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Glasgow as a creative hub: A Clyde Side story

By The Drum, Administrator

July 24, 2008 | 7 min read

Post-industrial Glasgow suffered infamously from urban decay and economic decline. But over the past two decades, the city has undergone a massive transformation and is now recognised as one of the UK’s leading creative and cultural hotbeds.

The bosses in Glasgow’s advertising, design and digital agencies don’t fret over Manchester, Bristol or Leeds. For them, this is a kingdom unto itself.

“There’s an attitude here that isn’t parochial, it’s far-reaching,” explains The Bridge MD, Brian Crook, pictured right. “We are ambitious and think on a broader basis and we don’t concern ourselves with other agencies in Glasgow, or Scotland, or in England’s regional centres.

“We aim to bring in business of an international scale and that’s not an unusual attitude here. You can get the ‘big idea’ here; you can get a campaign with huge potential.”

Crook is sincere and has the client list to substantiate it, but agency bosses everywhere from Lands’ End to John O’Groats will tell you the same thing. Elsewhere though, it seems easier to dismiss as bluster. That’s because, as a retail destination, Glasgow is already recognised as Britain’s second city, and it could make a fair claim to being the best outside London for entertainment and the arts, too. So why, reasons Dog Digital MD, Gerry McCusker, pictured right, shouldn’t it claim that status for marketing?

“From our point of view – that is, the view of agency heads here – we are the second city,” McCusker asserts. “To see how far Glasgow has come, you just have to look at Liverpool now. There’s obviously been a huge business upsurge in Liverpool, and a hell of a lot of regeneration on the back of the Capital of Culture status. That kind of regeneration happened 20 years ago in Glasgow. We’re ahead of Liverpool and I certainly don’t think we lag behind any other regional centre.”

The zenith of Glasgow’s regeneration was its own status as European City of Culture in 1990. Until then, the post-industrial Glasgow had suffered, infamously, from high unemployment, urban decay and economic decline; Glasgow’s notable industries, including shipbuilding and goods and steel exporting, had been wiped out through deindustrialisation. The city had lost all purpose until regeneration began in the late-eighties, but since then, its landscape has improved drastically.


“I moved up from England in 1989 and there was a real sense of renaissance here then and in the early nineties,” GRP’s Martin Cross remembers. “It would be naïve to suggest the city doesn’t still have some social problems, yet it has this thriving business community as an island in between all that. The creative and marketing industries are a huge part of that business community.”

Glasgow’s regeneration has been heralded as a benchmark success, and that, in turn, has helped diversify clients willing to move their business there, according to Cross. “We used to do a lot of hard-nosed retail advertising in Glasgow, very straight-talking work,” he says. “Perceptions, and agencies, have changed and now bigger brands and public sector clients are looking up here and that gives us a little more variety creatively. This is the kind of work that wins awards and this is what Glasgow is capable of now.”

As a Londoner based in Glasgow, Julian Woolley, pictured right, business development director at Kommando, knows all about the working differences between the cities. “When clients ask me ‘why Glasgow?’,” he says, “I explain that it is an ideal environment to nurture creative development and with a smaller number of agencies, all with unique specialist areas. The teams here tend to be in a more secure environment with lower turnovers. Our clients work with a team whose average staff turnover is five years as opposed to 12 months.”

Woolley concedes that some southern-based clients do have concerns that his agency’s HQ is so far away. “We compensate by going that little bit further. I can get the red-eye flight and be in their office at 9am the next day. To do that was harder when I lived in Wembley.”

The softening perception of the city hasn’t just helped snare major clients, according to The Hub’s creative director, Kenny Allen, pictured right, who says the city’s regeneration, and its cultural renaissance, makes it a desirable location for talented creatives, too. “Six months ago we were advertising a position and we got interest from people in Japan, India and Canada,” he recalls. “We owe that to Glasgow’s creative standing and the creative reputation furrowed by institutions like the renowned Glasgow School of Art.

“An American applicant couldn’t stress enough how much they wanted to move to Glasgow because they were aware of its heritage in the arts, and music.

“That’s a terrific pull. It’s great to know the city has that reputation for vibrancy and diversity throughout the world. It also makes it a very easy place to sell to potential staff.”

At the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, the not-for-profit body that promotes the city, Glasgow’s cultural reputation, and in particular its art heritage, is being used as a tourism selling point. In fact, the city’s branding, Glasgow: Scotland with Style, which adorns all the Bureau’s communications, is influenced by Glasgow’s art history. “It works at face value, of course,” says Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, chief executive, Scott Taylor, pictured right, “but it runs deeper than that.”

4 am city

In fact, according to Taylor ‘…Scotland with Style’ was directly informed by an art and design movement which ruled supreme in the city between 1890 and 1920 – The Glasgow Style. The website, See Glasgow, calls The Glasgow Style the Scottish contemporary of European Art Nouveau and English Arts and Crafts. “It was important to make that reference in the branding, even though it is subtle,” Taylor continues.

“There’s an undercurrent in Glasgow – a style that informs the artwork and the architecture. It’s very conducive to creative-based businesses.”

Taylor calls Glasgow “a 4am city”, which seems quite apt when we’re talking about businesses where late-afternoon briefs often spill into night-time drinks. It’s a sociable industry and Glasgow is a sociable city. “However vibrant this city is – and it is: there’s sport, music, entertainment, arts – within 40 minutes you can be in the middle of nowhere,” McCusker adds. “Last night a group of my creatives went mountain biking together within an hour of finishing a job. This location just suits creatives down to the ground.”

As well as appeasing creatives, Woolley says the vibrancy of the area can help keep clients sweet. “Many of our clients have visited us in Glasgow and more often than not they will find any excuse for a meeting up here that takes in some golf, hill walking and fine dining,” he jokes.

The mood of Glasgow agencies is best summed up by Crook, “We are a Glasgow-based agency, but we’re not a Glasgow agency. We happen to be in Glasgow, that’s all.”

It’s not that Crook and his contemporaries at fellow city agencies aren’t proud of Glasgow, they just don’t feel bound by it.

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