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Leading Lights - a look at the commercial creative scene around Bristol and Bath

One of the UK’s biggest creative hubs outside London, Bristol and Bath boasts excellence in disciplines ranging from digital to design, apps to animation. In the latest of The Drum’s region-specifi c features, we caught up with some of the area’s key players to fi nd out how it is leading the way.

Gromits from the Bristol creative challenge

From St Ives to Swindon, Swanage to Stroud, England's South West has long held a reputation for creative excellence and nowhere is this more evident than in the city region of Bristol and Bath, which counts Banksy, doyen of UK street art, and plasticine protagonists Wallace and Gromit among its cultural exports. Indeed, such is the success of Nick Park's canine creation that it was roped into Bristol's most recent tourism drive, with 80 large sculptures of the character popping up across the city this summer, individually painted by a mix of local artists as well as some more famous names including Quentin Blake, Peter Blake, Cath Kidston and Paul Smith – a sign not only of the city's creative acumen but of its leaders' recognition of how important a creative reputation can be.

BBC One ident by Sun & Moon

Along with Bath and the surrounding area, the city is one of the pre-eminent European centres of creative and cultural industry, ranked second top creative city in the UK outside London, with the creative sector one of the largest wealth generators for the area – the South West Local Enterprise Partnership has placed growth in the creative sector at the heart of its economic development strategy due to the international success and reputation of some of the creative firms residing in the South West. In Bristol alone there are some 11,500 creative professionals employed by some 1,350 creative businesses, making up 12 per cent of all employees in the city and generating £727m, or six per cent of the city’s gross value added. This is all complimented by strength in other creative sectors, such as its vibrant visual arts community, a music scene that gave birth to Portishead and Massive Attack, and a film industry that produces 25 per cent of the wildlife and environmental film sector's global output. Human scale

Black Grouse bottle and packaging by Taxi

Paul Appleby, director of media consultancy VID and chairman of Bristol Media, puts the region's charm down to its human scale, which is perfect for “bright, communicative people,” he says. Appleby explains that the creative sector in and around Bristol and Bath is “growing in economic output and numbers,” and that the talent base covers “every form of activity from animation to PR”. He points to the industry's embracing of digital and mobile, praising the work of Mubaloo as he does so, and says it is “highly connected”. “People make a positive choice to live here,” he tells us. “People want to stay, and build their networks on trust and quality of work over decades, which provides a great foundation from which to be responsive,” he adds.

Budweiser site from Strange and Dawson

This point strikes a chord with Jonnie Galvin- Wright, MD of Stuff Advertising and Bristol Media's marketing sector head, who enthuses about how the region “benefits from a great pool of talent who have chosen to be here because of its lifestyle, so you can easily find yourself in a meeting with an ex global account man or an award winning creative.” The past five years in particular have seen some agencies in the region really find their feet, Galvin- Wright tells us, “so there are some well-founded and strong agencies with international and national clients”. He also explains, “our universities are second to none in producing new and raw talent from within, agency overheads haven't quite caught up with our London counterparts so value will be better, and our openness to collaboration is a real asset when it comes to clients wanting people to work together.” This openness to collaboration is perhaps most evident in Bristol's many creative hubs, from contemporary art and design centre Spike Island to the animation and performing arts school at the Tobacco Factory. Or Paintworks, the city's creative quarter, which is home to dozens of creative and digital firms such as e3, one of the UK's largest digital agencies whose clients range from Clarks, based just down the road in Street, Somerset, to Korean car brand Kia.

McCann Bristol’s direct mail for Ordnance Survey

Asked what the Bristol and Bath does better than anywhere else, MD Neil Collard tells us that the area brings together “a rich and creative background of people who genuinely collaborate and learn from each other”.“From Aardman animations to the BBC Wildlife function, and from ourselves at e3 to the UX powerhouses of CX Partners and Nomensa, there is a rich mix of world class talent in Bristol who are happy to work together and share insight to help create better work from the region,” he says. “I know of no other region where there is such a deep and diverse pool of talent and such a strong desire to put Bristol and the South West on the map.” James Trezona, MD of the Harte-Hanks group which comprises two of the region's most respected agencies, Mason Zimbler and Strange & Dawson, agrees that this collaborative approach has been fundamental to nurturing and growing the area's creative reputation at a time when agencies throughout the UK have all been under pressure. “It would have been easy for agencies here to play nasty; to abandon their principles and churn out dull work at discount prices". Instead, he tells us, Bristol has taken a real stand against this which is now paying dividends. He explains: “Agencies in Bristol believe that the way out of the economic doldrums is to think long term – a mentality that encourages co-creation rather than conflict. It’s the sense of community that creates this – it’s tight-knit and forward-thinking here and so people think about relationships before revenue, impact before income, principles before profit.”

McCann Bristol’s direct mail for Ordnance Survey

Andy Reid, MD at McCann Bristol and the IPA's city head for Bristol, admits that, despite the profusion of arguments we've just heard as to why the region is such a great creative hub, some clients will simply always be drawn to working with London agencies. However, he says, “I think there are some clients who are starting to recognise that you can get a London output coupled with local appetite and hunger from those based in the regions”. “Some clients might still like the day trip to their agency in London,” Reid tells us, “but the more savvy are seeing the true cost of doing so,” not just higher rates but “time out of the office, the travel, the expenses which, in some cases, are now being reported against marketing ROI”. If this catches on then regional agencies may finally start getting the recognition they deserve. And if that is the case, where better to start than Bristol and Bath?This piece was initially published by The Drum Magazine, in its 11 October issue, which can be purchased on The Drum store.

South West, Bristol, Bath, Design, Digital Transformation, Modern Marketing, Future Of Media