Why brands should look outside the London bubble

The very real benefits of working in and with an agency based outside the M25.

"Why, Sir, you will find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."

These words were said, and later written by Samuel Johnson exactly 240 years ago in 1777, but they resonate ever louder in today’s London Centric media world.

There is a belief, born of stubborn ignorance in Media Land that the only media that exists outside the M25 is the dull, bland, heavily patterned carpet readership of the local rag.

This is simply not the case and I am here to prove it.

I’ve done "the London thing" and now run my agency from custom built offices, by the sea, 250 miles South West of London in Plymouth. We are three hours by train from Central London, yet seemingly existing in a different stratosphere to the media square mile of Soho.

Let me highlight the very real benefits of working in and with an agency outside the M25.

Firstly, it’s all about the people, right? We all know that happy staff produce better work. As business owners we all want happy, bouncy, dedicated, engaged staff who love the company they work for.

While London offers a wealth of options for anyone wanting to work in media, Plymouth doesn’t. This means that as one of just three media agencies locally, and the only one existing in our niche market, we can pick and choose from the very best talent that exists.

Shocking as this may sound, not every single talented media professional necessarily wants to up sticks from the breath taking beauty and beaches of the South West, with a massively high quality of life and a very decent life/work balance to move to London to live in cramped conditions, choked on exhaust fumes, spending every penny they earn on rent and hot, crowded, extortionate modes of transport.

My team are creative, energised, dedicated and talented. We arrive at work refreshed and ready for action, not worn down from their daily efforts just to get to the office, and we all love the job we do.

Having run teams in London and Plymouth, the team in the South West win hands down. Our overheads allow us not only to pay the staff generously, but we pass these savings on to our clients. However, I’ve lately come to thinking this might be our downfall. There is a perverse matrix in WC1 that generally means the more you charge,  the less you are expected to deliver. By breaking the "retainer" business model by providing our clients with quantifiable ROI we are somehow seen as an outsider.

An inbuilt passion for media doesn’t wither and die just because you are not always prancing around Soho on an expense account. We love what we do and we do it bloody well.

When I first read of the tie-in with Mother and Campaign on the issue of diversity, I got all over excited, only to realise that once again, the only diversity issue being tackled here was one of gender (yawn) and not the wider issue of general diversity in the industry. Of course I would like this to include location but also all the other boundaries we struggle to cross:

Accessibility. Actually getting brands and agencies to take our calls, getting past the rottweiler gate keepers, getting other agencies to take us seriously rather than dismissing us.

Accountability. Looking at the brilliant campaigns we’ve run with major brands and the phenomenal results we’ve delivered for them for a fraction of the cost of a page of advertising.

Accepting. Not all talent in the media world resides in WC1. And accepting that as a niche, dedicated agency we can work alongside the big Lions of Soho to deliver a complimentary, parallel campaign that delivers cracking results. We are here to help you deliver results to your clients, to work with you, not to take your business away from you.

It is my view that the diversity badge should really be replaced with the word "inclusivity". The media world is far too exclusive in every way, in gender, in location, in size, in attitude, in activity.

As a dynamic, niche agency outside the M25 trying to open conversations with big brands and agencies, it’s a bit like trying to join the Groucho club if you are a plumber. You can’t join unless you can be personally vouched for by two existing members, but how are you supposed to meet these people if you can’t get into the club in the first place?

We are constantly shut out simply because our location and work ethic doesn’t allow us to spend most of Friday sat on an overcrowded pavement schmoozing the movers and shakers with a jug of warm, over- priced Pimms.  

This exclusive, London-centric view is beyond damaging to the industry. Every week the pages of Campaign are packed with articles from eminent media gods claiming the industry needs transparency, results, accountability and claiming that this is what customers want right now, yet getting London agencies to adopt this is like turning round the Titanic.

Yet here we are, sounding the iceberg warning, waving the white flag, showing all the signs that we are ready and willing to work with agencies and brands alike to deliver the very service the industry is calling for,  ignored because we don’t have the right post code.

This is ultimately ultra-damaging to the brands and the industry’s exclusive, London-centric attitude means that ultimately, nothing will ever change. The industry needs to dump the diversity flag and start wearing the inclusivity badge instead, then we will see real and instant change in the industry that will truly benefit the clients who pay for all this stuff.

Finally, while driving to work this morning, (clear, open roads, sun shining, blissful countryside rushing past the window, fresh air blowing through the open windows… ), a discussion was taking place on Radio 4 about a high profile arts fund awarding the highest prize there is in their world of £100k to the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield. It beat the obvious front runner, Tate Modern, and the art world is ecstatic with the choice for all the right reasons. This is real diversity, real inclusivity. Now, can Media Land please wake up, unlock the door and let us in? 

Rebecca Garrett is the chief executive of Rebecca Garrett Media.

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