Head to Head: Is London still the best location?

With Scottish agencies DraftWorldwide and Euro RSCG KLP Scotland closing down, and Cramm Francis Woolf and others moving to London after years out of town, is SP once more becoming capital-centric? YES - Paul Woolf, Managing director and CEO, cfwlondon

I say "yes", although it might seem otherwise as spring emerges from the dark depths of winter and the leafy countryside of Hampshire blooms into life.

In fact, it seems positively perverse when you remember that the alternative is the congested and polluted streets of London. After all, what could be nicer than meandering to work through lush country lanes on a bright summer's morning? Crowded commuter trains, congestion charges and traffic jams seem like another world.

But after 11 successful years, Cramm Francis Woolf has metamorphosed into cfwlondon and we're relocating to the heart of Covent Garden. And our reasons are sound.

First, London offers an abundance of well-qualified, talented and highly motivated staff. That's not to say rural England doesn't, but to persuade a top executive to move to a country location is often more difficult than asking a traffic warden not to hand out a ticket.

Bright lights

This is made worse at the junior executive level because the sort of dynamic and intelligent young people an agency needs are attracted to the bright lights of London rather than a small country town.

As clients demand ever better and more dedicated service, only the very best staff will suffice, and London offers this - in abundance.

Second, commercial rents in London are cheaper than they have been for a long time, making the capital a viable business proposition. Added to this is the profusion of world-class advertising facilities, from editing suites and retouching studios to overnight printers.

So, coupled with a breathtaking freelance talent pool that covers every imaginable area of expertise, London offers fabulous facilities right on the doorstep.

Third, regional agencies suffer from a perception issue, to the extent that clients downgrade an agency's standing, albeit subconsciously, simply because it is based outside London.

That might appear unfair, but it is a basic truth whether people want to admit to it or not. Despite a nascent economic recovery, margins are very tight and, with too many agencies chasing too few clients, it's a tough business environment. With that in mind, every edge an agency can create must be used both for its own benefit and for that of its clients.

London provides another edge, both in terms of facilities and client perception.

Finally, on a less serious note, but important nonetheless, we started our agency in 1993 with the express aim of having fun as well as making a profitable and successful business. Enjoyment is part of our agency's ethos and creating fun was occasionally a challenge in Fleet.

So it's with incredible excitement and enthusiasm that our staff move up to London ready to sample the myriad bars and other venues that agencies congregate in after a long day's work. London is just a great place to entertain clients and staff. So only one (tongue-in-cheek) question remains: is London ready for us?

NO - Sam Ellis, Head of sales promotion, Poulter Partners

It's less about location, more about focus. The reason so many agencies have closed regional offices over the years is that they invariably end up as satellites, offering only a share of the resource that is available at head office.

At Poulter Partners, we have deliberately not opened other offices because we feel this would dissipate the strength and focus of our business, which is harnessed in Leeds.

We are committed to Leeds (the UK's fastest-growing media-related community) and have spent many years building up expertise across the broader promotional marketing mix. And this is all housed under one roof. If you can't replicate this across all your sites, wherever they are, it's hard for clients not to feel they are getting second best from you.

It's obvious, too, that improvements in technology, such as video conferencing and online capabilities, have made location less relevant than before.

Ability to adjust

It's much more important that an agency's internal systems are adaptable and can accommodate how a client likes to work. It's investing in these areas and being able to adjust quickly to meet client requirements that ensures agencies - wherever they're based - retain and win business that isn't necessarily on their doorsteps.

As an independent, nationally focused business we are under no pressure to relocate to London, unlike many of the agencies that are now part of a global operation. For some clients, choosing an agency outside London is a positive choice. We have had more opportunities in the past six months, not fewer.

That's not to say it's been easy; we have to work pretty hard to get the opportunities. If you want to compete at the highest level, you can't afford to think small. You have to stand out by offering a point of difference, and you have to go on and make that difference.

Not having the W1 postcode can actually help to shape the character of an agency and what it can offer. It's worked for us, which is why why serious promotional marketers such as Britvic, Gala, NGBA, Midland Mainline and William Hill - to name only a handful - have chosen to work with us.

Yes, there are clients who like the whole London thing - whether it's the perceived kudos or enjoying days and nights out in the capital. They're pretty easy to spot. But let's face it, 71 per cent of the UK's businesses are based outside London and the south east.

We're certainly finding that there are more clients than before who are under increasing pressure to deliver tangible results and show an ROI on promotional spend.

That means finding a creative agency that is results-focused, that understands consumer behaviour (perhaps by getting out among them from time to time), that can keep a tight rein on budgets and that has a firm grasp of commercial realities.

These are the clients worth having - and why would any of them feel they had to start the search for value for money in London?


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