Rough around the edges? The Drum investigates the Yorkshire agency scene

The third best holiday destination in the world according to Lonely Planet and the setting for the Tour de France Grand Départ 2014, it’s no wonder Yorkshire agencies describe the mood in the region as “blossoming”, “thriving”, and “more positive than it has ever been”. Gillian West takes a look.

This year Yorkshire was named European Destination 2013 at the World Travel Awards and came third in Lonely Planet’s annual hotlist – the Best in Travel – beating off competition from the likes of Texas, Mallorca and the West Coast of New Zealand. The acclaimed guidebook said of the region: “It’s only a matter of time before this rough-around-the-edges gentleman of the north gets the traveller attention it deserves.” With more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other county outside of London, Yorkshire is also home one of the UK’s longest-running soaps in Emmerdale, while Bradford was named the world’s first Unesco City of Film and next year’s Tour de France will depart from Leeds. There’s plenty for the region to be proud of, but what of the agencies working within its boundaries? The Drum headed deep into the Yorkshire Dales to find out if all in the region is as (white) rosy as it seems, uncovering key trends and challenges as we found out how England’s largest region aims to go toe-to-toe with the UK’s largest city. As with all regions, Yorkshire hasn’t escaped the recession unscathed, with one of the biggest losses being the closure of ad agency Poulters in 2008, but Thompson Brand Partners MD Nick Ramshaw believes things are now on the up. “Leeds and the immediate region is going through a real renaissance at the moment. There are a number of significant developments which are contributing to a real feeling that things are on the rise again. Generally things had been quite stagnant and flat, but over the last 12 months it really feels like we’ve come out of hibernation.” Ramshaw credits this sense of awakening to new developments such as the Trinity Centre, the First Direct Arena and the forthcoming Victoria Gate shopping centre. He continues: “You can feel a real sense of anticipation. There’s a feeling that Yorkshire is coming out of it; that we’re on the lift.” The optimism described by Ramshaw is certainly felt elsewhere in the region with numerous agencies describing the mood in the area at the moment as “blossoming”, “thriving”, and “more positive than it has ever been”, and many expanding and growing their businesses as a direct result.Of course this is no bad thing and after years of holding back and battening down the hatches, the green shoots of growth are no doubt welcome. A direct consequence of this growth however has meant increased competition in the agency market. “The adage says that you need to go the extra mile to win, now though you have to go the extra marathon,” explains Brass CEO John Morgan. MD of Delete (the recently rebranded Fuse8) Claire Wood furthers this thought, saying: “Client expectations have changed. Now you have to work 10 times harder. From their perspective with pitches, the consideration period is twice as long and everything has to be done yesterday.” Another knock on effect caused by expansion is the need for good quality staff, something which Epiphany CEO Rob Shaw, Intermarketing managing partner Steve Sowden and Enjoy MD Jonathan Filewood all cite as the main challenge facing Yorkshire agencies today. Filewood explains: “With the region booming, the biggest challenge is recruitment – there seems to be a lack of good quality staffing at the moment and with so many agencies around here expanding at the same time it certainly has shown a shortage in talent. Trying to find people, and good people at that, is probably holding us back from what we could be doing at the moment.” Both Sowden and Shaw echo Filewood’s sentiments, with Shaw revealing that “competition to attract the brightest minds can be fierce”. Two of the biggest areas of growth in the region at the moment appear to be digital and creative, with some agencies striving to find a specialism to set them apart, which according to Savvy Marketing founder and CEO Catherine Shuttleworth is down to the fact that London has a real concentration of some of the best creative talent in the world, “meaning if you’re going to make TV commercials you’ll go to London for that”. She expands on this, saying: “We’ve moved from a model of lots of people doing lots of different things to businesses being much more focused on what their proposition is. 10 years ago you would have had three or four different agencies in the region that did everything from advertising all the way through, but this one-stop-shop agency model has very much disappeared from Yorkshire. The agencies thriving today are the ones that are clear on their proposition.” Robot Food creative director Simon Forster supports Shuttleworth’s point of view and, as a specialist creative agency working in the region, told The Drum: “It seems clients are now beginning to understand that you can be a specialist agency and work outside of London, and because of that they’re beginning to look outside the city. Historically, clients always looked to London, thinking that if they want an agency that’s quick to respond, they need to go there, but the reality is the UK is a small place.” Despite the fact it is only a two-hour train ride from Leeds, some in the region have taken the step of establishing a presence in London to complement their regional office, with Elmwood, Delete and Bloom all singing the praises of a foothold in the capital. “Depending on whether you’re talking to a client that’s based in London or not, there is a certain gravitas towards having a London office,” says Elmwood managing partner Jon Stubley. Bloom’s CEO Alex Craven adds: “When people ask where you’re based and you say Leeds they seem to visibly glaze over, turn their back on you and walk away, and it’s because they can’t be bothered – there is so much talent on their doorstep. “Clients don’t mind you having a Leeds office, but you need to have a London one as well. They want to be able to click their fingers and have you at their office. And that is down to the pace at which business moves these days. If something happens they want you there. They can’t wait three hours for you to travel across the country.” For those choosing to live and work in the region, the work/life balance is an argument that continues to rear its head, with many adamant that Yorkshire has more to offer than London. Stubley says that, more often than not, the decision to work from Yorkshire is a lifestyle choice, adding that it offers the chance to work on many different things and provides opportunities and variety, along with interesting things to do. “That’s what people want,” he says, “and it doesn’t matter if you’re a welder or a designer.” Hatch Communications founder Jason Madeley agrees with Stubley, citing “the opportunity to work with major national brands on the doorstep of some of the most stunning countryside in the UK” as Yorkshire’s biggest draw. It is this element of countryside and open spaces that strikes a chord with most in the region, with Enjoy’s Filewood going as far to say that “it aids creativity having this sense of freedom”. Despite being one of the Yorkshire agencies with a secondary London address, Bloom’s Craven perhaps sums up what’s on the horizon for the region, advising his peers: “There is a global economy out there and there is no reason you can’t tap into it from Yorkshire. You just have to be prepared to go out there and get it.”Many UK brands have their roots in Yorkshire, but do regional origins remain relevant to companies as they grow into national entities? We catch up with Asda, Wensleydale Creamery and Yorkshire Tea to find out.

Simon Eyles, head of marketing, Yorkshire Tea

In our eyes, it is not only possible to stay true to our Yorkshire roots, it is essential. It defines who we are, our values, our beliefs and our personality. That sets us apart from the many other bland, forgettable tea brands out there. Yorkshire’s honesty and straight talking approach to life plays a big part, in our eyes. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but are incredibly competitive. It would be an understatement to say we’re proud of our Yorkshire heritage. Taylor’s of Harrogate has been a great Yorkshire family business since 1886. Our business has been making top quality teas and coffees in Yorkshire for generations, and we are now sharing this passion with the world as we grow every year in attracting new drinkers. To us it is important to work with and support local agencies. Location is irrelevant, quality of work is everything. We have even worked with some Lancashire agencies!

Clair Hufton, PR manager, Asda

At Asda we are proud of our Yorkshire roots and being a Leeds-based business. Asda started life in Yorkshire almost 50 years ago as a group of local producers who knew that they could do better by working together. In 1958 two brothers, Peter and Fred Asquith, opened a supermarket in Pontefract and within five years they had a chain of self-service supermarkets. In 1965 Associated Dairies and Asquiths did a deal to merge and create Asda – the name being a marriage of the two parties: Asquith and Dairies. Yorkshire is our heartland; it’s where we started and have built our business over the last 50 years. We’ve around 50 stores and depots and employ over 10,000 colleagues from across the region. Our head office in Leeds is home to over 2,500 colleagues and sits on the edge of the major motorways and the airport and the railway station is a five minute walk – there’s no need to based anywhere else. We also have a number of colleagues that commute from outside the region. Leeds in particular has seen a £4.4bn investment in commercial property development over the last 10 years and a further £5.9bn of projects are under construction or in the pipeline. Leeds is the UK’s most important centre for financial and business services in the North, with over 30 national and international banks based in the city. Above all it’s a region that’s developing and changing to meet the need of its people and communities and we’re proud to be part of that. We work with a mass of different agencies and suppliers across the region, as well as a variety of businesses that provide different services, including creative and print agencies, recruitment agencies, manufacturers, consumable suppliers, catering facilities, event companies – the list is endless.

David Hartley, MD, Wensleydale Creamery

At The Wensleydale Creamery our Yorkshire heritage is hugely important to us; Wensleydale cheese has been made in Wensleydale since 1150 when the Cistercian monks first settled here. Today, we still handcraft our cheese to time-honoured recipes using milk from local farms. It is this heritage and provenance that makes our cheeses unique and, whether it be nationally or internationally, we know our customers buy Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese not just for its creamy-crumbly texture and delicious taste, but for its Yorkshire identity and provenance. Our brand and our products are synonymous with the Yorkshire region, which is very important as we are grow our brand nationally and internationally, as customers are looking for a true taste of the Yorkshire Dales. Our long term aim is simple: keep Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese production in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, where it originated, for generations to come. We’re so proud of our product and Yorkshire roots that we’ve applied for Protected Geographical Indication. We feel it’s very important to work with agencies and businesses that understand our Yorkshire identity yet are driven to take the brand global. This is why our marketing and PR agencies are based in Yorkshire. Chilli and Hatch Communications understand our brand and the importance of our geographical heritage, and can translate these brand messages on a national and international scale. This year we also made the commitment to becoming an official partner of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, another Yorkshire great. In its 150th year, we felt the club reaffirms our Yorkshire credentials and we also love supporting the region’s talent. In addition, Le Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire in 2014, so the spotlight will really be on the region, which is a fantastic way for us to showcase all the county has to offer.This article originally featured in the 22 November issue of The Drum which can be purchased from The Drum Store.The Drum's Yorkshire regional feature is sponsored by Epiphany.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.