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Alive and well in the regions: How regional creativity is giving London a run for its money

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By Katie McQuater, Magazine Editor

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April 26, 2013 | 7 min read

The Drum explores the creativity being cultivated outside of London, speaking to the judges of the Roses Creative Awards and taking a look at a few of the shortlisted entries.

Creativity is flourishing in the UK’s regions, with big ideas and a return to traditional craft principles high on the agenda for the creative industries outside the M25.The quality of creative output of agencies outside London is evidenced by a look at the nominations for this year’s Roses Creative Awards. The scheme recognises creative excellence across all disciplines, rewarding ideas and execution in categories including press advertising, poster, typography and copy, as well as digital categories including website and app.At the judging session for the event, the panel, 
which comprised jury members from across the board in advertising, design and digital, commended the high standard of the award entries received, with big ideas 
and brave execution characterising much of the work.So does regional creativity have a distinct identity outside of London, or is creative work produced at the same level both in and outside of the capital? The Drum catches up with members of the judging panel to get 
their views on this year’s judging process.“I don’t think you see the drop-off that you’d expect,” says Nigel Clifton, head of creative, Havas EHS, who adds: “I think on the major clients there is no difference. Most of what we do is client led. The quality of the client ultimately drives the quality of the work.”

BJL’s ‘Become part’ campaign for Manchester Art Gallery, nominated in the art direction, outdoor and photography categories

Cogent Elliott press campaign for Nod and a Wink, nominated in the press and photography categories

Humour and bravery is more prominent in the 
regions, according to LIDA’s creative director Nicky Bullard. “It’s the humour,” she says. “It’s really interesting. I’m not saying we [London] take ourselves too seriously but if you compare the two, London work does take 
itself a bit more seriously.“Outside the M25, their clients are really brave 
and they are prepared to go a bit further. Some of the humour is crossing the line a little bit, but it’s brilliant 
that the confidence of the clients is coming through.”Dave Waters of Watermill cites colloquial humour as 
an interesting distinction of some of the work produced 
in the regions, referencing Newhaven’s work for Tennent’s.“I think the Tennent’s stuff typified the regional distinction; you probably wouldn’t get it unless you 
came from outside London. If you didn’t come from Scotland, you really wouldn’t understand it that well. 
It’s nice when you see a piece of work like that. “I think the stuff that’s most exciting is where you’ve 
got colloquialisms and you feel there’s a different voice.”McCann Manchester’s Aldi campaign and the John West campaign by CheethamBell JWT are further examples of strong creative campaigns produced by regional shops, according to consultant Mike McKenna.“The Aldi campaign is universally liked and applauded; it could have come out of Wieden’s or Mother. The John West campaign just keeps going. I’d imagine it will carry off gongs in numerous awards shows around the planet, both in creativity and effectiveness.”He adds: “Overall, and almost in spite of the 
country’s economic woes, good ideas are alive and 
well in the regions. People are being more resourceful 
and more inventive creatively outside the Smoke.”

Royal Mail Special Stamps 2012 Book by The Chase, nominated in the publications category

Origin Creative’s ‘Your Paintings’ for BBC, nominated in the poster category

Despite London being viewed as the hub of creative talent in the UK, the regions are a hotbed of creativity, with many campaigns and projects comparable or on the same level as work produced in the capital. Garry Blackburn, creative director and co-owner of Rose, argues that in many cases it’s difficult to gauge the origin of a piece of work, with no evident distinction in quality.“There used to be a distinction between London 
and the regions; I’m not sure if there is so much 
anymore. I’m not saying London was of a higher 
standard – I’m just saying there’s much more of an 
equal playing field now. I think the standard [of the regions] has risen quite considerably. “I would argue that the quality has been raised to such a level in certain categories that you wouldn’t know where it’s come from. There’s a lot of really good stuff coming out of Manchester especially. There’s a lot of people in London very aware of people in Manchester now.”The continuing advancement of digital has also 
played a part – agencies no longer need to be based on their clients’ doorsteps, with the internet opening up a wealth of opportunity to work with clients further afield. This is something touched upon by David Judge, executive creative director and co-founder of Start JudgeGill, who argues that location is irrelevant in today’s connected world, with the variety of opportunities presented by being able to reach clients globally.“It’s quite strange, there’s no real regional flavour as such. I wonder if that’s because of the nature of design now. Living in the connected world, you have chances to work for clients in many different areas. A lot of the briefs now aren’t quite so localised and the solutions aren’t quite so localised.”The international prospect represents both an opportunity and a challenge for agencies in the UK, 
says Judge. “One of the biggest things is working out how to maximise the reputation of the UK internationally, certainly for the smaller independent design agencies to leverage the world we’re now living in.”As well as highlighting the quality of creativity in the UK’s regions, the judging process unearthed insights 
on how London can learn from its regional counterparts.

Cow&Co Papers by SB Studio, nominated for copywriting and corporate/ promotional literature

'Imagine what you could do’ campaign by Muckle Hen Productions for the University of Edinburgh, nominated for illustration

Use of craft in today’s digital age is apparent in much 
of the creative work produced in the regions, according 
to Nicky Bullard, who says time spent on craft such as copy is something the industry is looking to see more of.“We’re crying out to see that craft and remind ourselves that actually, we don’t want craft to die out. It’s living, breathing and strong outside the M25.”Understanding ever-changing multichannel consumer behaviour and ensuring the content and tone is right across all touch points is a major challenge for brands. Nigel Clifton suggests smaller companies can excel 
by embracing all of the digital channels – because 
their brand has evolved alongside them. “Holding onto your true values as a smaller company is much easier than the bigger multinationals. And that should give agencies outside of London a much better chance, if they’ve got the right client who’s brave.”The Roses Creative Awards takes place at the Mercure Hotel, Manchester, on Thursday 2 May. 


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