Q&A with Bruce Hutton, deputy regional chair of IPA and chief executive of Bray Leino

Bruce Hutton, group chief executive of Bray Leino and regional deputy chair of the IPA answers some questions from The Drum, on the regional advertising industry as well as client budgets, what is going on within his own company Bray Leino and its parent group, The Mission Marketing Group and his own role within.

How do you feel the regional advertising and marketing industry has fared over the last couple of years?

I think it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant where agencies are based. Most agencies do national or international work now and they’re either good or not very good. Their location is simply that, a location. It’s a term that was used when agencies were near to their clients for convenience - but the world has moved on.

I think agencies in general have had a tough time with margins being squeezed, new business being harder to come by, decisions slower and greater competition for less work. I doubt that this will be a great surprise to any agency head though!

In comparison to what you see happening in London, how do you feel the industry has developed?

Agencies throughout the UK are having a torrid time. It appears to be worse with smaller firms - when revenues drop, overheads have remained the same and I’ve seen plenty of good firms get themselves in a pickle by leaving it too late and then not being able to afford to restructure. Size does matter after all, as it turns out.

There’s also a big move by agencies to become more full service, offering more things to existing clients as a way to combat falling margins.

Are clients looking to the regions as a result of tighter budgets as was foreseen in your opinion?

I think clients are looking to get smarter answers for less money – often a position that agencies outside of the M25 can defend credibly, but like in all sectors it’s the good businesses that survive. Now is the time to have a great FD and great salesmen/account handlers. There are plenty of agencies in London that can do this too though.

You’re a senior figure in both The Mission Marketing Group and Bray Leino – how have these companies developed in recent times as digital has evolved within the marketplace?

The Mission Marketing Group (the mission) is a collection of talented but very different agencies that work together to produce outstanding results for our clients, while providing a great place to work for our people. There are some exciting initiatives happening across the group at a time where we have seen growth as reported in our recent interim results. Programmes are launching such as The Mission Academy to centralise the training and development of all our people, and we’re very proud to have an excellent procurement and shared services team, along with the fact we are pretty good at helping each other with insight and sector knowledge and sharing opportunities. It starts with trust and respect at the top. We have an operator led PLC board, which means that we have our finger on the pulse of the business (as much as possible) and we keep a focus on cost control, new business and making sure we look after our clients – not exactly a secret recipe I’m afraid.

All of our agencies have a strong digital offering and we also have a digital steering group that works across the group. This is part of ‘onemission’ - the banner name for our thinking and the way we operate, and this has already enabled us to make great progress across areas such as processes, freelance costs, strategy and outsourcing.

Bray Leino is about 50% of the mission on just about every measure (profit, people, turnover etc.) I’m lucky that I picked up the reins of a great business three years ago and have had a solid base to build upon. We have nearly 60 people working in pure play digital roles at Bray Leino alone and that number is over 120 across the group.

It’s obviously a crucial part of the thinking, creativity and delivery for clients whether we’re building a virtual learning centre for Castrol, generating leads for Redrow homes, helping sell contact lenses for Johnson & Johnson or entertaining Freederm customers via Facebook.

If you’re hiring people that are not digitally savvy or if your business is not full of smart technologists and strategic digital planners then you probably already have a problem. The trick is to charge well for the strategic stuff and the ideas, not just the technical/production side (but it is forever thus and is as much the problem in Exhibition contracting as it is in Digital!)

In your role with the IPA, what concerns do you hear most from agencies in the regions and what does that IPA aim to do to address these?

The reason I agreed to become the Regional Chairman and part of the IPA Council was that I wanted to change a few things. Despite agencies outside London taking greater advantage of the tangible benefits of membership, there is a view in some quarters that the IPA is too London-centric and in my view this is partly true. London is the capital of the creative industries in the UK and indeed some would argue, the world. Having said this, creative excellence is not dependent on location, so I think the IPA should drop the term ‘regional’ as you are either a member or you’re not. I don’t think the term helps and if anything, it creates a divide. The trick is to increase participation by the members in the IPA – wherever they are based. There is a mountain of stuff available that is excellent (and free) to members that will up-skill your people, develop your leaders, help make smarter choices, deliver better strategic advice, raise your profile and ensure you win more business.

How is the IPA aiming to tackle the continual ‘brain drain’ within the regions? Is it only inevitable that the best talent will go where the work is, which is mainly London?

The Martin Agency in the States manages to find and keep talented people in Richmond, Virginia, as does CP+B in Boulder, Colorado and even Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Oregon has somehow managed to become one of the best agencies in the world despite the ‘brain drain’ to New York.

I think we need to stop being paranoid. Never using the expression ‘best outside of London’ is a good start! The IPA can help with training, recruitment, profile and various other things that will help you make your agency top drawer (and therefore less likely to be dumped) but that said, you have to be in it to win it – the IPA allows you and your people to be part of and connected to an exciting and vibrant industry beyond wherever you’re based.

Most good people want to work for the best agency they can – so make yours the best.

How do you see the regional marketplace developing?

As London becomes more and more congested, the infrastructure will creak and rents will continue to rise, perhaps we’ll see companies with ‘hubs’ in London but more people out in other interesting and cheaper locations . Th_nk is a good example of that, as are we.

Bray Leino has 360 people of which most work from a field in North Devon – perceived wisdom would suggest that we shouldn’t even exist. We certainly shouldn’t have won the 2011 Census work which was the biggest government campaign of this year, the largest BME audience campaign in UK history and manage to get nearly all of the 26 million households in the country to fill in that purple form with half the budget used by M&C Saatchi in 2001. If we can do that, then surely a lot more is possible. London is not our enemy, it’s simply another location.

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