Nott for profit - the change in Nottingham
“The Nottingham scene continues to be buoyant,” says Mike Conwill, co-founder of CHC Choir, “although it is evident the nature of the work is changing.
“There is an increasing emphasis on the digital offering being a lead part of most new briefs. In this sense many agencies are having to invest in the skills to deliver or outsource.
“We’re also finding that more than before that a lot of our work is coming from outside the area. With most recent wins coming from London, Manchester, the West Midlands and, in one instance, Miami, Florida. That’s not to say we’re not picking-up work from our own neck of the woods but that regional barriers that may have existed in the past are becoming non existent.”
In light of Conwill’s comments and observations on the increased demand from clients for digital services, it comes as little surprise that CHC Choir has taken steps to ensure it can offer what its clients require.
“In our own business terms we launched a specialist digital division in March of this year, Victoria Digital. Victoria not only works across CHC Choir’s client base, but is now attracting its own clients requiring advanced digital marketing services. The success of Victoria is underlined by the fact we are now working alongside a number of international agency groups producing campaigns for clients such as Nicorette, Aviva, The Samaritans and The National Lottery.”
Other, non digital-related news for CHC Choir comes in the form of its place on the COI roster. Recent appointments have included a rebranding strategy for Animal Health, part of Defra; work for Learning & Skills on the Train to Gain initiative; and a major public facing campaign to promote internet use to older age groups.
The agency has also been appointed in the last week to undertake a mainstream campaign for a major Government consultation that, as yet, cannot be disclosed.
“On other accounts,” Conwill says, “the agency’s most recent wins include the launch a new ski product to the European market and branding and online communications for the Grimsby Institute of Further & Higher Education.”
David Ellis, co-founder of Absolute Design, also believes there has been considerable changes to the agency landscape across the city and the type of work they’re being asked to undertake.
“The agency scene in Nottingham, in terms of interaction, is quite fragmented. The city council has launched various initiatives to drive the creative community, but the big agencies haven’t been represented at events so far.
“If we don’t move into new media – and that doesn’t just mean web design, but a far wider range of services – then the business isn’t sustainable. Google has outstripped Channel 4 in terms of advertising and apparently has ITV in its sights, and clients are increasingly slashing their print budget and putting it into online. They get more for their budget too. Production costs are obviously lower and they’re figuring that, rather than spending money on getting a nice brochure produced that no one will see, they’re going to invest it in online.
“We’ve seen this first hand. We’ve been going for around 14 years and, right now, our turnover is down, but our profitability is up. When we started, our online function was very much creatively led. Now, we have three or four programmers who work a lot on coding and PHP. We’re taking far more projects on that deal with how the back end of a website works. If you don’t have these services these days, you won’t win the job. It’s changing the core of what we, as agencies, do.”
Absolute recently completed an “end-to-end” online project for Lending Solutions Property Services, which encompasses the Your Move, Reeds Rains and e.surv brands. It’s this type of work that Ellis believes typifies what agencies are now being asked to work on.
Another trend Ellis observes is the increased reliance on in-house departments. “Organisations will approach agencies to handle the creative concepts, but will take the artwork in-house. As such, agencies are spending quite a lot of money pitching for relatively small pieces of business.”
Diane Slaney, managing director of DiVersity, has seen her agency evolve in recent times. A few years ago the management team identified the agency’s strength was in a wider offering than simply a creative agency – as it had primarily pitched itself – and set about redefining its business. While Slaney remains unsure how to categorise it (“if you can think of a good label for what we do, let me know”), she is confident it’s what clients are looking for.
DiVersity’s three pronged attack, of management, marketing and creative, has seen them secure long-lasting relationships with ICI Dulux, Travis Perkins and Boots. “As part of our longer term relationship with Dulux,” Slaney explains, “we completed an 18-month extensive incubation of a business start-up. This involved everything from development of the concept, the operation, layer marketing and launch.”
When it comes to Boots, DiVersity shares communications responsibilities with Jupiter, the pharmaceutical, health and beauty retailer’s lead design agency.
“We do some creative work, but really, we provide a management and marketing service,” Slaney explains. “We’re sort of an extension of its marketing department. This year, we’re working on our fourth Christmas campaign for Boots, which will include 48 sheet posters and regional press ads. We’ve been responsible for managing the project.”
Commenting on Boots’ design incumbent, Ellis says: “There is one large [design] agency in Nottingham and that’s Jupiter. It was originally employed around 15 to 20 staff, but effectively acting as Boots’ in-house team, the agency now has close to 50 staff. The rest of the agencies in Nottingham are much closer to 10 or 20 people, although there are whole raft of two and three-man bands in the area.”
BCS Creative remains a key figure in the advertising arena in Nottingham, while its PR team continues to steal the headlines from some of the more-established players in the West Midlands. Murray Carmichael-Smith, joint managing director of BCS Creative and BCS PR, jokes: “We are ‘what’s going on’ in the Nottingham scene.”
“After being awarded Midlands PR agency of the year by The Drum and getting a gold in the CIPR PRide awards for our work for HSBC we have enjoyed strong growth, putting on over £200k of fee business on the PR side since then.
“Our international PR work sees us operating in Asia and the US as well as enjoying growth on both a regional and national level. We’ve put a marker in the ground by opening a satellite Birmingham office at Aston Science Park in response to client demand. We see Birmingham as an area of huge potential for us but our commitment to a Nottingham head office remains.”
Handling mostly business-to-business projects, BCS PR has picked up new briefs with the likes of construction firm Chalcroft; Dykes, the local architecture firm; design consultant Style House; photonic specialists Gooch & Housego; and CommunicAsia, the communications and IT exhibition and conference, held in Singapore.
So what competition does BCS PR face? Well, Willoughby PR, one of the stalwarts of the Birmingham scene, has been in Nottingham for almost two years now and continues to grow steadily, while a number of smaller PR start-ups have formed over the last twelve months.
“My understanding is that our local PR competitors tend to be smaller set ups or they are people in the room of an advertising agency.
“There isn’t really anyone we come across in pitches on a regular basis, though,” says Carmichael-Smith. “However a majority of creative business starts from small, one-off projects which we then grow.”
Media owner, Plakativ Media has been based in Nottingham for around two and a half years. Specialising in giant banners, the European-networked agency chose Nottingham for its ideal location. “We are based in Nottingham because it is centrally located within the UK and gives us easy access to our target cities,” says Harvey Glenn, director with the firm.
“Additionally with East Midlands airport on our doorstep it has allowed us to develop a new market in Italy with the launch of the only advertising in St Marks Square in Venice with Rolex. This is soon to be followed by giant advertising in Turin and Siena.”
He describes Nottingham as a “confident 24 hour city” and says aside from the access to other parts of the UK, the city is also ideal for advertising. “We are so confident in the Nottingham offer that we have recently launched two new giant banner sites in the key retail and leisure locations in the city. Nottingham, along with Leicester and Derby, provides a great central hub in the UK with a combined population of well over one million people.”