Agencies vie for slice of Scotland

As media independents head north of the border in search of new business, Liz Stuart asks if there will be enough to satisfy the huge potential interest

Two years ago there were just two media independents in Scotland worth mentioning – Feather Brooksbank with billings of 35m, and the much smaller Media Shop Scotland with billings of 9m. The two carved up most media business between them, with the remainder handled by the only major full-service agency in Scotland, Faulds Advertising.

Now London big shots such as Universal McCann and The Media Business are poised to open offices north of the border. CIA, which has had a joint venture in Glasgow with creative shop The Morgan Partnership for two years, recently bought Morgan’s 50 per cent stake, giving it total control. This week Media Vest Manchester announced it is opening a shop in Scotland, which will have a separate brand name, MediaVision.

So why this sudden interest in a market which the London advertising scene has traditionally shunned in favour of Manchester?

It is partly caused by the steady increase in advertising spend across all media in Scotland – which has risen by almost a quarter in the past three years (96/97 spend was 371m compared with 300.7m in 94/95, according to figures from ACNielsen-MEAL).

The Leith Agency managing director John Rowley ascribes the growth to several factors: “Over the past two or three years there have been several creative agency start- ups and most of these, such as 1576 and The Union, are not full-service shops. Media independents will be after this business.”

Increasingly, Scottish companies which advertise nationally are using Scottish creative agencies – prime examples are financial service operations such as Standard Life at Faulds and Direct Line Mortgages at 1576. Having shown such confidence in local agencies, it follows that marketing directors should appoint a Scottish media shop to handle planning or buying.

Likewise, media owners have wised up to the opportunities offered by the Scottish market. Not only have The Mirror, The Sun, The Express and The Sunday Times launched Scottish versions of their titles, wholly Scottish sales operations are pushing aggressively south of the border.

Last year, The Scotsman opened a sales house in London. It is also widely rumoured that TSMS is going to change the way it sells Scottish Media Group’s television by opening a separate sales operation in London.

There are a number of large Scottish accounts currently serviced in London, which would be prime targets for the new media independents. Scottish Widows is bought by Mediapolis and Baxter’s is bought by BBJ. Faulds has followed this trend by boosting its media division to 17 people, adding four people in just two months.

Even more obvious targets are Scotland-only brands which are bought in England. These include Bass’s Scottish lager brand Tennent’s, which is at BBJ Media Services, and Express Newspapers Scotland, which is at IDK Media.

Rowley adds that devolution has already started to have an impact on the advertising community. Scotsman Publications research manager Justin Armsworth says: “People have started to think about Scotland as a market in its own right.”

Research from Scottish advertising agency The Bridge shows there are huge differences in consumption patterns between the Scots and the English. Own label is still relatively weak north of the border, with only 33 per cent of market share. The Scots consume more media than the English – notably television – and 60 per cent of Scotland’s population are clustered into the central part of the region.

English agencies do not have intimate working knowledge of local markets in Scotland, but most Scottish agencies are staffed with people who cut their media and advertising teeth in London and therefore understand the English market.

But will there be too many agencies fishing the same pond? The Media Business chief executive Alan Rich says: “At the moment there just isn’t enough choice out there. Half a dozen players could enter the market and could be sustained.”

He adds that having a commitment to the local market in Scotland could help London agencies retain major Scottish clients. Although he does not specify this, the implication is that the demands of the Direct Line account spurred the opening of the Edinburgh office.

But The Leith Agency’s Rowley questions the wisdom of this flurry of agency start ups: “It is silly and they’ll struggle. Faulds and Feather Brooksbank did not build up their business overnight – they spent years really getting to know the market up here.”

He makes the point that The Media Business and CIA both have existing big clients to give them business (Direct Line and KwikFit respectively), but that other start- ups may struggle.

One source says the reason that MediaVest in London did not want its name put on the new Scottish venture is because it thinks the venture may flop. MediaVest Manchester has a 50 per cent stake in the new Scottish venture.

MediaVest managing director Jim Marshall says he was consulted by MediaVest Manchester about the new Scottish agency and that it took a different name because Scotland is a “particular market” which needs local expertise.

However, others express doubts. Universal Manchester managing director Sue Little says: “It is a concern. There is certainly an opportunity in the Scottish market, but whether it is sufficient to sustain all the people who have expressed an interest in it is another matter.”

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