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Location, location, location - looking beyond London

Cordell Burke, creative managing partner at bigdog, tells Ali Wallace, founder and MD of DNA Recruit, about location diversity in adland

Cordell Burke, creative managing partner, bigdog
Cordell Burke, creative managing partner, bigdog

Tell me about bigdog and the different locations where you have offices

We’re a national agency, with four offices around the country – London, Norwich, Leicester and Birmingham. We were born out of a merger between two agencies that each had two offices, Big Communications and Balloon Dog. We came together to form bigdog in 2015.

bigdog is an integrated marketing and advertising agency, part of The Mission Group, which consists of 16 agencies with 24 offices worldwide. At bigdog we pride ourselves on being geographically close to our clients, wherever they are.

As a creative agency, we’re characterised by London-centric principles, we work with international clients and come from networked backgrounds, but because of our company history the London office was never our centre of gravity. It’s grown out of a need to service London clients, but not all clients are headquartered there. For example, Aviva are our next-door-neighbours in Norwich. Our Leicester and Birmingham offices serve Midlands based clients, like NEFF, and those in the North, in the same way.

What trends are you seeing in terms of location diversity?

Traditionally anyone following industry media is left thinking London is where all the exciting work is, so they naturally gravitate there. What’s started to happen more recently is it’s becoming harder to live in London, so because of that we’re seeing increasing receptiveness towards looking at opportunities elsewhere.

That applies to top talent in London, who might be looking for a lifestyle change, as well as brilliant graduates who might question the affordability of London at the start of their careers. Both groups are increasingly realising there are great agencies to work for outside the capital.

We’ve always focused on attracting the best graduate talent and these days digital expansion means younger people look at location differently anyway - they can do their own thing. If they want to run a start-up they can pretty much do it from anywhere. Obviously, digital has changed the location diversity landscape.

How does location affect your hiring decisions?

The geographical spread of our offices works brilliantly for bigdog from a hiring talent point of view - it makes it very easy for us to consider candidates from all over the UK. Our ambition is to attract the best talent, wherever they may be, and give them varied opportunities, including working out of whichever of our offices works best for them.

What’s key is to dispel the industry-wide myth that doing great work for big clients are London-only opportunities, it’s just not true. And increasingly staff, particularly younger staff, appreciate being given a variety of location-related options to choose from. It’s all about grabbing the best people as they become available, and making them aware of the range of opportunities that are out there.

How does having a diverse approach to location benefit bigdog?

Again, having a wider talent pool to choose from is an obvious benefit. And changes to transport links have transformed things over the years. For example, travel times between Norwich and London have reduced dramatically. Choosing where to live and work is a major life choice, but there are great agencies all over the country producing work that’s ended up in Cannes, D&AD or other national/international awards. As an agency with the locations we have we’re well placed to benefit from the changes I’ve been describing.

Why is it important for creative agencies to consider applicants from different locations and how can they make it work?

In a country like ours I don’t see this as being much of an issue. In all my time as a creative director if you’re good I’ll interview you, I’ve never been put off by location. I’d argue it’s not about making it work as it’s easy to be more flexible than that implies.

Location diversity is just one type of diversity, and all types of diversity are important. You need variety in your team in order to do great work, and you’d never hire everyone from the same group. That applies as much to location as to other factors. In advertising, it’s particularly important to have staff that reflect the landscape that you’re trying to reach. Sex, age, class, ethnicity, location – diversity across all these areas is important.

Are you planning to set up offices in any additional locations? Any emerging hotspots you want to be in?

We have no immediate plans for new offices as there is no immediate need for any. However, we always go where our clients want us to be so we would never say never. We don’t approach these things speculatively, it’s always about meeting client needs.

Also, different working practices mean location diversity doesn’t have to mean new offices anymore. People can work remotely so easily now. And we regularly implant people in clients’ offices. They often work out of ours too - it’s all about close collaboration and cementing relationships.

What is the secret behind achieving a location-diverse workplace?

In a way, this is tough for me to answer as our structure means we just do it naturally. Just make sure national / international creative standards are maintained, regardless of where the work is being done. Stay close to your clients, ideally close enough that a face-to-face is always possible within the hour, and take all the steps necessary to attract the very best talent available with an even spread across all your locations.

DNA Recruit works with many of the world's most respected agencies from networks to start ups and many in between - areas of expertise include creative and tech; strategy & planning; client services; business development; finance and operations; production.

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