Taking the capital’s reins

Liverpool’s Capital of Culture status will put it on the marketing map, enabling regional agencies to seduce business away from London, but the key is to sustain that beyond 2008, says Ed Drayton

Traditionally, companies looking for marketing communications agencies turn to London, as it offers the greatest choice – despite the increasing trend for agencies to set up bases elsewhere. Next year, for example, Liverpool takes on the mantle of European Capital of Culture, and it will be interesting to see how, or whether, this increases its profile in the marketing communications industry.

Currently, Liverpool cannot compete with the range or volume of agencies that you find in London or Manchester. But there are a growing number of agencies, with some high-quality players, based in and around the city. Some of these have genuine bases in the city, while others are running small satellite offices to cash in on the current economic growth in the region. There is a proliferation of creative and design-based agencies in Liverpool, and there has been an increase in large-scale, digital marketing agencies competing successfully on a pan-European basis. There are a smaller number of public and media relations agencies, but only a handful that are genuinely full service.

With travel times of two to two-and-a-half hours to get to London and mainland Europe, Liverpool is far from being out of the business arena. With technological advancements in communications, a company’s marketing agency could be based anywhere in the country. Liverpool-based agencies can compete with their capital-based colleagues, according to Martyn Smith of Mason Media. “As long as you are prepared to make the effort to visit clients, all the work can be done from Liverpool. Advances in technology are reducing the importance of location more and more.”

But Smith feels you still need to keep in touch with what’s going on in the capital. “It is important to have a good feel for the London market. We have the advantage of a small London office that we share with our strategic partner-brand communication agency Bell. This enables our team to keep properly in touch. A number of our Liverpool-based team used to work in the capital and maintain good links with established contacts.”

Local knowledge
For McEntegart Marketing managing director Geraldine McEntegart it’s not always that simple: “It depends on the nature of the campaign. Certain work would require extensive London contacts or local knowledge.” She agrees that technology has opened up the market. “Our technology director is based in Nottingham and we communicate with the US regularly on Skype, which costs us nothing, so we could be based anywhere. Being in Liverpool has always been positive for us. Servicing clients well is a question of having high-quality resources, delivering results and adopting the right approach – it doesn’t need to be about geography.”

Many decision-makers still believe that only London-based agencies are large enough or prestigious enough for their organisations, but refusing to even consider partners from elsewhere is the sign of a blinkered viewpoint.

“People shouldn’t limit their choices by a geographical boundary,” says Amaze Digital general manager Natalie Gross. “Client rosters, capability, capacity, skills mix and chemistry should all come before office locations. However, a London location is still a big factor for many. This is why we have a satellite office in London – it supports our mobility model, and can provide a level of comfort to some of our clients.”

Smith agrees that clients shouldn’t fall into the “London-centric” trap. “Progressive companies can be persuaded to work with agencies such as our own, not by glitzy pitch presentations, but by ideas, talent and hard work,” he says. “London agencies also have London-inflated fees because of higher overheads.”

Gross is also keen to point out that a lot of companies headquartered outside London don’t consider non-capital-based companies, even though it could be more convenient to do so. “Clients based in central Europe can also achieve convenience and cost savings through recruiting outside of London,” says Gross.

It may be the country’s capital, but London doesn’t have a monopoly on ability, and having a London agency on your CV is not as strong a card to play as it once was. These days companies are more prepared to look for quality and ‘fit’ with a partner, rather than London experience. The ingredients of a good campaign should be consistent wherever you are.

“Essentially, organisations have to do what’s right for them and many organisations prefer to use London-based suppliers. But, undoubtedly, some of them could hire equivalent or better talent and service if they extended the range of agencies they were willing to consider,” says McEntegart. “Liverpool is an exceptionally creative city. There is a pool of local talent on our doorstep, which means we can collaborate on projects and strengthen our offering.”

On the map
With Liverpool becoming European Capital of Culture in 2008, hopes are high that this will help to place it more firmly on the marketing map.

“Capitalising on 2008 means making the most of the positive climate, seizing opportunities and collectively ensuring we do all we can to raise awareness of what we have to offer,” adds McEntegart.

Undoubtedly, London will remain the creative hub, but it is possible that Liverpool-based agencies which position themselves effectively can wrest good quality work away from the capital. “Over the years we have seen growing recognition of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and the surrounding areas as credible and burgeoning cities for marketing and digital agencies,” concludes Gross.

London is always going to be the country’s media centre and its status will not be threatened by what is going on elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Liverpool’s Capital of Culture status will help reposition the city, but the key for those involved in the marketing communications industry is sustaining that beyond 2008.

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