The City Beat: Can Bournemouth compete with the big smoke?

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The Drum Network now has member agencies based in every major creative city in the UK. We ask some of our members what they think about the creative credentials of their city and how it is leading to future opportunities for them.

Bournemouth, the UK’s seaside gem, has long been dismissed as a digital, progressive hub due to its idyllic, holiday ‘by the sea’ image. Now though, the digital industry won’t miss a trick with focus on Bournemouth’s hub of creativity, with thriving events such as Silicon Beach and digital start-ups rose 212% between 2010 and 2013. Bournemouth was recently named fastest growing digital city in the UK in February 2015. The Drum Network asks Gellan Watt, managing director of Thinking Juice, an integrated creative agency based in Bournemouth with a global outlook, if he thinks there has been a change over the past few years.

What’s changed? Well, nothing really apart from the fact that people are now beginning to recognise what’s been going on in the area for ages. We’re building the UK’s most exciting and fastest growing digital / creative community. As a regional collective, we have clients that most agencies would kill for and we’re doing brilliant work.

It seems mad that there’s still some kind of mad view of the area that it’s only for the blue rinse brigade. And it’s just not so. Even (sorry The Drum – but I include you too) regional media still talk up a reputation of a town that hasn’t existed for years. Bournemouth is young, exciting, investing, bristling with talent and hasn’t just sprung onto the creative seen.

We’ve been quietly kicking the ass of London’s finest agencies, from our quaint little seaside for years.

When I moved to the area 13 years ago, it wasn’t to go into creative retirement. It was because it’s a beautiful place to live. And it really is. If you’re going to work 12hr days – why not do it by the sea. In the heart of the New Forest. With an international airport. Two – if you include Southampton being just 30 minutes away. We are literally a stone’s throw of… anywhere. We can get to see our client just outside of Newcastle, and get back again in better time than a train to the same place from London.

But putting that to one side, we live in an age where location shouldn’t matter. And I speak for many agencies based in the area when I say that very few of our clients are based here. Thinking Juice has clients in Monaco. South Shields. Wiltshire. London. Paris. Illinois. And yes, we have a couple in Dorset too.

What it is changing is the appeal of the area for talent. That’s been a challenge for the region in a number of areas, especially during this high growth phase – but it’s fast improving, and with two fantastic universities committed to bringing and developing the best young talent on our doorstep the region is in good health.

Has the market become more competitive with the numerous start-ups in Bournemouth and constant growth in London?

I don’t think that the internal regional competition has increased for the larger agencies, but for the smaller agencies and start-ups it’s definitely got more competitive – the constant remains in London, the very best out of town players or international competitors.

In general I’d say yes though. With the drive away from traditional advertising towards social and content, the international agencies are coming for more pure play smaller digital budgets, which were traditionally the feeding ground for the independents.

Plus, the market is busy. We are inundated with in-bound enquiries from new clients, which means they too are seeking new alternatives to solve new problems, particularly in digital. And to smart clients our address doesn’t matter, particularly digital clients. What they’re looking for is capability, client list and proof of effectiveness / ROI – which agencies in the region can boast.

Is there a strong creative network in the town?

I think this has become one of the best things about the area. We’ve moved beyond a network – In Bournemouth and the surrounding areas we really have built a creative community that is really tangible. We have a huge amount of community activity such as the quarterly Meetdraw events and the unbelievably brilliant two days learning experience, Silicon Beach. These events bring together to talk, drink, play and learn. And with student takeovers of Meetdraw, the engagement take in all stages of the life of a digital animal in the area. There’s some serious digital movements in the area including some public private collaborations which are driving the digital agenda.

There’s also a lot of collaboration between agencies. While many of the larger agencies don’t work directly with each other, many rely on the incredibly rich freelance and smaller specialist agencies to do what we do. We also travel together on trade delegations, the first of which (to the US) happened earlier this year.

What helps the sense of the community is actually the lack of direct competition. We’ve pitched against a local agency just once in the last 12 months. Our competition comes largely from the traditional sources London and international network agencies. Many of us are competing on that stage – so we’re a little more encouraging of each other than we may be if we were outright competitors.

I lived a great example of this recently. I was looking for a new PA and the MD of a local agency saw me advertise on Facebook. He sent me a great CV (with the applicant’s permission) and the owner of that CV is now PA and Office Manager at TJ. That’s community doing what a community does, right there.

Have you noticed digital talent grow in the region and consequently new business interest?

We’ve always had a pretty healthy talent growth in the region at some levels (junior and senior) – and new business takes care of itself if you have a great agency product.

I don’t think any of the agencies in the area say that the reason they’re not growing from a new business perspective is because they’re in Bournemouth. If you’re a good agency, you’ll be attractive to clients – what matters, is not making our location come into the conversation with a client. And we have such strong transport links (and getting better – the one last issue is a high-speed rail link) that it shouldn’t matter. Any agency that lets it become an issue clearly isn’t focused on client service strongly enough.

The biggest talent issue the area faces is at Middleweight level – there is definitely a positive change recently as we’ve been approached by a number of excellent candidates looking to relocated to the area that have researched it following the positive coverage of the area, which is very encouraging.

All in all – it’s a great time to be doing business in a beautiful part of the world. We’re doing credible work for incredible clients. The local counsel recognises the importance of the creative and digital economy. And the community is working well together. The future is very bright indeed and we’re proud to sit shoulder to shoulder with some really talented agencies.

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