A life outside London
And while some are still here and enjoying success, there are also several examples of some of the big hitters tucking in their tail and scooting back off to the big smoke.
Next month, another creative director will complete his London exit by starting work with a Manchester agency. Billy Mawhinney, formerly of JWT, CDP and BBH, will add another acronym-monikered agency to his CV when he joins BJL in April.
Mahwinney’s decision to quit his creative director role at Leo Burnett in February, followed an internal restructure at the London-based firm, and gave him time to take stock of his options ahead of his next move.
“Choosing BJL wasn’t difficult,” he said as the announcement broke on The Drum website. “They have great clients, a talented senior team and plenty of ambition. We share the same outlook and value great insight and ideas. They invest in young creative and planning talent which impressed me and the fact that they have control over their destiny appeals to me.”
So how will Billy cope with the rigours of northern life? Undoubtedly, his time at the now defunct Faulds Advertising in Edinburgh will stand him in good stead. But what other nasty surprises should the Irishman be prepared for? On hand to share their experiences of the transition and provide advice for Mahwinney are three creative chiefs who have each made the move and settled into the out of London way of life.
Paul Baker joined Birmingham’s McCann Erickson Communications House almost five years ago to head up its creative operation, while Uber’s Mark Robinson returned to his native Yorkshire in June last year as the agency’s new creative director. Completing the trio is Mick Foden, a friendly rival of Mahwinney’s in London, who arrived as joint executive creative director of TBWA\Manchester in October last year.
Paul Baker, executive creative director, McCann Erickson Communications House
In London, there’s a sense of everyone – from the printers to the tea boy – all pulling towards the end goal of producing great creative work,” he says. “It’s just ingrained in the culture of the scene. In the regions, that’s not the case.
There are wider challenges and problems to solve and not everyone can adjust to that. Personally, I enjoy solving problems on the broader scale, but not everyone does and that is one of the reasons I think people have only stayed for a short time.”
The other thing that’s noticeable almost straight away is that the creative buzz that’s about in Soho, isn’t there in the regions - particularly in the Midlands, where most of the agencies are based outside of Birmingham. That makes it tougher to achieve the same creative standards as in London. There’s a smaller talent pool, budgets are often tighter and there are wider business issues that stop a CD from being solely focused on the creative product.
The people who come up thinking they can change the scene up here are also going to find themselves in trouble. Creatives sometimes try and recreate what they had in London, so they can have the same working life but be able to live in the countryside. It doesn’t work like that and they frequently find themselves locking heads with their employers and, inevitably, the CD doesn’t win.
Some agencies tell a good story when recruiting a CD from London. They sell a mistruth about what it’s like outside of London. That wasn’t the case with me and I’m sure it’s not the case with Billy and BJL, but I think any agencies out there looking for a creative director should make sure candidates know that it’s tough. It takes a lot of effort, especially to win new business and awards, and to find new talent.
Don’t let me paint the picture that it’s all bad, though. It’s definitely not. The people here are terrific, for starters. The attitude is completely different; there’s a lack or arrogance and politics and that makes it an enjoyable place to work. If you’re willing to work hard and adapt, it’s a very rewarding place to be.
Mark Robinson,creative director, Uber
Billy Mahwinney has been there done that. I have no doubt BJL will flourish under his guidance provided the north is where he wants to be.
You’re certainly not coming up here for a holiday - it’s hard work, the pressures are the same, but the people don’t take themselves too seriously which is a breath of fresh air in an industry such as ours. What’s not to like about that?
I think London has this fixed idea that regional agencies are all populated by Harry Enfield’s Yorkshire ad man: ‘I say what I like and I like what I bloody well say.’ But genuinely, it is not like that. You no longer have to be in central London to work with talented, creative, driven people. Agencies like Love in Manchester, productions companies like VTR North in Leeds and photographers like David Short here in Sheffield, are all the equal of their London counterparts. Actually, I don’t even think of them as northern - they are just bloody good.
I admit that I was quite apprehensive about moving north, not out of arrogance but rather because I was under the illusion it would be very different. I was very pleasantly surprised. The lure of family, fresh air, genuinely friendly people and my beloved rugby league finally proved too strong. I was fortunate enough to win awards and travel the world through my work in London, but I’ve still had more fun at Uber in the last eight months than any of those fifteen years. I don’t hear Trevor Beattie proudly telling the world his agency is based in the grounds of a silver brazing manufacturer.
I think the north has to start having a bit more self confidence. Forget the fact you’ve got smaller budgets to work with, a good idea is a good idea wherever you work. In my view, that is the most valuable commodity of all, no matter where you are based.
I’d encourage anybody thinking of moving to the North from London to give it a go. They’ll be surprised and above all else they’ll be able to afford a nineteen bedroomed house. I wish Billy well.
Mick Foden, joint executive creative director, TBWA\Manchester
Be prepared for the disarming honesty and friendliness of the people.
Get used to agency life being a little more ‘civil’. In London, everyone’s in it for themselves and that’s reflected in the politics. Up here it’s not so extreme.
Be prepared to laugh at yourself and join in. In London, agency folk take themselves so seriously.
Stop drinking lager. Start drinking bitter, preferably with some daft name like Stoat’s Gobbler and brewed in a micro-brewery in the back streets of T’town.
Never, ever get involved in Blues v Reds debates unless you’re a committed fan. Show willingness to talk about other stuff than advertising.
Especially in pubs. Never try to be the ‘Great I Am’.
Know your Eccles cakes from your oatcakes. And don’t go looking for lark’s tongues in aspic in local eateries.
Use ‘love’ at the end of every sentence. Pet.
And when someone says ‘bob on‘, don’t try finding a red, red robbin. You won’t find one bobbin’ anywhere near. You also won’t bump into loads of film people and voice over artists just mooching around over coffees in Manchester’s equivalent of Soho. Lovey.