Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In the Region of

There is one term I am starting to hate within adland, and I hope that I'm not the only one.
It's the slightly demeaning and insulting phrase of "Regional Agency".

I don't know where the term originated, and I accept that it has uses for smaller agencies in lists and charts. But I believe (and hope) I'm not the only person who finds the phrase insulting.

It feels like a term coined by a London agency in a pitch to scare a client from going outside the M25. A phrase that implies we don't have the skills or the resource outside the M25 to run a big campaign. A phrase that tries to bracket even global linked agencies like CBJWT, TBWA Manchester, McCann Birmingham into the same group as John Smith Village Marketing.

It seems to be a curiously British phenomenon, our obsession with London (and that's not to diss London agencies) as the only place where our marketing happens. I think you will find that Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh are all bloody big cities. We have our Beatles, our Oasis, our Proclaimers (okay maybe not the best example).

You don't call agencies in San Francisco or Chicago regional because they aren't in New York.

We don't call clients 'regional clients' if they are based in Liverpool or Newcastle. We would be rightly lambasted for doing so. Just because we don't have Fallon up here doesn't mean we lack talent. It's just that too many clients and agencies are yet to step outside the M25 and see it.

It's about time that we stopped using this lazy term and looked at our industry as a whole. We are not London agencies and regional agencies. We are all UK agencies. In this time when we need to justify our talents to those less familiar with the 'intangibles' of marketing, dividing ourselves up in this way helps noone.


Adam Lowe said...

Yep, very interesting post and I totally agree. I was in London last week and their impression was that marketing was dead anywhere outside of the capital. But you only have to look at agencies in the Midlands and North who are home to major clients and creating compelling campaigns.

As a student due to graduate in June, the main focus seems to be shifted not to get a job in London, but more in Manchester.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Thanks for your comment.

Thats interesting about graduate focus, why do you think that is? Especially as the graduate roles are rarely up here.

I think a fair few big London agencies know Manchester agencies are doing well after losing on pitches to them recently!

Unknown said...

Rob, like I was saying last week at Northern Planners - just because we don't always have the high profile clients with a spare few million to spend on amazing TV ads, it doesn't mean some of us aren't blumin good at making what money we do have to play with work hard - whatever the comms channel might be.

And making sure that the 'work' is working hard is what its all about in the end.

Robert said...

Every culture and industry undermines the value of another associated group in a bid to prop up their fragile ego and self importance.

Whether you're called a "Northern Twat" ... a planner in a "Regional Agency" ... or "a 3rd World immigrant" the people who call others these sorts of names tend to be some of the most small minded, petty little tossers you could hope to meet - so don't get mad, get even ... it's the driving force behind almost every thing I've ever done, but as Rupert Howell said, "I am a man driven by hate".

Great post

Robert said...

I wrote on NP's blog a while back that being recognised as a great planner in a small agency is far more rewarding than in a glamour city with big clients because not only is it harder to make your name on business with less money to spend/burn on ads ... but you are fighting every single day to justify your role/discipline not just with clients but in the agency itself.

Fuck em ... I hate that small minded attitude

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Gemma: That's it, I bet there are some folk in London who couldn't do a press ad on budgets many other agencies have for tv...

RobC: Theres definitely something to be said for hate, but in the Honda style of changing something to make it better!

And indeed, you gotta fight for your right... to parrrrty (plan)

Anonymous said...

It's condescending, just like the French aristocrats would pretty much say anyone coming from outside of Paris would be from "en province" aka those country boys and girls. They're coming to take our jobs. OH NO

Will said...

[NB: I speak as someone whose father owned/ran a regional agency]

Yes, of course the term regional agency can be used in a derogatory way.

But it is also a true description - you are based in the regions, so regional agency is right. I work for a London agency (or 'global' if you factor in the agency's network).

I don't see the fuss, to be honest. You can win big clients who are based in London or internationally, or who have over a 5 million spend.

I have more issue with the term social media, as it presumes only a very specific sort of media (internet, community focused) is 'social'. Balls.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

I disagree. Regional implies less suited to national coverage. Which implies less capable.

Even saying "the regions" is derogatory. London is a region. You aren't in a 'capital agency'.

I appreciate the sentiment isn't always negative, but as a term it certainly is.

Will said...

Well, I don't even think you're arguing semantics there - I think you're reading into it.

Yes, it can be used negatively. But then, so can 'London agency'.

If someone says 'the regions', I'd presume they're talking negatively about a campaign/agency. But that wasn't what you said initially. ;)

And again, I disagree - I think the term isn't, but the sentiment can be. Any tag to someone can be, depending on inflection and so forth. I am a Midlander. If said out loud, with a poncy Surrey schoolboy tone, for example, it could be taken as a slur - but if it's written or somesuch, I don't.

And also, if regional activity describes what your agency does - rather than national - you are, by default, a regional agency. God knows, we're a 'global' shop because a large amount of our billings don't come from this country.

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Of course in some cases there are agencies that do mainly regional work, and that isn't too much of an issue.

The problem is when you have agencies comparable in size and output to many in London; that get given this tag that seperates them.

I agree that 'London agency' is often used, and that could be construed the same way (although London is seen as MarketingMecca so this rarely has a negative connotation).

The issue I think is primarily one of publications and media. Things like agency top 20 lists.

Top 10 agencies

Top 10 regional agencies

Anyone who had never used a 'regional agency' would probably assume that it is a class lower, somehow less in stature and ability because its not in the first list.

I understand your point, but I don't agree.

If the terms Global, National and Regional were used solely to describe where your work went it would be fine. But its not like that, to seperate agencies out for not being in London seems totally pointless for any reason other than industry politics or as a put down.

Even using billings or staff numbers to group us would be better as at least that has relevance in terms of output.

Anyway... how are you Will?

Will said...

Completely agree about the trade press. :)

I'm just an English student at heart mate.

And i'm good thanks - cranking out a bit of work this morning, all cars, all the time. You?

Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Im good thanks! Still enjoying being a planner!

Anonymous said...

This raises a good point.

I work at CBJWT in Manchester, and what we find is that from a New Biz point of view our challenge is getting the right 'opportunities' to pitch, and not 'conversion'.

Last year we got 2 opportunities to pitch for major business against London agencies:

1) COI/FSA against VCCP and WCRS
2) BMI Baby against The Farm and others

We converted both opportunities.

We find that when we get a crack of the whip, we challenge client's expectations, and we win.

I think that it is a fair assumption that agencies outside of London are seen as operating in a second division - and this precludes us from many great opportunities.

In light of what appears to be an ungrounded prejudice, the term 'regional' is certainly not a helpful one in giving clients the condidence to invite us to pitch.