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Leith Agency Cello Group Coor

Tangible: Scotland's marketing supergroup

By The Drum, Administrator

March 13, 2008 | 7 min read

These men want to handle your intangible assets

Launched in January the new entity is head-quartered in Edinburgh, has 13 other offices, 330 staff and a £60m turnover.

At its helm is chairman Andy Carolan and chief executive John Rowley. Marketing watchers will be aware that these individuals made their names as the MDs of Navigator and The Leith Agency respectively; agencies which were both acquired by the Cello Group in 2004.

The two were locked into Cello earn-out deals which came to an end late last year. But, rather than ride off into the sunset with fat cheques, they have agreed to stay with Cello, reinventing themselves, and a major part of the group in the process.

For Tangible has been formed by bringing a large range of previously independently managed Cello firms under one operating umbrella. The companies affected include well known names such as The Leith Agency, Navigator, Leithal Thinking, Farm Communications, Blonde Digital and Stripe; which will continue to operate under their existing brand names.

However several others including - Target Response, Talking Numbers and cchm:ping - will take on the Tangible identity.

Said John Rowley, “To my mind there is no reason why there can’t be a super-group operating out of Scotland. One of the problems at the moment is there is just not enough variety.

“There are many small companies. Our hope is that we can help create something at the top end which has the scale to offer high quality. This is not just about being able to win big clients. It’s also about, for example, making sure we can offer great training and continue to take on graduates, which will be good for the market as a whole.”

The combined client list already looks impressive and features the likes of Irn-Bru, the Scottish Government, ICI, Coors, HBOS, Focus DIY, British Gas and Oxfam.

But how would Rowley respond to suggestions that this is not really a new Scottish company at all; simply a new polished plaque at best?

Substantial business

“There are more people employed by the Tangible group in England than there is in Scotland,” he said, “But this is very much where our heart is. Navigator and The Leith provide a blueprint for what Tangible Group aspires to become across the board.”

And what does it aspire to become? Andy Carolan outlines the vision: “Cello, in the grand scheme of things has not been around a long time. But in three and a half years it has grown into a substantial business with a £100m turnover.

“Not a lot of people understood where we were, and where we were trying to get to.

“Would major clients, we asked ourselves, really speak to Cello – a company they are unlikely to have heard of -– about their advertising or marketing? Probably not.

“Would these same clients have spoken to The Leith or Navigator? Probably not; as they would have considered us too small.

“Now with Tangible, we are in the realms of a £60m business with locations in London, Cheltenham, Henley and Edinburgh. Suddenly these guys might say, ‘let’s have a chat with these people’.”

The name Tangible is designed to reflect the fact that the company offers solid, practical advice in a world where communication is increasingly intangible. However, Rowley and Carolan are keen to point out that their strategy is also has real focus at its heart.

This is a UK-based business that aims to specialise in five key sectors: financial, charity, public sector, utilities and food and drink.

Rowley explained the logic, “Clients in the sectors where we specialise tend to have one thing in common; they have lots of customers. That means they have databases, a demand for direct marketing and digital as well as above the line advertising. So despite the fact that we cover a lot of disciplines we actually have quite a specific client profile in mind.”

But of course if clients are one side of equation, then people represent the other. Both men have excellent track-records as managers, engendering a sense of real loyalty in the people who have worked for them through the years. So it is little surprise a lot of thought gone into this aspect of the reorganisation.

Said Carolan, “Each of the agencies will retain their own management – John and I have effectively been on their boards since 2004 – so there will be no step change there. However, what we will allow them to do is get on and focus on their day to day business.”

Adds Rowley, “People need constant encouragement and reassurance if they are going to focus on quality. There’s a certain robustness that comes with a strong balance sheet, so our management team can relax to an extent. Where a lot of businesses spend all of their time worrying about what the bank is going to do to them, we can allow our managers to focus on their clients and staff.

“The most important thing to growth is to continue recruiting the best people. It’s fundamental to our business to always recruit people that are better than yourself.

“I am also conscious that when we’ve got someone good who joins the company at whatever level, we are basically just renting their time. Some people may stay with you for three or four years and then they go off to do other things; perhaps launch their own agency like 1576 or Newhaven.

“And while that is really healthy for the industry, I would like to think that through this new structure we can give people the chance to fulfill their own ambitions within the group.”

There is no doubt the company has a lot of hungry mouths to feed. But is the business really there at the moment to sustain a launch on this scale?

The pressure

“There’s no question that Scotland and London are having a tough time right now,” says Carolan. “But the timing is still right for us. We might have a new entity, but it is set up around companies that have been trading for a good time. These companies have a great amount of experience and the benefit of that will now snowball.”

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the world of the Alternative Investment Market, of which the new company through Cello is part, there is nothing intangible about the share price.

Said Rowley, “The pressure we are putting on ourselves is considerable. We know we have to deliver in terms of client wins.

“But we are well placed. The general position of agencies used to be; whatever the issue faced by the client the solution was whatever you happened to do. That is a very limiting position and I would point to the demise of 1576 and others because they still had that slightly 70s or 80s view.

“The bottom line is that if you cannot provide a broad set of skills for a client then you really are yesterday’s news. Our planning, coupled with a broad range of services is what is so powerful about Tangible; it brings strength and depth into Scotland.”

Leith Agency Cello Group Coor

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