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