SCOTLAND: THE TARTAN CONNECTION - The devolution result and rising adspend are making Scottish adland the place to be, Richard Cook says

England has a long and painful history of meddling with the Scots - and I’m only talking ad agencies here, I won’t even begin to get involved in the antics of Edward II. From CDP’s on-off relationship with Marr Associates, to Saatchi & Saatchi’s unfortunate experience with Hall Advertising, the Anglo-Scottish advertising experience has hardly set the world alight.

England has a long and painful history of meddling with the Scots -

and I’m only talking ad agencies here, I won’t even begin to get

involved in the antics of Edward II. From CDP’s on-off relationship with

Marr Associates, to Saatchi & Saatchi’s unfortunate experience with Hall

Advertising, the Anglo-Scottish advertising experience has hardly set

the world alight.



But that might be about to change. Osprey set the ball rolling last

month by spending around pounds 1.2 million to acquire Covey

Advertising, the Edinburgh-based shop. And it doesn’t stop there. The

Media Business Group Scotland is now up and running in Edinburgh, while

a new-media independent, MediaVision, is preparing to open its doors for

business with the help of backing from MediaVest North. CIA Medianetwork

has now assumed complete control of its Scottish joint venture company

with the Morgan Partnership. Oh, and lest we forget, the last of the

Scottish multinationals, McCann-Erickson, is on the brink of buying one

of Scotland’s big two, the Leith Agency.



The attraction of Scottish adland is certainly real enough south of the

border, and it’s not difficult to see why. Not least is the fact that

adspend has risen by a quarter over the past three years, up to around

pounds 371 million this year. Add to that the dawning realisation of the

advantages devolution might bring, and suddenly the future’s not just

bright, it’s positively tartan.



’There was a lot of speculation in the press about the damage devolution

might cause and plenty of pre-referendum talk about companies relocating

to England to help save taxes,’ Adrian Jeffery, creative partner at the

1576 agency, admits. ’All of this seemed to suggest it would be bad news

for Scottish agencies. But, since the vote, I think people have started

to realise the considerable advantages devolution will bring.’



These advantages are not just intangible benefits - such as a developing

sense of Scottish nationhood - there should be practical advantages as

well.



’There will inevitably be more Scottish institutions coming into

existence after devolution,’ Jeffery points out, ’and while there is

absolutely no reason that these institutions should not appoint an ad

agency from England, in practice they do tend, for obvious reasons, to

favour Scottish agencies.’



Clients such as the Scottish Office and the Health Education Authority

are already some of the biggest Scottish advertisers and this sector is

certain to grow further after devolution.



For Osprey, the move to Scotland was certainly facilitated by the

economic vitality of the country, even if the prime motivation behind

the acquisition was the availability of the right agency at the right

sort of price. Osprey is, after all, also looking for acquisition

targets in Birmingham and Manchester.



Even though Covey will be branded as Osprey Scotland, the chairman, Jack

Rubins, says he is concerned not to make the mistakes other English

predators have in the past. ’Scotland has proved an especially volatile

market in the past and the big networks have not prospered,’ he admits.

Hall Advertising, one of the biggest and most successful agencies in

Scotland when it was acquired by Saatchis, failed to adjust to life as a

small part of big multinational. The business was eventually sold to

Hall Harrison Cowley, although the name was retained by Saatchis, and

eventually put into liquidation.



’I don’t think networks have always been run in the right way,’ Rubins

says. ’What we intend to do is let them run themselves as much as

possible.



We’ll be keeping an eye on profitability but we are investing in their

talent and that’s what we have to encourage. You do that by letting them

get on with it.’



The media independent sector has been left to its own devices and has

fared no less well for that. But growth so far has been largely fuelled

by the development of local talent. Now that is about to change. The

Media Business Group opened its office on 1 September and will, for the

time being, be run by the group’s well respected broadcast director,

Paul van Barthold.



’Scottish advertising used to be dominated by the full-service agencies

but, as they have declined over the last couple of years, the influence

of independents has increased,’ Stewart Feather, director of Scotland’s

largest independent, Feather Brooksbank, says. ’So much so that now

there is a greater proportion of business at independents here than

there is in the rest of the UK.’



Feather Brooksbank has grown from a start-up in 1991 and will bill more

than pounds 50 million by the year end. Faulds is the only major

Scottish full-service agency.



That could alter. If McCanns’ merger talks with the Leith are resolved,

it would be prepared to launch its media dependant, Universal, in

Scotland.



Although the Leith’s major accounts - Irn-Bru and Tennent’s - are placed

direct by the client, there’s little doubt the association could be

beneficial.



Whether McCanns’ acquisition of the Leith could be viewed in the same

light is questionable. Leaving aside client conflicts, such as Irn-Bru

and Coca-Cola, the marriage would at best be an attraction of

opposites.



And the Leith’s pre-eminent creative reputation is already under threat

from the likes of 1576.



And if the volatility of the Scottish ad scene has taught us anything,

it is that reputation counts for little. The rewards, it seems, are only

there for performance.



’The market is more sophisticated now than it was a few years ago,’ Jim

Faulds, the Faulds chairman, concedes. ’When we started out we were

small - some of the big agencies underestimated us and didn’t take us

too seriously.



We’re not going to make the same mistake. This market is getting more

competitive and advanced all the time. There has been a freshening of

confidence following the devolution vote, and there is a lot of interest

in Scotland from outside. In the end, we are now all trying to ensure

that we have just the right people and just the right set-ups to meet

all these challenges.’



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