Soho and Shoreditch battle for adland's affections
A view from Ian Darby

Soho and Shoreditch battle for adland's affections

"UK start-ups flock to Silicon Roundabout," a headline in City AM boomed last week.

The story was based on a survey that showed 15,720 start-ups had opened in EC1 in the preceding year.

Ad agencies have long been aware of the benefits of the area. Yet there are signs that Soho, advertising’s traditional base, is regaining its allure.

Two of the smartest independent agencies (Now and Joint) have recently relocated there and another, The Corner, moved to impressive new offices near the Soho Hotel last week. The global creative powerhouse Droga5, meanwhile, chose Soho for its London office opening last month.

Perhaps the biggest commitment to Soho, though, was made by Bartle Bogle Hegarty when it opted last year to stay on Kingly Street and refurb its offices rather than move out east.

Ad agencies have long been aware of the benefits of EC1. Yet there are signs that Soho is regaining its allure

Charlie Rudd, the agency’s managing director, explains this decision: "BBH was born in Soho. When B, B and H decided they were to start their own outfit, there was nowhere else they wanted to be. Thirty-one years later, we are now the largest employer in Soho.

"Regardless of the financial temptation of moving 400 people further out, we’ve always felt that your physical environment is a major factor in your staff having the best ideas. It should be part of your strategy. 

"Kingly Street is a convenient place for our staff and clients to get to. The vast majority of our production partners are also round the corner, if not in-house, so popping out to view an edit does not involve a cab. And what would BBH be without The Blue Posts? How many years has the agency gathered en masse to celebrate or commiserate or to just hang out with each other? It’s one of those rituals that make a company culture like ours so special."

It’s hard to argue with this and BBH’s thinking is something that The Corner, a newish agency, is also attempting to tap into.

Neil Simpson, The Corner’s managing partner, suggests that the best people want to work in Soho: "Young talent wants to work in the heartbeat of London, not on its periphery. They are starting a Shoreditch-to-Soho switchback."

This seems encouraging. There are plenty of agencies that are capable of tapping into the tech vibe (and, for the time being, the cheaper rents) of Shoreditch. Yet there are others that consider Soho the more vibrant alternative. And, while The Dog and Duck, The Blue Posts and Gopal’s remain in business, there remains a compelling logic to this point of view.

It’s heartening to be able to say once again that advertising’s heart is in Soho.