SCOTLAND: Break Across the Border - Scotland’s Leith Agency recently won a prestigious Honda contract, ahead of strong Europe -wide competition. Has this set a precedent? Harriet Green takes the temperature up north

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.

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

shops.



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.



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

network.



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

Edinburgh offices.



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

handle Honda.’



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

Leith.



But the four-year- old 1576 and the two-year-old Union are now firmly

established.



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:

saturation.



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

all.’



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

(coming 59th).



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

in London.’



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

discipline.



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

object.’



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.



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