It was better than winning the Euro-vision Song Contest. Better
than getting to Argentina in 1978. Better than Sean Connery making the
big time in Hollywood. Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but believe
me, Scotland is bubbling with excitement.
This September, the Leith Agency beat a bevy of beauties across Europe -
including St Luke’s, Paradiset DDB, the German hotshop, Dorland, and the
incumbent, CDP - to land the pan-European launch of a major Honda model
(Campaign, 4 September). The win marks the first time a large car
account has been won by a Scottish agency.
Budgets have not been disclosed, but initial estimates put the account
at #35 million.
So, how significant is this win? Has Scotland, which in the past
struggled to land even UK clients, finally become a region capable of
going one step further, winning and running large chunks of pan-European
business? Well, to a certain extent, yes. Honda approached the Leith as
a result of its award-winning, quirky campaign for Irn-Bru, and also for
its work on Tennent’s. At the time of its appointment, Chris Brown,
Honda’s European advertising manager, made it clear that what he was
after was a creative powerhouse - wherever it was based. Geography, it
seems, was not important: ’The task given to the five agencies,’ he
said, ’was to produce mould-breaking car advertising that could create
impact across the European cultural spectrum.’
The Honda win has boosted morale, not just at the Leith, but across the
entire Scottish ad industry. Hark at the men running the rival
David Reid, a creative partner of the Edinburgh agency, 1576, says it’s
a ’brilliant thing for Scotland’. Ian McAteer, managing partner of the
Union (Scotland’s newest agency), declares it’s ’tremendous they won
It’s a very good sign for the industry up here.’ The media also saw it
as a breakthrough: Scotland on Sunday trumpeted the win, as did the
Drum,Scotland’s ad magazine.
But let’s not get carried away. It’s important to remember that the
Leith’s appointment is creative-only. Honda is not a network assignment.
Account handling and media buying will be channelled through existing
Honda roster agencies.
Pete Mill, senior partner for new business at the Leith, makes no
apologies for this. He believes that the Leith, renowned for its
award-winning creative work, should stick to what it knows: ’I don’t
think we are ever going to be geared up to handle network business
across Europe. We have 50 people here in Edinburgh. Setting up a network
would probably kill the Leith Agency.’ Rather, Mill prefers to see the
Leith following in the footsteps of creative shops such as London’s
Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which has created successful international
campaigns for clients such as Levi’s, without being part of a
Naturally, it’s far easier to run a creative-only piece of business.
Managing the Honda account will be relatively straightforward. As Mill
points out, it’s as easy to fly to Honda’s other major European regions
from Edinburgh as it is from London. And the ads, which break across
Europe next year to a single strategy, will contain a high visual and
low-word content. The few words there are will be in English, so there
will be no need for complicated translations.
Of course, it’s not the first time a Scottish agency has won a
pan-European piece of business. In 1995, Faulds won British Midland,
beating BDDH in a head-to-head for the #4 million account. And, in this
case, the agency did manage account handling and media buying from its
Christine Tulloch, Faulds’ marketing director, explains: ’When we won
the account there was enormous surprise: ’Scotland pulls a rabbit out of
a hat’. ’Ooer missus, how come the Scots can do it?’ We now have a
dedicated team of people working on the business and we run advertising
across ten European countries. It took six months to settle the account
down. It’s fairly straightforward. The Leith is eminently equipped to
The Honda win couldn’t come at a better time for Scotland. The Scottish
advertising agency scene is undergoing something of a renaissance. At
one time, Scotland was dominated by just two shops - Faulds and the
But the four-year- old 1576 and the two-year-old Union are now firmly
1576 handles accounts such as Direct Line Financial Services, the
Scottish Tourist Board and Glenmorangie. The Union, meanwhile, handles
Standard Life Bank, Scottish Pride, the Baxter’s of Speyside account and
the Scottish Daily Mail, among others. This proliferation of agencies
can only be good for the reputation of the region. As the Union’s
managing partner, Ian McAteer, says: ’I’m a great believer that a
stronger market is collectively better. Scottish agencies are more
likely to get more business. For a long time, Leith and Faulds were
carrying the torch and there were not enough second-division agencies
coming through.’ He believes that the balance has shifted: ’If a client
parachuted into Scotland now they would see four agencies of comparable
standard to the top 20 London agencies.’ But, he adds: ’That message is
not getting across strongly enough.’
And there’s an inevitable downside to the explosion of agencies:
Last year, the Leith snatched Standard Life’s multimillion account from
Faulds. With only so much decent-sized business to go around in
Scotland, it’s become all the more important for Scottish shops to lure
new accounts from the south.
And there’s the rub. Scotland is still struggling to be recognised as a
provider of advertising to the UK as a whole.
The European aspect of the Honda win is, interestingly, of less
importance to agencies in Scotland than the fact that a heavyweight
advertiser has appointed a Scottish agency - and without having any
particular links with the region.
The main issue here is that, despite the obvious quality of agencies in
Scotland, they are still not getting on UK pitch-lists often enough.
Clients may include a Scottish agency as a ’wildcard’ on their
shortlist, only to hand the business to an established London shop.
There are (rare) exceptions: Faulds won British Midland, 1576 landed
Direct Line, and last year the Union won the #2.5 million Baxter’s of
Speyside account - a Scottish account by heritage, but national in
practice - in a pitch against BBH and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, after
the client had thought the agency too small to pitch.
’Once we get on the pitch-lists,’ says 1576’s David Reid, ’we usually do
pretty well. But it’s hard to get on that initial list.’ McAteer is more
gloomy: ’I’d love to think of the Honda win opening the floodgates of
Scottish agencies getting European - let alone UK - business.
Unfortunately, it’s probably a one-off.’ The bitter truth is that
clients, even if they’re based in the north, still perceive London as
the home of the best agencies.
Martin Jones, managing director of the Advertising Agency Register,
says, ’It matters less and less where the agency is. I have absolutely
no doubts that Scottish agencies can handle the business. But heart over
head, clients naturally think the best agencies are in London - because
that’s what London agencies tell them. I don’t think it’s fair at
The relatively small size of Scottish agencies is also a handicap to
winning non-Scottish business, Jones argues. Faulds, for example, is by
far Scotland’s biggest agency, according to Campaign’s annual Top 300
Survey, yet it fails to make it into the top 30 UK agencies (with
billings of #34 million, it comes in 36th). 1576 billed #14.5 million
And the Leith, which billed just #6.2 million, comes 98th (although
these figures do not take Honda’s cash into account).
So size is important. McAteer has a clear vision of the perfect Scottish
agency: ’My view on the shape of the industry is that there’s a natural
size of business in Scotland. That’s 40 or 50 people, billing at best
#20-#30 million. It would bill predominantly on good Scottish blue-chip
business, adding where it can other accounts from south of the border.
This is being realistic. A Scottish agency will never be a Saatchi &
Saatchi or a Publicis. We have to be niche players who are good
creatively and really give clients a level of service they might not get
Similar challenges arise on the media front, with agencies both in
London and Manchester making inroads into the Scottish media markets. In
May, Faulds repositioned its media operation as a media independent,
Media Faulds, in an attempt to reaffirm its commitment to the
The past two years have seen the Scots plundering England, stealthily
reclaiming what is rightfully theirs - the Royal Bank of Scotland,
Irn-Bru, Drambuie, Tennent’s - all these big brands have been prised
away from London agencies and carried triumphantly north of the border.
But everyone agrees that, in their bid to expand their business south,
Scottish agencies cannot take their eyes off the home market. They can’t
afford to relax when it comes to the so-called Scottish accounts which
happen to have stayed, for now, in Scotland.
Scottish clients, however conservative, are not sentimental. Not even
Government accounts such as the Scottish Office. As McAteer says: ’The
first battle is to hold on to Scottish accounts and stop English
agencies getting them.’
A clear example of this danger arose earlier this year. 1576 snatched
the #2.5 million Scottish Tourist Board account from Faulds, which had
held the account for six years. In the end, the account went to a
Scottish agency, but let’s not forget that the pitch-list also included
the very English BMP4. As Tulloch says: ’Time and time again we’ve had
to pitch and prove ourselves.’
But overall, these are interesting times for Scotland. Devolution
promises new opportunities - and new worries. As Mill explains: ’It may
be harder for us to get English-based clients. On the plus side, certain
brands and clients will think of Scotland as a separate market, and may
want to target using a Scottish agency.’ McAteer agrees: ’On the one
hand there is emotional pressure on Scottish clients not to go to
London. That will benefit the industry. But if a barrier appears to be
going up (between Scotland and elsewhere), that will defeat the
As the rest of the UK braces itself for recession, spirits in Scotland
are high. There is confidence that a recession might actually benefit
Scotland. Says McAteer: ’There is an opportunity for Scottish agencies
because the scale is smaller, we are more resilient to downturns.’
Everyone is eagerly awaiting the Leith’s first advertising for Honda,
expected early next year. As Reid says: ’The worst thing possible would
be that the Honda campaign was no good. It would set things back years.’
Throughout Scottish agencies, fingers are crossed.