Gary Smith eyes up new venture - interview
Smith registered the company name in November, but denies that it was chosen to reflect the covert operation that led to the launch of the agency.
Apparently the aim of the name is to represent exactly what Smith hopes the agency will help its clients do – have consumers listen and engage with a brand.
Smith, formerly joint managing director, announced his decision to leave 1576 in June last year. He was not the only senior member to leave. Planning director Ruth Lees and research and strategy director Kenneth Fowler both announced their intentions to quit the agency, followed quickly by cofounder and creative director of 1576 Adrian Jeffery.
However, while the plans of the other trio were quick to emerge (Lees launching her own consultancy, Fowler joining Scottish Natural Heritage and Jeffery starting his own agency MightySmall) Smith’s plans were kept closely under wraps.
Perhaps the reasons for this were down to the seriousness with which he viewed the move.
For Smith, the launch of Hush is being heralded as his last move in the industry.
A stalwart of the Scottish marketing scene, Smith has bossed some of Scotland’s leading agencies.
His first role in the marketing industry was at Brann Direct Marketing in the early 1980’s as a graduate recruit leaving as an account director and joining Diners Club International as marketing manager.
He was first lured to Scotland by Saatchi&Saatchi in 1989 to head up its direct marketing arm in Edinburgh before leaving to set up One to One Direct Communications for The Leith Agency before launching Carlina, later witnessing its takeover by Draft Worldwide
Despite having already been at the forefront of some of Scotland’s best-known teams, Smith has, once again, embarked on the taxing journey of an agency startup.
“From my personal point of view, without wishing to sound morbid, this is the last thing I’m going to do. The last business I’m setting up.
“This for me is the rest of my career; it’s what I want to do. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t need to start with all my guns blazing from day one and make a massive song and dance about it. I’m interested in the long term, in how this business is going to develop, the kind of staff that we bring in and how they’ll develop and the kind of client that we want to work with. I’m not in this for three years or five years, I’m in this for the rest of my career. So it’s a pretty important step for me as well as the other guys who will be joining me.”
As to exactly who will be joining Smith at Hush, well, he is reluctant to name names. He doesn’t wish to cause any problems for one of his future partners who is still under contract with his current employer.
However, despite Smith’s cautions, The Drum has learnt that Ian White, head of direct at The Leith Agency – the first ever non-advertising appointment to The Leith Agency’s board – has resigned to become the managing director of Hush, while Niall Fogarty will also join as commercial director. The three previously worked together while at Draft Worldwide, and all have invested financially into the start-up.
As well as the initial team of three, Smith will add an account manager and a creative head in the next few weeks to bolster the agency.
Hush will also initially work with freelance creatives for any overflow work, with Smith having already identified eight freelance teams that he would like to work with, alongside the in-house creative function, depending on the nature of the account.
As for clients, Smith remains reticent, admitting that at the moment there are no contracts signed, although several offers of work are already on the table to allow the agency to show what it can do. But Smith has been here before and knows that building an agency will take some time.
“At Carlina we started with three of us. Six months later we won all of the DM business for VisitScotland and Standard Life. What you’re looking for when you start something like this is someone to trust you and give you a chance. That’s all you can ask for. Then you have to repay their faith. Even at Draft Worldwide – when we had a team of 50 people, the business was extremely large by Scottish terms – I still spent a lot of my time working on VisitScotland because I remembered what they’d done for us.”
Smith is also extremely keen that Hush not be “pigeonholed” as an agency within any one particular field of specialism despite the wealth of experience that both he and White have in the direct marketing sector. Although he accepts that this common stomping ground might be the key to Hush’s early success: a past that is acknowledged in the agency’s name.
“Agencies usually have very dynamic names in order to try and make themselves look very exciting,” says Smith. “But in reality, if you want to target the consumer, you have to talk to them and offer them a service and explain to them what it is that you’re trying to do.
If you look at my background and the background of the guys that are coming on board, our experience is in direct marketing and customer relationships and when you’re doing that, you’re talking to people in a very personalised and tailored way.”
Smith is pragmatic enough to admit that breaking even in his first year of operating would be a good year, considering the competitive nature of the market and the often challenging climate, again reiterating that this is a long term project for him.
He is also more than happy to admit that setting up his own venture is what he is happiest doing, and that because 1576 was not something he was involved in for the first years of its life, meant that he always felt as though he was on the outside, despite laterally owning a third of the business.
“1576 had already been operating for ten years when I joined,” he explains. “They did things in a certain way, people had been there a long time and I had tremendous respect for what they had achieved over that period of time, but it wasn’t my company.
“When it’s worked well for me with companies in the past, is when it’s been my business and I’ve had the drive to develop it in the way that I wanted it to.
“I remember on my first day at 1576 I was going into someone else’s office to sit at a desk that someone else had sat in to do a job, albeit as one of the MD’s and a main shareholder.”
But, says Smith, Hush is different as it has already become a labour of love.
He credits such a feeling of dedication to an agency as the reason for [1576 founder] David Reid’s campaign to turn around the fortunes of Smith’s previous employer following its troubles in recent times.
“David’s still fighting for the agency and that’s because he can remember the day when 1576 started – all those late nights, not getting paid, the long hours and the dedication. He’s been through all of that, that’s what he is fighting for.”
Smith is adamant that his departure was entirely amicable and that he and Reid remain friends to this day; “I didn’t join to leave after three years,” he says, although ultimately his heart was no longer in his work. “I’ve signed over my voting rights so I’m no longer a director of 1576, I’m a shareholder and in 2008 I’m sure that will be sorted out and I’ll no longer be a shareholder,” he explains.
“When I decided to leave 1576, it took me just 24 hours to make up my mind that this is what I wanted to do again. I had to put it on the back burner because of my contractual obligations but also because I wanted to help David as much as I could to get through the transition period.
“I suppose the frustration latterly of 1576 taught me that this is the way I want things to go and so now I’m going out to do it the way I think that things should be done.”