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Poulter Yorkshire

Yorkshire advertising: regional focus

By The Drum, Administrator

September 19, 2008 | 9 min read

Despite closure of Poulters, rivals deny regional epidemic

This summer’s closure of Poulters, a Leeds advertising stalwart of 39 years and a name many people in the industry still proudly display on their CVs, was always going to make for dispiriting headlines.

But while the demise of such an institution sent ripples throughout Yorkshire’s marketing scene, most industry figures in the region are unanimously agreed that the agency’s closure was the product of its own making, rather than representative of conditions in the region.

“It’s always a wake-up call when a respected, large agency goes belly-up,” admits Joe Chetcuti, a director of Sheffield-based Front. “But I think this was more down to Poulters itself rather than a change in the Yorkshire agency landscape.”

The death knell for Poulters sent an echo throughout the Yorkshire marketing community - evidenced by the groundswell of comments posted on The Drum’s website after reporting the story. But JDA Group managing director, Mike Ashton, agrees that its closure is not reflective of a region he sees as buoyant. “Maybe what you need to survive today is some kind of speciality; I don’t think being all things to all people, as the big agencies have been in the past, is the way forward now. There are agencies in Yorkshire doing the niche thing well – picking sectors, like [retail specialist] Gratterpalm or Millennium which focuses on the mature market.”


This view that the specialist approach might be the best route for small to medium agencies in the region is supported by one of the most prominent start-ups to emerge from Poulters. Banana Kick, formed in Leeds by former Poulters directors Gary McCall and Nick Goring, is to focus on the sports and leisure sectors. “We feel in this crowded market place, sector-specialist agencies have the most potential to be successful in the long run,” McCall told The Drum upon its doors opening in July.

Not everyone agrees that to specialise in this way is the way forward, though. “I think having a specialism is a great way to make an impact as a start-up, but it’s a delicate one,” says An Agency Called England’s MD Richard Midgley. “PWLC in Leeds wanted to be a specialist ad agency but they went bump, which suggests there’s probably not enough advertising work in the region to just be built on that model.”

Front’s Chetcuti though, suggests that, specialist or otherwise, it’s the most rounded agencies in the region which will thrive going forward. “I believe that the trend is firmly towards multi-discipline, media neutral creative agencies. Size of agency is irrelevant - generating sales for clients will remain key,” he says.

One particular discipline that Chetcuti acknowledges is really taking off in the region, particularly in the key sectors of Leeds and Sheffield, is digital. John Morgan, chief executive at Brahm, which is celebrating its 25 year anniversary, describes the region as seeing a ‘digital explosion’ of which he believes Leeds, where the agency is based, is at the heart. “The city is a hotbed of digital talent and innovation. We’re finding that established digital agencies are reinventing themselves and many credible digital start-ups are emerging,” he says. Not only that, but Morgan says his agency is “frequently inundated” with CVs from people throughout the UK wanting to relocate to Leeds.

“Digital is a big growth area for everyone here at the moment,” agrees An Agency Called England’s Midgley. “And one of the big developments for us at present is mobile technology.

“We’ve worked closely with Marketing Leeds on a project called Leedscast, which allows people to receive maps, local information, directions, reviews of restaurants and bars and contact numbers while walking through the city centre using the Bluetooth function on their phones.

“We’re also working with police forces using it as a method to communicate with young people who might have information about crimes, for instance, but wouldn’t want to be seen talking to a policeman. success.

“We work closely with Marketing Leeds and Leeds City Council and as a Leeds-based agency we’re really proud to help them out. It was through our relationships with them that the Leedscast idea came to be born.”

Terri Gibson, head of client services at MadeByPi, believes the digital and creative cluster in Leeds is proof of the region’s ability to offer a good work/life balance. “Who wouldn’t want to be inspired by a buzzing city, friendly people and beautiful countryside?”

The Leeds agency scene is strong, agrees Netstep chairman Barry Mills - and “by no means” only in digital. “Not only is Leeds strong,” he observes, “but I think it is well placed to take giant strides in market share. The economy is heading for tougher times, and budgets are under closer scrutiny. London agencies in general, and traditional ad agencies in particular, are really just the lazy option more often than not. In boom times, clients may throw more and more money at advertising because it seems to work, but they often overlook more cost-effective options that take more effort but generate far better ROI.”

PR is another discipline thriving in the city, according to Richard Rawlins, managing director of public relations firm Finn Communications. “The Leeds PR scene is in cracking form. After a period of fragmentation two or three years ago, as senior people left the big established agencies to set-up their own consultancies, we’re now seeing those agencies establish themselves as national players in their own right.

“The quality of work coming out of the city has never been higher. There is now very little London versus The Regions sentiment, especially amongst northern based FMCG clients who have always been looking for great quality agencies on their doorsteps, but were forced to use London agencies because the quality wasn’t here in depth. That has now changed, and I would argue there are now three or four really strong agencies in Leeds with genuine national credentials.”

Sheffield too, has plenty to be proud of. It’s hoped its landmark digital campus (see previous page) will attract a raft of new businesses and form a creative hub in the city when its first offices open next year.

And Thryth Jarvis, marketing director at Thompson Brand Partners, says there is a positive feeling throughout the whole county. “There seems to be great comradeship in Yorkshire at the moment,” she says. “Businesses are supporting each other, wanting to keep things local. One of our national clients, which has its head office in Leeds, recently told us that they outsource their marketing requirements locally as they want to support businesses within the area.”


Yorkshire’s reputation for creativity and innovation has attracted more prominent client brands to the region, putting it in a strong position to compete nationally, according to Principles managing director, Mike Hackett. “Our media landscape has experienced a radical transformation over recent years, arising primarily from the emergence of the internet and other digital developments. This has changed the way marketing services are now structured within agency environments and how clients are allocating budgets. As both small and large agencies compete for the lion’s share of clients’ business, those well equipped to manage change and able to offer truly integrated services are more likely to benefit in the current climate.”

Ultimately though, while Yorkshire soil is proving fertile ground for agencies, clients are far more interested in whether you can deliver the goods than what the view is like from your boardroom window.

Simon Kendrew, director of BrandNew, takes up the point, “Clients want agencies that will deliver maximum impact with minimal spend and they want agencies that are not just creative but are also effective. This is becoming increasingly pertinent in the current economic climate, with clients having to justify every penny of marketing spend and show a significant return on investment.

“Most clients no longer judge an agency by location; they judge them by what they deliver, you are only as good as your last job, not your postcode – and if you are good enough you get the work.”

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City development company Creative Sheffield believes that for Yorkshire to attract more emerging industries it has to offer a high quality environment and to differentiate itself from rival regions across Europe.

Marketing director at Creative Sheffield, Brendan Moffett, says this is exactly why Sheffield is developing an entire Digital Campus right outside the city’s train station.

“The first buildings in Digital Campus open early next year and they will become the focus of the CDI community in the Yorkshire region, with companies of all sizes and disciplines working in a stimulating environment.

“The buildings will look amazing, the office and meeting spaces are being specified to a very high standard and they will be solely for the use of the CDI sector.”

Toby Hyam, manager of Electric Works in Sheffield, adds that Yorkshire, in keeping with successful city regions across Europe, must develop a local innovation system to encourage local companies to grow and to attract entrepreneurs to this emerging sector.

“Electric Works is all about encouraging a business community, within the new Digital Campus,” he explains. “The design and digital sectors are built around the ability for like-minded, creative and energetic people sparking ideas off each other and Electric Works is designed to encourage that.

“For instance, the space will include a 24-hour ‘club’ space that even non-tenants can join, to use the public building as a cool base, to recharge laptops, grab a coffee and meet people.

“Of course it has to be practical, too, so there is an emphasis on the usability of space that encourages people and companies to mix, to communicate and to work together.

“Even a few months before it opens, Electric Works is already becoming the flagship of the region’s CDI sector and we strongly believe it will draw in like-minded companies from further afield.”

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