues in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, London, Slough, Bristol and Nottingham in order to deliver to its clients down south in both the recruitment and public sector marketing field.

There are signs that, although its reputation has been long established, the agency is looking to build a new name for itself, with the introduction of the social marketing department.

“The company outside of Scotland has traditionally been known for recruitment advertising and recruitment consultancy,” says McArthur. “There are huge winds of change blowing through that sector, not least with the fact that a lot of the higher level recruitment work is increasing with brand image reputation and public sector government operations, as well as corporates and how these organisations are perceived by the communities that they do business in.”

That takes Barkers into the territory of social marketing and, in the last year to 18 months, that realisation has sunk in at the top of the company.

“Scotland had been ploughing its own furrow and perhaps had not taken advantage of the wider UK opportunities,” continues McArthur. “There are opportunities lying there waiting. My jobs is to get on with it.”

As for the recent changes that the agency has gone through, McArthur admits that it has been a difficult period for Barkers, but now the agency’s picking itself up and moving on. “It’s obviously a company that has gone through some significant change and change for any company always carries a bit of pain. Staff and employers have to learn new ways of working. There are challenges here but there are people here too who will rise to that and I’m happy with the team around me.”

However, in order to strengthen the team around him, McArthur has recruited a former IAS Smarts colleague, Lindsay Linton who is currently on secondment at the Scottish Executive, to join him at the agency next year. She will work closely with McArthur on the social marketing push.

“The definition of social marketing for me is ‘communications to change behaviour for a social good’. With that in mind, the great bulk of public sector spend is social marketing related and many agencies know how important the public sector – not only the Government, but local authorities and other bodies – is to their income.

“The bulk is very large. For many agencies, public sector work must be well over half of their income. And a chunk of that will be social marketing.”

But why is the social marketing sector of such importance to Barkers that it has decided to dedicate a new department to the sector?

Well, it is a sector that is destined to develop and grow, according to McArthur, as the government learns the impact that a campaign can have on delivering a message quickly and effectively to a particular group of people.

“There is a growing recognition by policy makers, by government bodies and others in the public sector that communications has a role to play in delivering policy objectives. It’s amazing what communications can do to get information over to citizens and a growing importance has been placed on having a dialogue with the public. It is now less about ‘talk down’ information distribution and more about genuine engagement with local communities.”

McArthur is quick to point out that while Barkers is recognised as being adept at social marketing, as it is a sector that is on the rise, many other agencies are able to offer quality responses as well. “Scottish social marketing is probably the jewel in the UK crown, which creates remarkable opportunity for us outside of Scotland too.

“That makes it a more fertile ground for development.”

So, with Barkers on track for UK social marketing domination and Scotland’s football team on course for qualification to its first major tournament in over 10 years, how will McArthur find the time to oversee both developments?

Quite simply, really: “For away games, I make sure I get my holiday sheet first at the start of the year.”

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