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Ain’t no puddings: spotlight on Yorkshire agencies

By The Drum | Administrator

March 4, 2008 | 13 min read

Spotlight on marcomms in Yorkshire

This week, Rambo returns to cinema screens, taking his own brand of heroism to war-torn Burma to open a can of whoop ass on a ruthless local infantry unit that have kidnapped a group of Christian aid workers (thanks IMDB). If ever there was a glowing reminder of the importance of new talent entering an industry, this is surely it.

There may not be too many parallels between the movie industry and the marketing industry, but the need for talented newcomers to challenge the old guard is one that stands firm.

The behemoths of the agency world are used to having it all their own way, competing among each other for coveted accounts, so the arrival of new agencies that have the talent to challenge the well-established firms and invigorate the market is paramount to the scene’s success.

When pulling pitch lists together, these smaller agencies are increasingly being shortlisted, often against better known agencies, to handle projects for major clients. Those successful enough to come away with work are steadily, over time, expanding their remits and becoming better known in the process.

So who are the bigger players noticing? Which agencies are on their radar and which are causing a stir?

Over the next few pages, The Drum invites some of Yorkshire’s senior fraternity to tell us which companies they think deserve more of the headlines. Some of the agencies mentioned are in their infancy, while others have been around for longer but have habitually hidden their light under a bushel. Either way, what’s apparent is the depth of talent that resides within Yorkshire. The county has been home to a host of top talent for many years, such as Principles, Poulters and JDA, but is also now the stomping ground of smaller, exciting agencies such as Fuse8, Deviate and B&W Studios.

In addition, we’re able bring you a selection of some of the best creative work being produced by the unsung heroes in Yorkshire, while three of them turn the table to tell us which of the well-established agencies continue to impress.

In our own back yard the agency we seem to be coming up against with a degree of regularity is The Black Hole. As far as new offerings are concerned Kanjo,the WWAV North phoenix has all the ingredients to be successful. In terms of brand new ventures, Rocket Science recently opened in Leeds under the stewardship of Andrew Campbell needs to do well as he owes me a pint! I wish them and all others in our sector every success, competition has to be healthy, both for us and the region.

Mike Ashton, managing director, JDA

It might be controversial, but it seems like in Yorkshire we don’t seem to have an equivalent ‘Music’ or ‘We are thoughtful’ at the moment - the other side of the Pennines is definitely producing more than its fair share of interesting, up and coming agencies. I think it’s a great opportunity for somebody to own a piece of territory in Yorkshire.

But if you look closely at the scene in Yorkshire, there are some very good smaller companies, but I don’t think you could call them new kids on the block. Many of them are mature businesses, well established and highly regarded by their peers. I’m sure everybody will agree that Design Project has definitely cornered the market for expertly crafted graphic design whilst relative newcomers B&W studios continue to win awards and work with great clients. Peter and Paul stand out in the Sheffield scene with consistently great, well thought-out work.

Phil Dean, managing director, Thompson

You cannot shrink your way to greatness in business and there are a lot of Yorkshire agencies that are not shrinking away from challenging the status quo: Fuse8, The Bolser Agency, Ripe, Digital Therapy, Cool Pink, Rare, Fantastic Media, Finn, Netstep and Fifth Element are just ten of the agencies that have caught my eye. There are more and I will probably kick myself later for leaving some agencies off the shortlist, but these are the first ones that spring to mind. The link between all of them is they all have people who want to make a difference, who have sleepless nights thinking about their business, who have a dream.

Mike Phillipson, managing director, Propaganda

Sheffield’s Finger Industries has a really great team of specialist illustrators and animators with whom we have just worked on a rather large global project for a rather large company (apologies for the vagueness, but I am NDA’d up, and don’t want to get a legal kicking from the Americans!). They are not only extremely talented, they have a go-getter attitude that I think will see them right.

MK Communications in Sheffield are another gem. These guys are smart, switched on and think in a way which moves communication onto another level. And Steve, its MD, writes books too!

When our senior designer Doug left to found Huddersfield’s Shark Communications, I was gutted. But how can you be mad at losing a great creative, when he ends up producing, er, great creative!

Dan Kirby, managing director, DKPM

I think in our neck of the woods we have recently worked with two outfits that are both very professional and knowledgeable. Rocket Spider is a small specialist search marketing company which is very capable and has a growing client list. It understands the technical issues that impact on SEO and are specialists. It has very ambitious growth plans and has backing from some renowned Sheffield investors. The other one is Front Ideas, which has built up a nice portfolio of clients. We have joint ventured on a couple of projects with them. They are professional and have strong strategic capabilities. I know they are growing so the next couple of years will be interesting for them.

Matthew Williams, managing director, Quba

Look out for the small but well-formed ‘brand nursery’ – a talented group of people, clear about what they do and producers of some great work. It has everything in place to grow and be a big success if they can handle the growth well and keep hold of their clear and differentiated offer. An agency is no bigger or smarter than its people and it’s nice to see a small business owner that is grounded and isn’t afraid to ask advice of or seek input from others.

Finn Communications arose with a little help from Gratterpalm and to his credit Richard Rawlins has built a small and robust business that produces some excellent work.

Gordon Bethell, joint md, Gratterpalm

For us Prego and Home are two agencies that spring to mind, for completely separate reasons. Prego is building a good reputation around Yorkshire. It seems to have a good and varied client list and looks like being around for the long term.

Home is the unsung hero around the region. It has been around for a while with some good clients and a ‘can do’ attitude, but it never seems to shout about the work it has been involved with. All I’ve heard about Home recently is that the company has expanded with a move to new offices, so it must be doing something right. We still view ourselves as ‘up and coming’. One thing that’s clear for all the agencies in Yorkshire and anywhere else, is that if you don’t continue to adapt and evolve, you’re in trouble.

Mike Hackett, md, Principles Agency

B&W Studio produces beautiful, well crafted, well thought through work. It is run by two excellent guys, who invest in the agency at every opportunity. Another agency we admire is Iris (Associates) in Sheffield. Solid, well-thought through solutions, Iris is a well run company with high standards who make a genuine commitment to the industry.

In addition, there’s Numiko, which is very strong technically; Cubic State in Halifax, which is really good on accessibility; and Mezzo in Leeds, which we admire for their content and video work.

Julie Hanson and John Morgan, joint md, Brahm

“Zussi. Other than having a name like an interesting pasta dish, it’s great to see a fresh looking online insight business developing in Sheffield. Its new business activity is reaching some of our partner Digital Marketing Group agencies so their national profile is clearly building. We’ve worked with people at Finger Industries in the past and been impressed with their creativity and originality. We’ve definitely noticed Finn Communications, too. They came onto our radar last year for their work on Nouvelle. Making a loo paper brand the official recycling sponsor of Glastonbury was a great touch.”

Dig For Fire (team effort)

As well as inviting some of the well-established players in the industry to comment on the smaller, new and unsung agencies in the county, we also asked a few of the lesser known agencies to give us their view on which of the bigger agencies have inspired them and which continue to put the Yorkshire marketing scene on the map.

When we set up The Small Agency we actually spent more time considering which agencies we didn’t want to be like. Before and after being involved in the set up of The Whole Caboodle I’d done a lot of freelancing so I had plenty of reference!

Poulters was the agency we aimed to be a ‘small’ version of. Claire, our creative director, had been a senior creative there so we had a good feel for the workings of the agency, especially the creative department. It’d also been the one agency all through my career that you could mention in London and people would immediately know who they were, and significantly where they were. With all the changes over the last few years I wonder if it has lost sight of how important that credibility is.

I’ve always regarded Gratterpalm in Leeds as a great example of how close client/agency relationships can really help you prosper, and we’ve tried to take that on. We’ll be watching closely to see how Rick Ward and Pete Camponi will have an impact on its creative output.

Elmwood and Thompson are obvious references for great design work, and again for they’re reputation nationally. Also, a copy of Brahm’s portfolio fell on my desk a couple of years ago which really made me think about how we present ourselves and our work to clients.

Finally, Uber and Dig For Fire are always worth watching out for and, through their creative output and own PR, have been significant in giving Sheffield a serious presence in the industry it had previously lacked.

Stuart Grainger, managing director,The Small Agency

As a company in the creative hub of Huddersfield, it would be impossible to not have been inspired by grandfathers of marketing: Attik and Propaganda. I knew of Attik long before I knew that you could make a living out of logos and leaflets; whilst everyone in the local marketing scene knows of Propaganda. James recently spoke at an event we were involved in and his humility was in stark contrast to the hyperbole of many other people I have met in the industry.

The fact that both these behemoths started from my hometown has meant that I have watched their accent with an almost stalker-like attention to detail. I know Julian had his detractors, but the couple of hours he took out of his day to show me around Propaganda’s Garforth HQ was a selfless gesture and demonstrated beyond doubt what a professional set-up they now are. I imagine Microsoft looks less high-tech.

Outside of the town, I think Elmwood are inspirational. I love their modesty, the importance they place on their staff and above all I love their work. Their work is simple, understated yet always on the money. It’s just a shame they don’t come from Huddersfield!

Graham Sykes, managing director, InHouse

Every business needs a superhero. In this scenario every agency needs a great leader, a superhuman front man with superior vision and great flying abilities.

So, and in no particular order here are the people I would like to fly alongside...

Jonathan Sands of Elmwood - aka the flying carpet – Yorkshire’s leading and most respected speaker on design. Jonathan has inspired and influenced me over the years and (freely) brought together agencies across the region under Design Yorkshire. He also makes a nice builders brew!

Ian Thompson of Thompson - aka the flying Dalek - who I met in Prague 2005 with Yorkshire Forward. He is really approachable and I like their work and company ethos. (eg National Media Museum branding).

Judith Donovan, previously the founder of JDA – aka the flying DIY marketing guru – a great mentor, super woman and someone I respect enormously. Straight talking, shoots from the hip, memorable flowery dresses, occasionally smokes a cigar and a real ambassador for Bradford.

Simon Needham and James Sommerville (founders of the Attik) - aka the flying pavement artists – started small and went big, really big in fact. Big ideas, big egos, big in Japan and used to have big hairstyles! I went to college with these guys, remember their gothic mohican mullets and have enormous respect for what they have achieved locally and the brand ‘noise’ they have continued to create globally.

And finally all the heroes at Brahm as I don’t know any of them personally – aka the flying stalks – and possibly the largest employer in the region and apparently a top place to work for. Responsible for flying the flag on Bradford’s regeneration campaign. Branding for the capital of culture bid in 2006, then the flying stalk campaign ‘birth of a new city’ and more.

(Note: Jonathan Sands used be in carpet manufacturing. Ian Thompson has a picture of a Dalek on his business card and is scared to death of them. Judith Donovan now runs DIY marketing, and Jim (Somerville) and Si (Needham) used to earn money as students doing pavement drawings. Brahm did the stalks campaign everywhere in Bradford – carrying all the rubble away from the city centre.)

Paul Kerfoot, creative managing director (aka Bulletman), Bulletpoint Design

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