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Agency Premier League 2007 - Top Scottish Agencies

By The Drum, Administrator

October 18, 2007 | 20 min read

But we would like the input of readers too. You can go online and vote for up to three agencies you believe should take our league title.

This exercise will be used to decide who should be in the top 12 and their order. However, it will also tell us which agencies - for the time being at least - will have to content themselves with being top of the First Division.

But we are not the BBC. And this is about more than naming a new kitten. So the editorial team will also input their knowledge of the industry to help form the final list. Of course these online votes will certainly be a key part of the equation.

Details of the contenders are published over the next few pages. The overall winner will be announced on October 26 as part of the Scottish Advertising Awards. And the Scottish Advertising Premier League results will be published in the next issue of The Drum. The online poll closes on October 25 - so get voting now.

The Premier League theme is appropriate - for things have never been more competitive in the world of Scottish advertising, as our survey revealed.

Although the business remains a distinct specialism, there is no doubt that digital is very much on the radar of Scottish agencies.

Four agencies - Newhaven, The Leith, GRP and The Union - specifically mentioned as they have recently expanded in this area, either by launching or taking stakes in digital businesses, in their feedback questionnaires.

But if the nature of the business is changing, another primary concern is its size. The size of the Scottish market place, for example, was listed as one of the biggest challenges from the perspective of Guy Robertson.

The solution of many in the market is to look beyond the Scottish borders. The Union, for example, continue to develop its Leeds office, which draws heavily off its Edinburgh creative and production resources.

Meanwhile Barkers, as was recently reported in The Drum, is now marketing its social advertising skills - gleaned through working with the likes of the Scottish Executive - on a UK wide basis.

The competitive nature of Scottish advertising is not a new phenomenon. Even back in the 80s it caused much industry discussion. Then columnist of The Drum, Keith Crosier, even advanced the theory that the level of competition it faced was in fact the reason Scottish advertising was a creative hot spot. Agencies had to be very good, he argued, just to survive in Scotland. What existed then is what economists call a "cluster of excellence."

If anything things are more competitive today - which has perhaps shaped another part of our survey. Traditionally we have always invited agency MDs to tell us which rival agencies and which rival MD, won their respect over the previous years.

Normally, a strong consensus emerges with one or two agencies being identified as being the best. However, this time round there is no such consensus. It could mean that there are now more good agencies operating in Scotland than there has been for several years.

Five almost level pegged for the top spot - The Leith, Newhaven, The Union, The Bridge and Family. However, one agency got the MD's vote by a whisker. Frame emerged as the MD's choice for successes that included retaining Subway and winning Bulmer's.

Its late MD, Alan Frame was also named as the MD of the Year. Said one agency MD: "It was not until he died that I realised the fantastic contribution Alan had made to the business."

In terms of hard data in our survey Newhaven were the fastest growing business - turnover was up 52 per cent, whilst The Union turnover of £5.7million was the largest for an independent Scottish agency.

Barkers and IAS Smarts both reported their UK turnovers, which were £26million and £11million respectively.

Aberdeen-based AVC reported the highest turnover per employee for an independent agency. There 10 people were responsible for a turnover of £2.5m. However, Barkers demonstrate that there is still money in recruitment. It reported a turnover per employee of £313,000 for its UK-wide business.

The highest gross profit in the survey was reported by IAS Smarts of £7.6m, Barkers at £5.1m followed by The Leith at £4.2m.

Barkers also did well in terms of turnover per client, which was £526,000, well ahead of second placed The Leith Agency, which had a one of £263,000.

There is no doubt that there are some strong performing businesses in the ad industry. Perhaps rumours of its demise are much exaggerated.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £3,830,000

Turnover (previous financial year): £4,310,000

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £2,356,000

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £2,251,500

Staff numbers (present): 40

Staff numbers (previous year): 36

1576 has ridden the upheaval that followed the departure of a majority of its directors earlier this year.

While many soothsayers saw impending doom for the agency - which has always been considered one of Scotland's brightest - the remaining team has worked hard to turn around its fortunes. A process that continues.

The effect has been to focus the business, allowing the agency to continue to improve bottom-lines for its major clients, including VisitScotland, Alliance Trust, Bank of Scotland Corporate and Velux, despite the departure of key accounts such as Glenmorangie.

Ruth Lees, Kenneth Fowler, Adrian Jeffery, Fife Hyland and Gary Smith all departed earlier this year, leaving MD Reid as the sole surviving director.

However, the swift appointment of a new and respected creative director in Pete Bastiman was one of a sequence of rapid replacements, which allowed 1576 to continue with key personnel quickly, avoiding any negative fallout to the business that could have been onset by the exodus.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £2.5 million

Turnover (previous financial year): £1.9 million

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £500,000

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £ 192,000

Staff numbers (present): 10

Staff numbers (previous year): 6

AVC Advertising and Brand Advertising merged in April this year, now operating as AVC Brand Advertising, increasing staff numbers from six to 10.

The Agency also purchased Precision media in Dundee and merged the clients whilst disposing of the Precision name and premises in Dundee.

Compounding the growth, AVC Brand Advertising is launched into the Edinburgh market with offices in Leith in order to service existing clients in the region.

From a standing start with no investment in April 2006 AVC is now on course to submit a turnover figure in excess of £3 million at the end of this financial year. Furthermore, the agency's media spending power is the highest outside the central belt and it has clients stretching from Wick to Southampton, including John Clark Motor Group, Aberdeen College, Pafilia Properties and Aberdeen Journals.

"The requirement for a full service agency has come back with a vengeance and we are winning by supplying the highest level of acute account management to a core client base and getting them results," says MD Spencer Buchan. "We are in demand and our move into the Edinburgh market is a bold statement that AVC Brand Advertising is up there with the best of them."


Turnover (most recent financial year): £26,330,481

Turnover (previous financial year): £24,639,966

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £5,428,318

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £5,124,260

Staff numbers (present): 84

Staff numbers (previous year): 79

In the last year alone, Barkers has introduced a number of major changes, both structural and staffing, in two key strategic areas. First, is the development of the company's social marketing offer throughout the UK.

A new head of social marketing - Andy McArthur - was appointed in the summer of 2007 to lead the development. Work that Barkers has delivered in Scotland around issues such as race, sustainable development, health and safer communities has attracted the interest of other public sector clients throughout the UK.

One such brief will see the agency create a campaign for Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust, which is known as one of the most deprived London Boroughs with high levels of social deprivation. The agency has been tasked with creating a campaign that will focus on tackling childhood obesity, stopping the uptake of smoking among young people and increasing the uptake of diabetic retinopathy services which are offered by the PCT.

Further changes respond to the marketing conditions in the recruitment advertising and recruitment consulting areas - a specialist niche for Barkers. Barkers' Scottish recruitment division has invested in the sectoral specialists based in Scotland to provide the full portfolio of integrated recruitment solutions.

The Big Picture

Turnover (most recent financial year): £1,900,000

Turnover (previous financial year): £1,500,000

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £1,150,000

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £1,000,000

Staff numbers (present): 21

Staff numbers (previous year):16

It was late in 2006 when The Big Picture opened its Glasgow office. Having built a name in excellence through its Aberdeen studio, working with a raft of high profile clients across the UK and Europe, the agency decided to spread its wings with the launch of a new office.

However the agency has also invested greatly in developing its advertising business too, as well as its geographical reach.

Brian Williams, a heavyweight of the Scottish ad scene was brought in as creative director to oversee the agency's advertising output.

Since opening the office in Glasgow in September, the Big Picture has won new business from Glasgow Warriors, Central Scotland Forest Trust, Quantum Claims, Atlantic Resourcing, University of Stirling and Hempel Yacht - Southern Europe.

Five new members of staff have also been recruited to support the business and one of the agency’s biggest achievements is to have its Glasgow operation running to profit within first year, from standing start. Expect even better things to come.

The Bridge

Turnover (most recent financial year): N/A

"Changes in the way media contracts were handled this year makes this comparison meaningless," says agency boss Brian Crook

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £2,049,352

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £2,096,948

Staff numbers (present): 28

Staff numbers (previous year): 28

Following a tough end to 2006, following the departure of Liz O'Connor and the loss of ScottishPower, The Bridge has come out guns blazing, winning a host of high profile business, including Rock Radio, Department of Work and Pensions - Jobcentre Plus, University of Cumbria, Transport Scotland, Belhaven, and Healthy Respect.

As well as a fantastic year for new business, generating £700,000 in income, it's been a good year for awards too. The Bridge was shortlisted for four Marketing Excellence Awards, winning two, was shortlisted for a national IPA Effectiveness Award and enjoyed another good year for creative awards in the UK and internationally - being the only Scottish agency to win two EPICAs.

The challenge for the agency remains finding good people, according to managing director Brian Crook, however, if new business and awards continue in a similar vein over the next 12 months that problem should sort itself out.

Clayton Graham

Turnover (most recent financial year): £1,671,899

Turnover (previous financial year): £1,431,502

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £1,028,595

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £916,463

Staff numbers (present): 17

Staff numbers (previous year): 14

Clayton Graham has been busy consolidating its position in the Scottish marketing firmament, undertaking a significant program of investment which has seen the agency attract new clients and incorporate a recent move into new premises.

Successful campaigns in the last year included the creative brand campaign for Braehead Shopping Centre, one of the country's best known shopping centres, but one which formerly enjoyed very little consumer recognition in terms of its offering to the public. Clayton Graham undertook an extensive press campaign on behalf of the centre, complementing wider successes for Black and Lizars, AG Barr, and the Sunday Herald.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £2,915,003

Turnover (previous financial year): £3,104,571

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £802,695

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £562,713

Staff numbers (present): 18

Staff numbers (previous year): 23

Family has made a raft of changes over the last year as it continues to review its structure to cope with the tough marketplace and changing client spend - particularly in the public sector, according to managing director Ian Wright.

A string of new business wins coupled with IPA Awards for its Cancer Research UK campaign have been highlights for the team.

Such new clients include, CR Smith, Lauder College, AMG Outdoor, Aberdein Considine, National Museums of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Craig & Rose, among others. These add to a list that already contains Dunfermline Building Society, Cancer Research UK, Overgate Shopping Centre, University of Edinburgh Management School, BBC, Scottish Government, VisitScotland and Breathing Space.

Now, following a period of restructuring, Family is ready for the future.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £ 3,450,720

Turnover (previous financial year): £ 2,983,535

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £ 1,998,817

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £ 1,811,387

Staff numbers (present): 33

Staff numbers (previous year): 29

It goes without saying that Frame's year has been over-shadowed by the sad and untimely death of its founder Alan Frame in February this year. However, his agency legacy remains.

At the time of Frame's death the agency was building rapidly. This growth has continued. While some senior staff have since departed, including ex-Weiden & Kennedy boss David Miller who left the agency shortly after Frame's death, the agency has persisted in adding to its senior ranks.

Frame hired former Publicis account director, Keith Bolton, to head up its flagship Subway account and former TBWA creative Steve Mawhinney as senior art director.

Former TBWA/Edinburgh managing partner, Gary O'Donnell, also joined as commercial director.

However, it's not just new staff that have joined the team. Adding to the high-profile client list, which already included Subway, Scottish & Newcastle, Gala Goral Group and Coca Cola, came VisitScotland and Pepsico.

Frame will always be sadly missed by those in the industry, but his team will hopefully continue to do him proud.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £5.4m

Turnover (previous financial year): £5.2m

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £2.1m

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £2.2m

Staff numbers (present):46

Staff numbers (previous year):54

GRP is celebrating its 21st year in business. And what better way to celebrate than as the only Scottish agency to pick up a coveted D&AD Yellow Pencil?

Earlier this year, agency boss Guy Robertson was welcomed as the new Scottish IPA chairman. Taking the reigns, Robertson pledged to promote the Scottish ad industry as a centre of excellence in effectiveness, stating too that the industry would have to adapt to change if it hoped to survive.

And change has been evident at GRP. Having acquired a digital agency, the following restructure to handle digital has been one of the agency's key achievements over the last year, while continuing to remain profitable.

Another creative highlight was winning the Grand Prix at the Roses Ad Awards and, again for NHS Be Books.

Key clients at GRP continue to be Toyota GB, Rangers FC, Proquip, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, NHS Trusts, Glasgow City Community and Safety Services, while the agency’s added Marshalls Pasta, USC, The Whisky Trail and Glasgow International Jazz Festival over last 12 months.

While staffing levels have reduced by natural means, Robertson maintains they are likely to rise again this year.

IAS Smarts

Turnover (most recent financial year): £11,292,000

Turnover (previous financial year): £4,921,000

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £7,628,000

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £2,776,000

Staff numbers (present): 147

Staff numbers (previous year): 45

These are the figures of the old IAS Marketing, the company used to effect the legal merger.

IAS Smarts' first full year trading as a joint company, following the merger of IAS and SMARTS in March 2006, has seen the company grow with successful campaigns for key, high value clients such as Michelin, the Scottish Executive - including the rebrand to the Scottish Government - and national institutions the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks.

The agency now has a network of agencies based across the UK in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester.

IAS Smarts has also coordinated successful campaigns for Altro Flooring, Rockwool, Scottish & Southern Energy.

The Leith Agency

Turnover (most recent financial year): £6,317,000

Turnover (previous financial year): £7,997,000

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £4,058,000

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £ 4,238,000

Staff numbers: (present) 61

Staff numbers (previous year) 58

The last 12 months have been one of significant change for The Leith Agency. During the course of 2006 The Leith launched three new subsidiaries - Blonde Digital, Stripe PR and Marvel Promotional Marketing, while making a significant investment in its planning consultancy, Leithal Thinking.

There were also changes at senior management with Richard Marsham taking over as managing partner in September 2006, plus Ed Brooke and Ian White joining the board.

Despite the upheaval, The Leith Agency has continued to grow its client list winning Strathmore Water, lager brand Sol, Health Protection Agency Northern Ireland and Russian brand Sladco Chocolates. Such wins add to the already impressive client list, including Scottish Executive, Coors Brewers, Irn-Bru, Scottish Enterprise, SEAT UK, Standard Life and Standard Life Bank, Baillie Gifford and Golden Wonder.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £3.8m

Turnover (previous financial year): £2.5m

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £1.75

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £1.25

Staff numbers (present): 27

Staff numbers (previous year): 17

Newhaven has confounded its doubters over the past 12 months. Quick to gain plaudits since its inception, launching with the crown jewel of Scottish advertising (Tennent's) cynics soon turned, labelling the agency a one-trick pony, claiming the team would only truly gain respect once it secured a number of high profile clients. Well, winning ScottishPower towards the end of last year, followed by Bank of Scotland earlier this year put a stop to said cynics.

With The Scottish Government, Tennent's, HBoS and ScottishPower, Newhaven now services four of the country's top clients - not to mention other new business wins including Scottish Water, Rugby World Cup Sevens and Penderyn Distillery.

Adding to its offering the agency also acquired a 50 per cent stake in digital agency Spring and added significantly (10 new appointments) to its staff.

The highlight of the last 12 months must, however, be the win that brought the Bank of Scotland back to Scotland.

Despite the big wins, the agency hasn't appeared to have sacrificed either its service or its culture.


Turnover (most recent financial year): £4.5m

Turnover (previous financial year): £3.2m

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £2.8m

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £2.2m

Staff numbers (present): 28

Staff numbers (previous year):24

Since its launch in 2002, Story was quick to gain respect from its peers and clients alike. However, this year will go down as a landmark for the agency. Last month saw the agency announce that it had been acquired by The Mission Group in a deal that could be worth up to £13.5m.

When first launched, Story was not deemed to be an out-and-out ad agency, however, in recent years it has grown its above-the-line business, which now accounts for a large chunk of its turnover.

The deal will, no doubt, see the Edinburgh-based agency grow quicker and there has already been talk of expanding further into England.

The deal should also see Story grow its client list, which already includes some big name brands, including Scottish & Newcastle, the Glenmorangie Company LVMH, Ulster Bank, M&S Money and Scottish and Southern - for which Story has recently completed a heavy-weight TV campaign.

Ten Alps

Turnover (most recent financial year): £ 1,406,937

Turnover (previous financial year): £ 1,456,129

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £ 800,747

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £ 776,964

Staff numbers (present): 14

Staff numbers (previous year): 14

Part of Ten Alps plc, which was co-founded by Bob Geldof in 1999, the Edinburgh-based agency is a vital division of a wide-ranging communications and media company, listed on the Stock Exchange.

With headquarters in London, the Ten Alps group also has offices in Manchester, Macclesfield, Fareham, Gateshead and Derby, employing over 550 staff.

Headed in Edinburgh by Vic Covey, executive chairman and managing director, Vince Meiklejohn, the agency has been operating from its Leith office, quietly ploughing a course for its clients over the last year.

A raft of key clients include, Stewart Milne, Ahlstrom, SQA, Golden Charter, Reid Kerr College, Coatbridge College.

The Union Advertising Agency

Turnover (most recent financial year): £5,720,466

Turnover (previous financial year): £5,196,399

Gross Profit (most recent financial year): £n/a

Gross Profit (previous financial year): £n/a

Staff numbers (present): 47

Staff numbers (previous year): 48

The Union's MD Ian McAteer says that his aim is to "continue to try to keep our heads when all about others are losing theirs!"

Consistency then is key for the agency, including the performance of its integrated offering - Union Digital, Union Direct and now Union Connect, a new sales promotion arm - widening the group's client-base.

Through the agency's independent network, Worldwide Partners, it has picked up a brace of international projects, for a Swiss bank and a US bank, which currently remain under wraps. Furthermore the team has added Darfur Coalition, ITI Life Sciences, Scottish Milk, Clydesdale Bank, Nairn's Oatcakes, VisitScotland, 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, British Transplant Games, Scottish Widows, Place2be and Dalmore Malt Whisky to the books, while repitching and winning business for Historic Scotland and Miller Homes.

The combined Group turnover is now in excess of £7.5 million.

McAteer marks the agency's biggest achievements as winning VisitScotland's main campaign of the year, as well as The Dalmore and a place on Scottish Widows roster, while maintaining its reputation through awards.

The launch of the new Seychelles Tourism branding scored highly too. But, perhaps sticking to the earlier "consistency" theme, retaining its key clients in a brutally competitive world was the main achievement.

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