Third Eye Design had much of the Scottish Design community looking on jealously as it expanded across the Atlantic, working on some of the biggest US jobs available. But with Third Eye set to rebrand to Marque next month, how has the success affected the
There is no doubt it does sound arrogant. And sitting in the agency’s small, but perfectly formed office in Glasgow, it also sounds faintly ridiculous.
As well as Pottie, The Drum was speaking to his fellow director Hoss Gifford and agency founder Mark Noe, about their plans for global domination. But they are an earnest and serious trio who seem to have the evidence to support their claims; including the scalps of some global players they have beaten to some prestigious business.
In the last two years the company has opened a New York and London office – and has picked up business such as a major projects to rebrand Dow Jones Enterprises and to create an identity for the Chicago Spire – the world’s tallest residential building.
The company’s global ambitions continue to grow with news that it is now to open in Amsterdam, an announcement that coincided with its decision to rebrand as Marque.
Said Noe, “The time was right to change the name. To be honest I did not come up with the name Third Eye, so I was never ever happy with it. It became us, but I never felt it resonated or reflected who we were.
“What does it mean? And the fact that it had design in the title restricted what we did. We wanted a name that reflected us in terms of our personality.
“You become a Marque, it is bestowed on you, and hopefully that is what we will achieve for clients.
“It also allows us to bolt on new things. I am very keen on architecture for example. Who is to say we will not have an architecture side within the next 10 years?”
The transformation that the agency has undergone in recent years certainly is striking. It was set up straight from college by Noe and his partner Andy Ingles back in 1994. Based in Falkirk it produced flyers for the music business.
However, within a few years Ingles left for London to pursue his passion for music, and Mark headed toward the big smoke of Glasgow to handle his one major account, McDonald Hotels, from a small office he rented from ad agency The Bridge/Alliance.
The ad agency had a 100 year lease on the palatial Park Circus premises, this led to an episode that gave Noe some insights into some hard-headed business tactics.
The Bridge Alliance, a London PLC at the time, did a moonlight flit from the building to escape the onerous lease.
“It was two days before Christmas and the staff were called into a meeting in the board room,” recalls Noe, “and were told, that is it, we are leaving. I watched as the vans turned up, and they cleared out leaving me alone in there.
“I ended up getting a year’s free rent, because nobody knew I was still there.”
From there he built the agency, “We were doing okay,” he recalls, “we had a few successful years and were Design Consultancy of the Year a couple of times. But it got to the stage that I had achieved what I wanted to achieve in Scotland.
“New York had always been an ambition of mine, purely because I love it.
“I went on holiday there three years ago and came back and said, ‘right guys, we are doing it, we are setting up in New York’.
“Toby Southgate came on board to set up the New York office, even though he had never been there before.”
Launching such a venture is not for the faint-hearted. Now he has been through the process, Noe reckons the launch of Amsterdam will represent a £500,000 investment. And even pitching is an expensive business when the accounts are global. Noe says – in terms of hard cash – the Chicago Spire project cost them £50,000 to win, once the cost of flying over up to six people for a variety of meetings was included in the total.
But the rewards seem to be worth it.
One of the first pieces of business the US office picked up was the New York Festival and, according to Noe, their initial invoice was worth over $100,000.
He says the design culture is also much better in the US, “They seem to understand the value of design more. And they are generally prepared to pay for consultancy and creative services. But more importantly there is also an understanding that you do not necessarily have to pitch for business. Decisions there are very much based on credential presentations.”
However, sitting in their Glasgow office it is clear the physical operation does not seem as big as all this talk. How can they afford to develop an international network?
Looks can be deceptive says Noe, “In our first quarter this year we did £1.2m that is a £5m business that employs just 25 people. How big are Navy Blue for example? 70 people for £6m? Of that £1.2m around £1m is gross profit.
“This business has always generated a lot of money, in the first 10 years of business I did not have an overdraft.”
But despite having offices around the world, the agency has no ambitions to be huge. On the contrary, the company want to think big, but act small: “It is about keeping it small, and keeping it personal,” says Pottie. “For example, on all the directors’ business cards we have just one number – our mobiles, the logic being you do not need all the details of faxes and switchboards when you can just call us direct.”
Noe agrees. “There are 25 people. But the way I look at it is that we have a team of 16 creative people, and that is significant. No design agency of any size will have one concentrated team of 16 creatives.
“But we do not have a large client base. We will only work with around 12-15 at any one time, so we can give real attention to detail.”
The formula is designed to reflect a change in business culture, where personal service is deemed more important that being able to offer faceless corporate muscle. The strategy seems to be paying off. Not only have they chalked up wins in the US like Dow Jones and the New York Festival, but there are moving in some impressive circles.
“We were in a meeting two weeks ago,” said Noe, “with Larry Silverstein, the man who is developing the World Trade Centre site – the biggest property development project in the world. The reason we were in that meeting, with this 70 year old guy, talking about a $7billion project was because we can do high level strategic thinking, and deliver it in a multi-disciplinary way.”
Such a dramatic change in strategy has not been without some pain. Noe himself has changed physically as his agency developed.
“When we first opened in New York I lost a lot of weight,” he said, “I did a lot of things I wanted to do. Working overseas was one. Getting fit was another.”
But meanwhile, he was also reducing what he saw as flab at the Glasgow office.
Over the last 18 months staff turnover has been such, that the complexion of the Scottish office has been transformed.
Says Noe: “The idea of going to New York and expanding required a massive cultural shift within the company. But many here were too comfortable with the fact that we were Scottish, Glasgow focused and earning good money.
“And this change in mindset became problematic for some which is why we have had a big shift in terms of staff turnover over the last 18 months – through a mixture of firings and resignations.”
But the make up of the company changed dramatically too. Gifford points out that 18 months ago they had one digital expert within the 25 strong team. Now they have six.
Although the staff is spread throughout the world, emphasis is now being put on them to ensure they function as one team. Where once each office was a different legal entity, it has now all been taken into one company.
The idea is that small creative teams – of up to four – are based in each office, and then they draw off various central services in Glasgow, or call in additional design resource when required.
The company has two acronyms it uses to describe its staff policies. In terms of recruitment it is PLU – People Like Us.
Says Pottie, “Over the last year we have we have grown on that PLU premise. The whole company has grown completely on recommendation. We have recruited our team through people we know.
“We are not about being a big business. We are about putting together a select bunch of people who have mutual respect.”
The another acronym bandied about the meeting was ECA – Entrepreneurism, Creativity and Attuned – and is designed to sum up the agencies ethos.
Explains Noe: “This is to make sure we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. All the creative directors are empowered by being allowed to be entrepreneurial. For example, business development is not done through business development people. It is done through the contacts and relationships with us, the creative people.
“We also believe in the craft of the work and the roots of quality design. Thirdly we aim to be attuned with the world. Aware of what is happening culturally.”
But WTF? (What’s the future?) Noe claims he has no plans to sell the business, but wants to let things grow organically – although they have had some approaches.
But it is hard to see how he would have the time to negotiate. The man now seems to spend most of his time on airplanes – which is the lot of anybody who opens offices around the world.
Apart from spending one week a month in New York, and several days each week in London, he also heads to various international locations for the odd pitch.
But white haired, black eye-browed Noe – who looks like a designer version of Alistair Darling – seems to revel in the lifestyle. “I now spend a lot of time traveling. For example, if I get a plane on Monday I can be in New York around lunchtime for a full working day. I can then work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – full days – get on a plane on Thursday night, sleep on the plane, and be back here Friday morning for a full day. No problem.”