A steely gaze - Sheffield's thriving creative sector
Unlike in some of the more renowned media centres, many Sheffield agencies are smattered sporadically across the outskirts of the city. The more established city centre hubs like Manchester and Leeds may be home to a cluster of popular agencies a stone’s throw away from each other, but Clark believes Sheffield’s success lies in its expansive sense of freedom which, in turn, keeps office overheads down.
“There are some great creative people in Sheffield and some good agencies, but it’s easy to be different in this environment. In Leeds say, there’s so many agencies there shouting and fighting for that space. I’m glad we’re not a part of that because for us it’s about concentrating on the work, and the clients and who we are,” says Clark.
Clark is keen to stress how Uber’s personality is imperative to its business, (chandeliers anyone?) and they’re not the only agency in the city to share that taste for individualism. Indeed, most will be gazumped in the uniqueness stakes by Dig For Fire, a direct marketing agency replete with its own in-house chef.
“Having the chef is a very conscious thing,” says MD Charles Buddery, “We’re a bit out of the city centre and there isn’t a lot around us so it’s great for the staff to be able to eat well and eat together.”
Dig For Fire’s chef isn’t just a gimmick though, according to Buddery. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a way of making the inevitably challenging process of recruitment that bit easier.
“Recruitment in this city is difficult, there isn’t a massive talent pool to pluck from, and so we have to look at other ways of doing things. The chef is just one way we make Dig an attractive place to work.”
Another way Dig For Fire makes itself attractive is by offering employees the chance to recommend a friend for a job and ‘Grab A Grand’. If their nominee proves themselves right for the role, as three people already have, the tipster pockets a tidy £1,000. “It’s helped ease a very tough process,” says Buddery.
Recruitment is always a hot topic, but Front director Joe Chetcuti believes there are enough fresh young faces in the city ready to make their mark.
“We work closely with the university, and there are a lot of very talented graduates. A lot of people from Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham come to us as well now, so there’s quite a big area agencies in the city can draw on. More middleweight and senior roles are tough to fill though,” admits Chetcuti.
For Front, the decision to start up in Sheffield was deliberate, as Chetcuti explains, “We started up in 2004, myself and the creative director were in Leeds but it was a very conscious decision to move to Sheffield. It’s a great city to work and live in, that was the motivation.
“Being here has never restricted us. We actually ask all our clients, many of who are of national scale, whether it’s an issue for them before we start working with them and they always tell us it’s not.
“It doesn’t feel like there’s a scene as such in Sheffield,” continues Chetcuti, “but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It leaves us and everyone else here free to do our own thing and it doesn’t feel like you’ve anyone peering over your shoulder for your staff or clients.”
Quba Digital Marketing’s head of mobile, Ricky Chopra, believes that being in Sheffield and soaking up the city’s lifestyle can actually impress national clients.
“Sheffield attracts a certain type of people. It isn’t a big city like London or Manchester, it has its own pace. We’re not all running about at a million miles an hour so we have more time to think and conceptualise.
“When we work with London companies for instance, they notice a difference, not just in their pockets, but in our attitude.
“Being in Sheffield, and having fewer overheads, we can actually afford to run at a loss if we get a great client, because if the job is good we want to make it even better.” Chopra says.
While a day trip around Sheffield agencies shows the wealth of talent and ambition the city has to offer in attracting national and global contracts, the city’s own business is being equally catered for as well.
Fiona Keane, MD of Keane Creative, explained the agency’s involvement in the Design Works Initiative, a collaboration between Business Link South Yorkshire and the Design Council. “It has bridged the gap between small businesses and designers in the city by encouraging them to speak the same language,” she says.
Her agency’s participation in Design Works has made its tenth anniversary in business one of its most successful yet. Keane Creative has been particularly successful within this initiative as the companies have access to Keane’s design and marketing support, developed in understanding with their own business plan.
For Keane, it’s a way of growing the agency and helping local business. She says, “As one of Keane’s specialist areas is within the industrial sector – and design has become increasingly important to the competitive edge of the majority of manufacturers – the funding to help these companies access Keane’s expertise has been very welcome.”
Manufacture lest we forget, is what Sheffield is built on. Weaving through the rush hour traffic back to the station, and a new construction catches the eye. Not steel, but a big glass behemoth, hoardings surround it promising Sheffield’s ‘Digital Campus’.
Due to open in spring next year, it will exclusively play host to digital businesses and has capacity for up to 600,000 square feet of office accommodation.
The digital campus, mixed with a growing number of the city’s creative students staying after graduation and changing perceptions about both working in the city, and working with agencies from the city, is shaping the new, modern Sheffield nicely.
Industry is thriving again in Sheffield and where once the city reminisced on its manufacturing heyday, now it can toast its creative future.
If only it would stop raining.