Written by our Non-Executive Director, Phil Jones.
It’s a long-held belief that the best jobs, pay and access to new opportunities are found in London – particularly in the creative industries. The lure of this and the heritage of Adland means that many fresh graduates are itching to make it in the big smoke. However, it’s not always the case anymore – regional agencies are producing brilliant work and attracting top talent.
You only have to look around the room at one of the Podge lunches (hosted in London and Manchester) or one of Ingenuity’s speed dating events and you’ll see that the landscape has changed. Representatives from the likes of Newcastle, Exeter, Leeds and Bournemouth, etc fly the flag for their respective regions and their businesses are booming.
For Ingenuity – where I am an advisor – so much of the business growth in the past year is down to successful out-of-London agencies, and this reflects the state of the industry as a whole too. People want options, they want quirky agencies with unusual offerings and mindsets accumulating ideas from a variety of places. It’s time for everyone to recognise the potential of finding talent from different places and realise that championing agency talent is a responsibility for everyone across the UK.
Ingenuity’s speed dating events, which match up brands and agencies in one-on-one chemistry sessions, attract at least 25% of agencies based out of London (some coming from as far as Scotland). This not only proves how the agency landscape is expanding but also shows how relationships between brands and agencies don’t just sit within the capital.
Engaging with agencies across the region consistently is no mean feat, but let it lapse is to let the industry risk recycling the same opinions, the same ideas and repeating the same conversations. Focussing on a wider demographic opens up a whole new area of thought leaders.
The key to bolstering talent is balancing the fusion of agencies that come from London and those from wider areas and encouraging everyone to learn from one another. Value should be established based on specific expertise, not geography. In line with this, we spoke to a range of agencies in our network based outside the M25, to uncover their views on their out-of-London location and reveal why their clients are attracted to working with them.
Tom Keeping, Founder of Keeping based in Bournemouth, explained how through growing his business he realised the great potential of talent he had access to. The agency’s focus on design, meant when it came to hiring high-quality senior designers there wasn’t the block he originally expected – mainly because of the surrounding local universities (Bournemouth University and Bournemouth Arts University) who are specialised in ideal skillsets the agency desires.
Likewise, when it comes to searching for new business, Keeping explained how “95% of our clients are not from our region. The fact we’re based in Bournemouth has not been a barrier to attracting new clients at all.” When the topic comes up in conversations, Keeping is able to go through the processes the team has in place to manage relationships at distance and help put clients and prospects at ease. For example, some processes require as few as one or two face-to-face workshops, with the rest being possible via video conference.
Arabella Lewis-Smith, founder and principal at Creative Design agency Salad, moved from London to be near the sea, in order to achieve her goal of having a creative career in a seaside location. Lewis-Smith explained how there weren’t many opportunities available at the time in the area, so had to create the working world she wanted to inhabit.
Agencies like Salad understand the hurdles faced when trying to attract new business, and also appreciate location can affect this. Obviously valuing face-to-face time with clients is immensely important, but it’s not always feasible. Salad have fewer local clients and work increasingly with clients based nationally and internationally. With their head of marketing based in London, they’ve been able to bridge the gap between locations. However, travelling seems to have become second nature to the team, so neither clients nor Salad notice the distance too much. Lewis-Smith adds how, “Similarly, apps like Slack have enabled us to chat with clients throughout the day, breaking down many of the old communication barriers.”
Marketing communications agency, Clarity, wanted to find a unique location to encourage and nurture creativity. After choosing to settle in Woburn, it allowed them to not only gain easy and quick access to London, but also serve the growing and thriving businesses in the regions. Business development director, Henrietta Cheung explained how “a number of the team are local, and some are happy to commute from further afield as they love the location, but more importantly, believe in the work and clients that we work with.”
These agencies aren’t denying that some clients like the cache of working with a London based agency, however it’s a common belief that being located outside of the London bubble grants them a more diverse perspective – setting them apart from the crowd and helping them understand what their client’s consumers really feel, want and need.
Today, people can be more mobile in their working practices with the likes of WeWork expanding – making it easier to work remotely. It’s fast become just as efficient to achieve success whilst being situated out of London. As an industry we need to bolster our skills of mixing up agency talent, after all, it’s about what the agency can offer, rather than where they’re based. Talent, overall offerings and business knowledge should be your first point of call when you look to recruiting the right agency, not where they sit on the map.