The Last Miele: Poulters closes
In the 39 years of Poulters, they have branded airplanes, created Caffreys, Microsoft’s first UK agency, retained Porche and Lada simultaneously, been the start of Brahm, Lucre, AWA and Home to name but a few agencies, had clients billing approx £800m
Which is perhaps why Bezier’s decision to close Poulters has prompted its current workforce, currently completing their final days at the agency, to hire a hearse for a farewell bash to be held early next month. The symbolic gesture may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it reveals that the doors shutting on the agency Graham Poulter formed 39 years ago is a bigger event than your average business closure.
Rumours that Bezier was set to relinquish the Poulters brand has been water-cooler talk in Leeds for the best part of six months, with sources confirming to The Drum that it was a case of ‘when, rather than if’. If there was any doubt, it’s likely to have been Gary McCall’s exit from the business earlier this year which convinced Bezier to pull the plug.
For instance, it was McCall who had the closest relationship with William Hill - Poulters’ biggest client - and so news of his departure is understood to have prompted a near immediate review of the betting firm’s marketing arrangements.
Mark Shaw, the bezier Group’s chief executive, was interviewed by The Drum in May and denied the Poulters brand was about to be relinquished.
“We have no plans to drop the Poulters brand. I’m not saying we haven’t considered it, but it’s is a strong name. It’s a brand in recovery, no question, but we have a very strong team in place. When we bought the company 18 or 19 months ago, it wasn’t for it’s financial performance; we bought it for the great team that was in place.
“There are something like 50 or 60 people over at Rose Wharf and it has a gross income between £3m and £4m, so unless anything disastrous happens, I don’t see us dropping the name.”
It’s not clear if there has been a disastrous occurrence, but the rumour that McCall is gearing up to launch his own agency alongside Poulters’ client services director Nick Goring could well have something to with it. However, if it is, Shaw isn’t letting on.
“We tried to integrate the offering over the last 18 months,” he says, “but we have to concede that we didn’t do that as well as we had planned. At some point, we were going to have to accept that we weren’t going to get there. With the economy as it is, as well, it made sense for us to concentrate on our core skills base - below-the-line.
“I genuinely believe the team at Poulters are great. They’re highly skilled, very professional and it’s a shame we weren’t able to make it work from a profitability point of view.”
The Poulters’ team was called into the boardroom of the five-floor Rose Wharf office for the announcement to be made and are said to be stunned and saddened by the decision. Many of those close to Poulters are said to be incredulous that Bezier didn’t make any attempts to sell the agency, especially to a management team, before announcing the closure plans.
Shaw admits he’s limited in what he can say about the process up until now while it remains ongoing, but says a 30 day consultation period could see the brand salvaged,
“If it turns out there is an option for a buy-out, we would undoubtedly rather do that; especially because we want to minimise the impact on the staff who work there. But I have to say I don’t think this will happen.”
The failure to consider an MBO before now has led to more than one former employee suggesting that Bezier have failed to grasp the value of the Poulters moniker and that this latest move is tactical rather than strategic.
However, Results International’s senior consultant Tony Walford believes that in these situations, a sale could have been problematic.
“Generally speaking, he says, “if a company as an entity is not making any money, it won’t have a lot of value and nobody is going to want to buy a business without value. As for just selling a brand, this can also be tricky. Depending on what the buyer wants to do with it, it could reflect badly on the vendor due to the association the brand would always have with the previous owner.”
On the face of it, Walford - the former chief financial officer of Corporate Edge - can understand Bezier’s decision. “It sounds pretty straight-forward. They have a number of brand names in the same discipline and need to consolidate. Yes, Poulters is a good name, but so was Michael Peters Group (or MPL as it became known) and it didn’t stop us losing that name in 2000 to consolidate under Corporate Edge.”
He continues: “The biggest problem groups have when running a number of disciplines carrying different names under one roof is that when the entities themselves are relatively small, the marketing costs relative to, and as a percentage of, revenues become high. Thus sometimes it makes sense to simply consolidate under one brand per discipline and get more bangs per buck spent.
“I don’t think there is anything sinister here, it probably just didn’t make sense to keep a number of names doing similar things for cost reasons as well as potential confusion of the Bezier offer in this particular area.”
Ironically, when Bezier acquired Poulters in 2006, it was to secure the business’s future. The agency was going through a difficult time – especially after losing its biggest account, Redrow Homes – and Bezier was able to buy the agency for a relatively low price and stave off any prospective closure.
But in retrospect, the move was never the right one for either party and the group’s acquisition of London-based business Coutts Retail Communications (CRC) confirmed this.
The announcement of the closure coincided with the restructure of Bezier’s creative team that will see Coutts (as it will now be known) operating across four UK cities – London, Bristol, Leicester and, at the expense of Poulters, Leeds.
“The acquisition of Coutts prompted us to review the structure of our creative division,” stated Shaw as the decision was made. “We felt that the number of agencies we had that were operating in similar market spaces was not the best structure for us. Instead, we thought it more important to respond to our clients’ and the market’s requirement to understand shopper motivations, needs and actions. We believe that one specialist agency with around 100 colleagues of different disciplines and expertise split over the country is the right model for servicing our existing, and future clients.”
When it comes to clients, Shaw admits that he doesn’t expect much of Poulters’ customer base to be retained within the group and says his team are currently consulting with clients over the destination of their business.
“If Poulters closes, we won’t be retaining the contracts. We intend to focus on below-the-line, our core offering, so don’t have the right skills base [within the Bezier Group] to take over the accounts entirely. The clients that use the agency for above-the-line requirements will be finding new suppliers soon.”
Legacy of Poulters
Across four decades, Poulters has delivered a host of memorable advertising campaigns. Here, we look back at some of the team’s best work and speak to some of the people who’ve worked there.
I worked at Poulters for two and a half years; the day I joined I took the head count to 143. Then the rot set in and I watched six waves of redundancies before falling victim myself. Before that, I had been drafted in by the shareholders of what was left of Charles Walls, to try to turn it around (I nearly did it, too - but that’s a whole nother story. As a cynical Southerner, I was deeply impressed at the sheer wall of loyalty and respect that I encountered for the Walls “brand”. I am convinced that there is as much latent respect for Poulters here in the North and that Bezier has managed to shoot itself in the foot with a laser-guided sniper’s rifle. In the final analysis, Bezier’s core offer is print based and the best way to add value to what is essentially a commodity is at the top of the chain; without brand planning and “proper” agency skills, this will now never happen.
I find this incredibly sad that such an ‘iconic’ regional Brand within the industry should close its doors. It has long been admired and there are many cvs of successful individuals who bear the name Poulters. A great loss for the industry, I wish all of the current staff there all the best with finding new agencies for their talents.
I think it says everything about the Poulters story that the story that preceded this sad one was the beautiful work the agency had done for Miele. It’s hard not to believe Bezier know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
Best of luck to the poor sods left looking for a job.
As one of the ‘poor sods’ I would just like to say thanks for my time there. There have been some great people I have worked with over the last 6 years and some great clients I have worked on. Good luck to everyone left looking.
In the 80’s Poulters blazed a trail for Northern Agencies,never as big as its Manchester rivals but big enough nonetheless. With its trendy reception and its rows of Porsches (and a Roller too) parked up outside (badly) it gave out an aura of success at a time when most others were fighting for every penny. What a shame their arrogance gave out such bad feelings towards them, this connection to the name has worked against them for years. Nobody wants to see anyone go out of business, but in this case I couldnt care less. Such an irony that Bezier (John Greens) pulled the plug,a company Poulters would never have given work to in the Porsche days.
What a shame but... ‘shit happens’
I’ve been both hired by them, and fired by them.
Loved them to begin with, and then, for obvious reasons went off them a little bit. Always had a soft spot for them, and actually going to miss them.
Another one bites the dust, Mr Slater couldn’t have put it better., just adds more weight to the argument about printers lacking any understanding of the creative process. Now does anyone know Miele’s phone number………
Poulters would have been forty years old next year, but instead of life beginning again for one of the most well known and well respected agency names outside of the M25, instead it will be in its final resting place. How sad.
I have great affection for Poulters and I make no apology for sounding sentimental about its demise. I learned my trade there in the early eighties, where Graham Poulter had the foresight to hire the best people he could. Many of them having cut their teeth in London agencies, were mavericks for the young Leeds advertising scene, but they had great brands to work on at Poulters like Porsche Cars, Fox’s biscuits, William Hill (ironically), Lada Cars (the butt of many jokes, but a great brand to write ads for) Bradford and Bingley Building Society, Yorkshire Electricity to name a few.
I was given my chance to make an impact in the early nineties when a second breakaway (BRAHM being the first) gave me the opportunity to become the Creative Director and work with a great team of people including Richard Lewis, Alison Brand, Andy Turnbull, Andy Pratt, Mark Buckle, Gary McCall and Ian Leach. For the next few years, we enjoyed a fantastic run, winning Sharp Electronics, McCain Foods, Yorkshire Water, Redrow Homes, Shipphams Spreads, Fox’s Biscuits (again), Hartley’s Jam, Derbyshire Building Society, Morrison’s.
Poulters was always a big, serious agency and had no trouble living with the best in the industry.
If every one of us who owes some part of their career development to time spent at Poulters over the years got together, we could probably fill Elland Road.
I don’t know the reasons why Bezier are pulling the plug on Poulters but its closure will leave Leeds, the advertising industry and sadly, the people who will be looking for other jobs worse off as a result.