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The Agency Stealth List

By The Drum | Administrator

May 8, 2008 | 16 min read

Some of the best creative talent can, at times, be hidden in the shadow of the behemoths of the creative industries in Scotland. Yet they are no less busy, no less important and no less talented, just sometimes less apparent.


21 years ago Harry Griffiths set up HG Design in Peebles; a lifestyle choice.

As with all design businesses, HGDesign has had its ups and downs. Three years ago saw major changes that resulted in a reappraisal of the business, creating a slimmer, trimmer and definitely fitter HGDesign. But now, business is definitely on the up.

Starting his career at ADA Design Group in London, Griffiths moved to the North East and worked for Northern Gas, travelling around the North Yorkshire coast in an old Gas Board van setting up displays and exhibitions in the showrooms.

The van was big enough for his surfboard, and he took every opportunity if a wave came up. Griffiths met his wife Senga, also now a director of the company, in Newcastle, bought a VW camper van and toured around the country before moving to Scotland to work for, the now defunct Woolward Royds.

Senga was previously at Lloyds Bank in Newcastle and continued to be involved in the financial markets until joining HGDesign in 1989.

Paul McLean joined the company in 1997, the third member of the now three-strong team.

HGDesign has three main clients, Save the Children Scotland, Strathclyde Police, Violence Reduction Unit and Visitscotland. It has been working with Save the Children Scotland for eight years, while Strathclyde Police, Violence Reduction Unit and Visitcotland are relatively new additions to the portfolio. However, the team also works with a number of smaller clients.

The consultancy’s philosophy is to work with like-minded people who appreciate the creative process and, more importantly, value good working relationships.

Axis Animation

The four directors of Axis Animation – Stuart Aitken, Richard Scott, Dana Dorian and Graham McKenna – had worked together at the DA Group. While none of the team came from animation backgrounds, they all had traditional creative skills such as design, fine art, photography and engineering.

When DA started to get into virtual characters the quartet knew that wasn’t for them. They wanted to be involved in storytelling, action and performance so, through various routes, they made contact with Chris van der Kuyl of VIS and he helped Axis set up in 2000.

Eight years later and the team is now around 40-strong and has been D&AD nominated, also winning best animation at the BAFTAs.

The majority of Axis’ work is for commercials and video games clients, having now worked on commercials for Kinder, Renault, ScottishPower, Sky, Disney and Nestle through a mix of agencies across the UK and Europe including Newhaven, The Bridge, Different, TBWA/London, Saatchi & Saatchi Milan and Forchets Milan.

The team recently set up a relationship with an Italian-based production company which has seen it pick up two major commercials and Axis is now working to set up similar relationships in Europe and the US.

Axis is also in the process of setting up a new company that will soley focus on representing animation directors from Scotland and across Europe, giving opportunities to work on commercials and digital projects.


From the look of Suisse’s portfolio, you would never imagine the agency was run by one man. But it is, and that man is former Tank Design director, Paul Gray.

Gray worked alongside Stand’s Stuart Gilmour at Tank before moving to London to head BD Network’s creative team for several years.

Six months ago, Gray decided that he wanted to “focus more on quality than quantity” and have more interaction with the client than he would otherwise have in a large “beaurocratic” agency.

And so, Suisse Studio was formed. That’s what Suisse is all about, the little things that make the big difference. By running a small company, Gray is able to spend more direct time with the client. He feels clients need a design that will not just be a good marketing tool but look good as well. “You need not just have The Idea, but also reason,” says Gray.

Gray works with clients and agencies that include Peugot, Nord Architects, Salt of the Earth, Cushe, Way of Seeing, Picti, Ignition, Antalla Solais and Alyth.


Andy Stephenson and Joe McAspurn met when Stephenson, a London-based account director, applied for a job at Arc Worldwide, where McAspurn was MD.

“We didn’t have a position for him,” says McAspurn, “but we kept in touch and when I left Arc in 2005, with the intention of establishing a new agency, Andy was still looking for a move North. So we sat down and decided what we wanted to do.”

Recently, Ignition has completed campaigns for Bacardi Martini, Edrington Group, The Guardian, National Galleries of Scotland, ScotlandWhisky and Sustainable Homes Scotland as well as others, so the planning obviously paid off. Scottish & Newcastle and News International have since been added to the list.

The duo have recently made their first full-time appointment, with Candy Watermeyer joining as new business manager, from Emperor Design.

Already the agency’s turnover is currently about 180 percent ahead of last year – despite a poor March.

Ignition runs a business incubator system, providing free office space for complementary sole-trader businesses. Having benefited from sharing office space when Ignition started, the pair believe it is good to help others in the same way.


Rocket, set up in 1995, has grown up with the internet and unlike others, survived the web 1.0 bubble burst.

While the agency itself has worked with a raft of high profile clients – including Velux, Standard Life, John Lewis Partnership, The Edinburgh University Management School, Learning Connections and The Moretti Agency – it is perhaps the agency’s “secret weapon” that has brought it greatest acclaim.

Not only is Rocket an organisation that works with clients, helping to develop their digital offering, the agency has designed, built and now manages a globally successful website of its own. is a website that was originally designed and built by Rocket co-founder Joe Tree and then developed by the team into a fully-fledged online system during any studio downtime. allows anyone to set up their own journal and publish one photo a day for free.

It started in July 2006 and since then the site has grown well beyond expectations. Last month, recorded in excess of four million page views and a little over 33,000 unique users.

4C Design

While most of the teams featured in this focus on the marketing of products, this company focusses on design on a different level.

Product design firm 4C has been running for six years now, working with a diverse body of clients, from individual entrepreneurs to large multi nationals – the likes of Hasbro, Linn, MB Games, Greater Glasgow Health Board and Michelin – designing and creating products from concept to launch.

Founded by Robin Smith, Peter Inglis and Nick Lonie (Inglis and Lonie have since left) the now six-strong team consists of designers and engineers.

Robin Smith, MD, is joined by directors William Mitchell and and Steve Waldron (ex IDEO).

The firm is currently in the throes of a rebrand, creating a new message for the marketplace.

“We have come up with the line ‘Making ideas Valuable’ which is really saying give us your ideas and we will translate those into valuable items, whether that is a drawing or a functional prototype,” says Mitchell. “This allows people to demonstrate their ideas to generate funding or interest from third parties.”

4C runs an 800 sq. ft workshop that allows the team to get their hands dirty and try out ideas. They also share office space with a company of Marine architects, a folk whistle designer and a professional model maker. Makes for some pretty interesting chat at lunchtime.

The Touch Agency

Founded in 1996, Touch is a small yet perfectly formed creative agency based in Edinburgh. Its skills cover everything from brand identity, graphic design and copywriting through to digital media, but at the heart of each project lies clear and effective communication.

Since starting up over a decade ago, founders Martin Naylor and Paul Shand have opted to keep things manageable with a core team of six full-time staff, bolstering this roster with freelance designers, developers, photographers and illustrators.

Current projects include branding work for organisations from global biofuels and hospitality PLCs through to privately-owned firms throughout the UK and Europe covering property, leisure, arts and industry.

Some of the agency’s recent work includes London Fairtrade Campaign, Fishworks, Montpeliers, Malcolm Fraser Architects, CityLiving, Scottish Ballet, Kirkcaldy Riggs, IKM consulting, Chartered Brands, Tourism Innovation, The Co-operative and Doha Media, a Middle Eastern national media organisation.


If Looks Could Kill was formed in 2002 by Colin Hewitt and Julie Annis. Hewitt had a background in Computer Science and Annis a background in Art Studies. The pair, fresh out of studies, then decided to form ILCK.

“It was hard work starting with zero client base,” says Hewitt. “We borrowed an office for a few months, which turned into two years, and we didn’t pay anything for it, which was a great break for us. After lot of initial cold calling, we scraped together a few clients, and fortunately those people talked and the word spread.”

Now, five years later, they have another designer and three developers – one of them based in New Zealand.

ILCK strengths may now lie in the digital arena, yet their illustration talents do not pass without notice. The team launched its own clothing line ILK Industries, with designs created by Annis.

“The first five years were about surviving and adapting,” says Hewitt. “The next five will be about attracting a few more high profile clients.”

Having launched a site for Glasgow band Attic Lights, and a site for Fife radio station Kingdom FM, ILCK is readying to launch a global e-commerce site.


Voltage has been operating successfully under the radar for the past three years. The agency was launched in 2005 by managing director Scott Simpson, who exited the brand from a larger media group, Crown Holdings.

Voltage, which has offices in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, now employs a team of ten full-time staff across creative, web, strategy, events and PR as well as a pool of consultants who work with the agency on a part-time basis.

Working for a wide range of clients, that has included Which?, Optical Express, Historic Scotland, Town Centre Securities and Armstrong Commercial Floors Europe, Voltage aims to operate almost in an outsourced marketing role. Voltage has also recently appointed a new creative director, Martin Smith, who joined from Stevenson Sharpe.

“Growing a business from scratch is always incredibly hard work and in three short years, we have reached a real turning point,” says MD Simpson. “We have built a team of talented and committed people who all buy into where the business needs to go and are driven to take it forward.”


Keywest celebrated its sixteenth birthday this month. The Glasgow-based agency initially started as a partnership in 1992, with managing director Raymond MacHugh buying out his other partner 11 years ago.

However, it was the start of this year that could see the agency grow to become one of the largest in Scotland.

Keywest rolled out its five-year plan in January and now plans to double its staff numbers in that period from 25 to 50. The team has already recruited this year and is now at 28 staff. Working predominantly in the housing sectors, for a number national home builders, the agency is proud of the close-knit environment that it has cultured over the years.

“The most difficult challenge for Keywest will be retaining its family feeling as it doubles in size over the next five years,” mulls MacHugh.

“We want to continue to grow a company of substance. To maintain a place where people enjoy coming to work, that they are challenged and, in turn, create work that has an impact on their lives.”

Fusible Front

Laura Frame and Andy Brown met at Your Sound – a music networking event which Brown helped initiate while he was working at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut.

Frame asked if she could exhibit her illustrations at the next event in the hope of gaining interest from record companies and bands, which he agreed to. When she received a commission, which involved design as well as illustration, she asked Andy to help, and they found that their collaborative effort worked well.

Brown worked as an in-house designer for DF Concerts and King Tut’s, while Frame graduated from the illustration course at the Glasgow School of Art in 2006 before working at Gareth Hoskins Architects.

Fusible Front has developed a niche in the music sector, design album covers as well as Festival identities and promotional literature. This might have come easy, as Frame says: “It is very much a case of we are them.” Andy Brown is a musician and she is, to her own admission, a live music junkie. The team retained DF Concerts and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and have gained more ongoing work from Andy Scott Public Art, Fake DIY Records and Soma Records.

However, Frame is excited about Fusible Front’s latest venture – publishing: “Books are as much a passion of mine as music and, as an illustrator, being able to oversee the content, design, illustration and publishing of books is a dream come true.”

Ink Digital

Ink Digital is now probably best known in marketing and communication circles as the firm behind The Leith Agency’s series of s1 commercials. The animation created by Ink has won numerous prizes, including Scottish Advertising awards and Roses Advertising Golds. However, it is by no means the highest profile project undertaken by the Dundee-based company.

Founded by producer Bob Last and Gili Dolev, an Israeli animator educated at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, along with a key team of graduates – the firm is currently producing Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist for Django Films and Pathe.

Budgeted at £11m, it is one of the UK’s largest animation productions, scheduled for completion in 2009. Ink Digital works for a diverse client list, although television advertsing and web content are important areas for the firm, with close relationships with The Leith Agency and the BBC.


Stuart Delves and John Ormston were both senior writers at Redpath Design in Edinburgh before deciding to stretch their wings after six years at the agency, primarily to work with a much broader portfolio of clients and agencies.

Henzteeth – a colleague told them that good writers are as rare as hen’s teeth – has won a place on the Scottish Enterprise roster, which has lead to some fascinating work. “Last year, we won the contract to write 60 case studies for Scottish Development International showcasing major international companies who have made it big in Scotland. In one day, we interviewed the heads of IBM, HP and National Semiconductor – opportunities like that don’t come along very often.”

The pair were also on the roster for COI in London and, more recently, won the four-way pitch to restructure the website for the newly re-branded MuseumsGalleries Scotland. Meanwhile, they are just about to start work on a major environmental campaign for WWF.

“Every project is unique, which can be refreshing,” continues Delves. “Take Sherpa, which has been nominated in this year’s Scottish Design Awards. Working with So Creative, Henzteeth created the name, style and tone of voice for this start-up consultancy. We also helped draw out and identify the metaphors that inspired the visual treatment of the brand.”

Fruitful Advertising

Fruitful Advertising officially opened its doors in January 2007. Just before Christmas 2006 it won the Scottish Conservatives Parliamentary election campaign in a four-way pitch against GRP, Levy MacCallum and Campaign HQ. Quickly after, it was appointed by Kelso Races to produce its advertising and marketing literature, so it was perhaps a baptism of fire for Giles and Rachel Etherington, the husband and wife founding team.

Giles left Ten Alps MTD in 2006, where he had been creative director, deciding that he and his wife had enough experience of how to do things – and, more importantly, how not to do things – to set up an agency of their own.

Adding to the Scottish Conservatives – from who the agency produced a fully integrated campaign that included press, radio, posters and direct marketing, as well as manifestoes, party political broadcasts and PR activity – and Kelso Races came Heriot-Watt University, Scottish Borders Council, Roxburghe Estates and House of Hearing. And there are more on the horizon.

Lawrence Creative

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Lawrence Creative is a bedrock of the Scottish Design industry.

The agency formed in 1988 when Robinson Lawrence split, seeing its two partners move in different directions, with Keith Lawrence launching Lawrence Creative.

20 years later, the agency now employs 17 full time staff, working for the likes of Strutt & Parker, Scottish Enterprise, James Barr, John Dewar & Son, RBS, Sasol Chevron and the NHS for its Glasgow base.

While the agency’s client list is largely UK-based, the team has successfully harnessed foreign markets, winning work from the Far East, Australia and the US.

An area in which Lawrence stands out is in its client service. With a large number of former clients working at the agency, the business has become more client focussed. Lawrence adds: “We aim to continue to improve the service quality, but we also plan to expand further into the south and continue in developing the media side of the company too.”

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