Stuart Bell makes the move to Manchester
Ringing the changes
The new opportunity presented itself when managing director Morgan Cox announced his plans to take the MD post at The Gate Films and agency co-founder Stuart Feather asked Bell to consider the move.
“We do like to grow our own when it comes to staff and don’t necessarily like bringing people in at a senior level,” says Bell of the company’s decision not to make a direct, external appointment. “I’ve been with Feather Brooksbank for 13 years now, predominantly based in Scotland, but over the last few years in my role as director of trading, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the Manchester office, so I know a lot of the people here and a lot of the work we’re doing.”
Bell’s career began in the media department of Hall Advertising 20 years ago, working with his now boss, Stuart Feather. Before joining Feather Brooksbank, he enjoyed spells in the media department at Faulds and later became media director for The Bridge in Glasgow. He also had a two year stint client-side as advertising manager of Bank of Scotland.
However, it’s Manchester that now has Bell’s full attention. He says there’s a “good buzz” about the office, no doubt a reflection of the people-focused mentality for which Feathers has become famous. The firm has just been voted in The Sunday Times’ Top 100 (SME) companies to work for - an accolade it proudly accepted for a fourth consecutive year.
“It’s a great thing for us to be involved in. We spend a lot of time on our people and it’s important to help them develop fantastic careers. We like to challenge and reward them, in a fun environment. This is something that will definitely continue. We only have two assets in our business – our people and our clients.”
In 2007, the agency welcomed yet more new assets. As the team grew, so did the agency’s client-base. It collected 13 new pieces of business with £10million worth of billings, which is obviously something Bell is keen to build on.
“A lot of that has been won from down south, such as Lighter Life and John Dickinson. That’s always nice, but there’s a big market for us to go at here in Manchester and there’s a big opportunity for growth in this market. From my point of view, it’s a great challenge and an opportunity.”
In truth, Feathers faces stiff competition in the north of England.
Brilliant and MediaVest - across both Manchester and Leeds - have worked tirelessly to establish the territory as their own and find themselves on most media pitches in the region. In addition, the likes of MediaCom, Mediaedge:CIA and PHD North are all scooping up significant accounts.
For Feathers, life in Manchester began in 1999 when Carat acquired the business for £7.5million. Bell says at the time Feathers was keen to expand into the north of England and the decision was taken to merge the Edinburgh and Glasgow-based firm with Carat Manchester, under the Feather Brooksbank moniker.
Goals and objectives
Although Bell was recently described by one media owner as “the toughest” media buyer he’d ever dealt with, he isn’t the type of character to ruffle the feathers, ahem, of his competitors with big talk: “I’ve got my own goals and objectives, but I’m going to keep them to myself,” he says. “What I will say is that we want to grow the business, we want to make it bigger, we want to make it better. In some respects, we may have been punching below our weight, because in Manchester we have actually been very successful. We’ve been winning awards and new business. We’ve picked up work from London and the south, which is great, but I would like us to pick up more business in the north.
“We want to make sure that anytime a client reviews their business, that we’re on the shopping list. It’s fair to say, that’s not always been the case at the moment, but we’ve got the people, we’ve got the service and we’ve got the product to make sure that changes.”
Bell also believes the industry itself is changing and is enthusiastic about the opportunities that are ahead.
“The boundaries will become more blurred. A lot of media companies will possibly get more involved with things like production. There’s also a chance the ad solution could come from the client, the media agency or even media owner, who have the technology, the expertise and know the audience better than anyone. That will happen more, in my opinion. With digital, boundaries will also become blurred.
“Media agencies are in a very powerful position to take the lead agency role, as we’ve invested a lot in our businesses in terms of research, tools and analysis for understanding the audience. For instance, we have heads of strategy in media agencies now, which five years ago would have worked in a creative agency. It’s definitely an interesting market at the moment.”