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Focus on West Midlands

The West Midlands is evolving into a communications hotbed, with a mix of industry giants and creative boutiques flourishing in the region. But what’s the root of this revival?

Fantastic News

However, things could be about to change in the region. Two weeks ago, one of the most high-profile men in advertising made an announcement that could have a major impact on the marketing and media scene in the region. Speaking at an event organised by the Publicity Association of Central England, Trevor Beattie – the former TBWA\\London creative director and co-founder of Beattie McGuinness Bungay (BMB) – revealed his agency’s plans to open a Birmingham office in the next two years.

The announcement by the creative behind Wonderbra’s ‘Hello Boys’ ad and the FCUK concept has already caught the imagination of other agencies in the West Midlands. Darren Walls, managing director of Tomorrow People, said: “Trevor Beattie’s plans to open a Birmingham office of Beattie McGuinness Bungay is fantastic news for the region. It demonstrates a real confidence in our city and should hopefully serve to generate more interest in the city’s creative sector from further afield.”

However, BMB isn’t the only business to see the benefits of launching a West Midlands base. Two months ago it was revealed that Brilliant Media, the planning and buying specialist with offices in Leeds and Manchester, was gearing up for a Birmingham office launch. That office has since been opened – as first reported in The Drum – by ex-Universal McCann managing director Paul Bramwell. By bringing in such a senior figure, it’s a clear indication of Brilliant’s intentions for the region. The West Midlands’ media requirements have been under-served in recent years, with Bramwell’s former employers – Universal McCann – being the only major media buyer in the region.

Staying with media, one of the biggest events this year was Global Radio’s £170m acquisition of Chrysalis Radio, which, in the West Midlands, owned Heart FM and Galaxy FM.

On the agency side, it’s been another interesting year. In the news section, we reveal that senior staff at The Marketing Store in Birmingham are on the verge of launching a breakaway business, which will – if speculation is to be believed – take with it the Spirit Group account.

Senior Changes

Changes at senior personnel level are indicative of the agency scene throughout the West Midlands. At RBH, creative director and co-founder Ian Bradley announced his retirement and was replaced by ex-Lintas creative director John Dean, while planning director Danny Herbert left to run his own consultancy business. Meanwhile, Jamie Buckingham, a former creative partner at Euro RSCG Sydney, arrived as the new creative director at Rave; Christine Arthur, managing director of IAS Smarts, replaced McCann Erickson Communication House’s PR chief Claire Oliver, who retired from the industry, as Harriet Pearson stepped in to fill Arthur’s vacated role; meanwhile Dan Burman joined Cogent Elliott as its new digital director.

Faith Brotherston of Twist Communications, says: “We are proud to be part of such a creative region when it comes to the industry and believe we can rival London and Manchester. However, with regard to certain agencies in the West Midlands, the word lacklustre has been used – on more than one occasion – by both our newly acquired and established clients.”

Darren Walls, MD of Tomorrow People has encouragement for the region. “There is some great work being produced across the board and I think the West Midlands’ reputation as a hub for the creative sector is definitely growing,” he says. “Collectively we are regularly winning work from beyond our own backyard.”

One agency which appears to be establishing a solid reputation is the Birmingham-based digital agency Clusta, which recently launched in Los Angeles.

“A big feature of the Birmingham industry has been the rise in prominence of a handful of younger agencies of four or five staff that have been around for a couple of years,” explains Clusta’s managing director, Russell Townsend. “They seem to be winning some nice work and establishing themselves beyond the ‘start-up’ tag.

“At the same time, there’s a batch of more established but independent design agencies that continue to grow and consistently win some good budgets.”

Dearth of Quality

However, Townsend believes there’s a dearth of quality on the advertising side. “There is still a lack of good ad campaign work coming from the region for whatever reason,” he says, “be that the quality of the agency, the budgets, or the remit afforded to regional ad agencies.”

With a different perspective from the younger agencies, such as Clusta, is B2B specialist Wyatt, which this year celebrated its 55th anniversary and brought in Mario Morby as its new director of client strategy and communications. Commenting on how he views the scene, Morby says: “The market is fairly buoyant with enormous growth in emerging media channels. What’s more, clients are placing more value on strategic planning with less requirement for production related services.”

MD at Rave, John Wilford continues: “From the conversations I’ve had with my peers, it seems the Midlands is continuing to grow in stature as a hub for creative talent. We’ve still got a way to go if we’re going to start leveraging some of the big accounts away from London. I’d like to see more cooperation between businesses in the West Midlands though. Some of the key accounts in the region still immediately look to the capital, which is disappointing when there’s such a wealth of talent under their noses.”

Featured by The Drum

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