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What's the current atmosphere within the creative sector in Yorkshire?


By The Drum Team, Editorial

October 31, 2011 | 7 min read

Despite tough economic conditions, Yorkshire’s creative reputation continues to flourish. The Drum met with a cross-section of Yorkshire agencies to discuss the state of the creative sector in the region.In the first of a series of questions posed, we asked: what's the current atmosphere in the region?

Yorkshire’s creative reputation continues to survive and thrive, despite life being a bit of a bitch. Whilst the entire industry suffers from post-recession slump, it must be said that Yorkshire’s fruits of creativity continue to grow. The region remains the home of some of the industry’s most innovative creative work and partnerships.

The winding down of the Regional Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward, (due to be dissolved in March 2012 as part of government cuts) has only served to indicate that the region’s creative sector can survive and flourish despite the withdrawal of this support. Morale has remained high and agencies are looking forward.

Yorkshire’s entrepreneurial spirit is reflected not only in its start-ups, but also in the region’s numerous collaborations between agencies, highlighting a nationwide trend towards sharing expertise and imagination to work together and produce some of the best campaigns around. Digital is proving the ultimate tool for this kind of collaboration, with agencies working together in an online capacity to pool ideas and discuss the latest innovations.

In terms of client spending in the region, retail remains the sector in which most money is being spent, with the finance, mail order retail, food and confectionary sectors all still key players.

There’s no denying that the harsh economic climate of recent years has led many to believe that it’s grim up north. Clients want a lot more result for less cash. However, the difficult conditions have also given birth to a renewed sense of ability, with agencies looking to new innovations and trends, and new seeds of opportunity starting to grow. So are the dog days over in Yorkshire? The Drum spoke to a number of creative businesses from the region to find out more about the state of the creative sector, and why it may just be exceeding expectations.

Steve Henry, director, Ponderosa It seems to be the more established agencies that are struggling at the moment, which we put down to a reluctance to accept that the current feeling of ‘recession’ is now the norm. They seem to be still optimistically thinking that it will all just go away and everything will be rosy again and back to the good old days. This is the reality now and we’ve realised that to help our clients grow their businesses, we’ve had to adapt and change how our business works.

Alf Lombardi, managing director, Shrewdd Marketing

In my view there is doom and gloom, but probably more optimism – things can’t get much worse... can they?!

Ian Winterbottom, director, Our Agency

For those agencies with a port folio of local authority clients, the recent government cuts are having a serious impact on the value of projects. This, coupled with many private business not spending on advertising and design, agencies are having a tough time at the moment. It’s not a case of “gloom or doom”, it’s about working smart to deliver creativity, adapting to the conditions and working collaboratively with clients to maintain a two-way, profitable relationship. Mark Bower, managing director, Coolpink: I think Yorkshire is one of the most optimistic regions. Yes there have been some agency victims due to the current climate and a range of other factors. Personally we’re really excited about the coming year as we build on the strong foundations of the last decade, increasing our offering and supporting it with senior level expertise.

Jo Swann, Managing director, Chocolate PR The creative industries very rarely suffer from doom and gloom, whether that is the reality or not. One of the things I love about working in this industry is the optimism, passion and excitement for the world we work in and whilst Yorkshire agencies do hold a better grasp on reality than some of our Southern competitors, I’d say we are a glass half full most of the time.

Simon Bollon, director, Boutique Media

Our experience certainly isn’t one of doom and gloom. There is no question that the market has changed, its more competitive, clients are more demanding and everyone expects their pound to work harder… but we shouldn’t expect anything less. We are of course reliant on our clients and their market sector. If you have a balanced spread of clients and market sectors you will be positioned to work through the tough times. A range of both market leaders and developing brands will also create the necessary balance to ensure we agencies succeed. Those who have been reliant on one or two accounts have suffered the consequences and the same can be said of those who focused on the public sector. The downsizing, closure and restructuring of businesses creates new start up challenger agencies to keep the big boys on their toes. These smaller agencies are bursting with enthusiasm and they recognise service is key as well as the delivery of results.

Jonathan Leafe, managing director, Strawberry

I’m always optimistic - I started the business in a recession so it’s not new to me. However, there’s no denying things are tight - I say nose down and get on with it, the best will survive!

Glenn Patterson, managing director, Intermarketing We have recently increased our participation in the region’s agency and business scene, including re-joining and helping Leeds Media, joining the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and being elected to the DMA North committee, and there seems to be a generally positive outlook.

Andy Weir, managing director, We Are Probably like anywhere, it’s mixed. We’ve been fortunate to secure a broad base of clients across multiple sectors early on in the agency’s development, so whilst some have had a freeze on spend, other clients have reacted differently and taken the opportunity to invest in their brand and reposition themselves to be more streamlined, efficient, expert or value. We’re optimistic.

Rob Colley, managing director, Plump Digital We do hear of agencies being really busy, but we also hear of the problems others are facing where the loss of a key account can have a devastating impact. Clients know they need to be creative in the way they market themselves - especially in digital. With more channels than ever before and the continual change in trends we see the potential for a lot of exciting times ahead.

John Morgan, chief executive, Brass We are experiencing some of the toughest market conditions in living memory, but there are still great opportunities out there. It’s highly competitive though. Clients are frequently looking to appoint agencies on a project by project, or rostered basis, rather than by traditional retainer. Margins are under pressure and most agencies are having to do more to earn less. Despite the economic pressures, this can still be a golden time for agencies with new channels, tools and technologies opening up so many new possibilities. Ideas can now travel further and faster than ever before.

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