Hidden gem: the story of a Northampton based agency

We’ve just been discussing what it’s like to run a successful creative design agency outside of the major UK cities with those nice people at The Drum and I thought it would be nice to share it in it’s full, unedited glory. The questions were posed to us by Deputy Editor, Gordon Laing and our thoughts are included in the latest edition which also happens to have one of our illustrations for Renaissance on the front cover. Nice.

Why did you decide to base out with the major cities?
Our two co-founders, Matt Key and Phil Christer, studied together at the University of Northampton and set up together straight after completing their courses. They soon picked up some great clients (who have stayed with us for the journey) and never saw a requirement to move elsewhere. The company has always been focussed on delivering the best creative solutions and as long as we can continue to do this from our current location we see no reason to up sticks and move.

In addition, Northampton is a growing and vibrant town with a huge amount to offer culturally and historically. There’s is a huge amount of investment being made in the region and, as the largest growth area outside of London, is a great place to do business at the moment.

Of course the benefits of being based out with the major city centres include rent / cost and “quality of life”, but what are the draw backs? Do you find it hard to attract the quality of staff you require? Were you affected by the recent weather, for example, too?
There are far more benefits to being based in the Midlands than the cost and quality of life for ourselves and our staff. We’re centrally located in context to the rest of the UK and right next to the M1 so the location is ideal considering we have clients all over the country.

We’ve also been lucky enough to attract quality staff because of our work and client base – I think that great creative people want to work on great creative projects in a creative environment regardless of location. As for the recent weather, we’ve adapted as I’m sure most other businesses have over the past few weeks. We’ve stayed open, kept busy and had more hot soup than usual.

How do clients find visiting the office?
We’re located 2 minutes away from the train station which in itself is under an hour from London and Birmingham via train and so it’s fairly easy to get to.  We’re also 5 minutes from the M1 and so access has never been an issue.

Also, once our clients have visited the office they tend to become regulars (regardless of whether or not we’re working on any live projects!). We work from a converted church and so the space is open, inspiring and very conducive to creating the type of work that ourselves and our clients aspire to. Great coffee and a warm welcome also add to the appeal.

How does the local business infrastructure help your business? Funding / grants / networking etc. Or otherwise?
We’ve never looked for funding or grants to help us develop as a business and we’ve always looked ‘outwards’ for networking opportunities as it’s more relevant to work with the right people and organisations rather than those that are necessarily located nearby.
That said, we’ve developed a really strong relationship with the University of Northampton and have contributed course content, guest lectures and introduced a student award to help celebrate the talent that’s on our doorstep.

What excites you about business at the moment?
The optimism of a new decade, our great client base, new and evolving technologies, the diversity of media platforms, social media integration with ‘traditional’ media, the chance to meet and work with open minded clients, the growing role and importance of video and other content in online brand communications, the emergence of gaming as a marketing tool, working with people I enjoy spending time with. I could go on…

Which projects have you been proudest of this year and why?
I’m proud of every project we deliver but, specifically, I love the work we have done with Top Gear over the past year. In 2010 (even though it’s only a few weeks old!) we created the cover artwork for the 200th Collectors’ Edition of Top Gear magazine which, aside from looking great, is yet another piece of work we’ve done that has helped to build the Top Gear brand across a range of media channels.

What have been your experiences of the recession so far?
As an agency we’ve always strived to develop a wide client base as, from a creative perspective, it keeps us interested and challenged and, from a business perspective, it doesn’t leave us as exposed to market conditions outside of our control. We did have clients in the financial sector that suffered although, on a positive note, we’ve invested resource in developing our offering in the education and public sectors. This investment has come to fruition over the past 18 months and has enabled us to continue to move forward as an agency working with a range of local authorities as well as the likes of the British Library, the Open University and the National College.

We’ve also built on our long standing relationship with major UK music labels by working on an increasing number of TV commercials for the likes of Ministry of Sound and Universal Music TV. Again, it’s all about investing in the areas that result in a tangible benefit to our clients. Our creative work on Ministry’s ‘Back 2 The 90s’ helped the compilation to shift over a third of a million copies in a hugely competitive market. As long as we can keep delivering results then our clients will continue to benefit from their investment in us.

What do you expect to be your biggest challenges over the next year and how can you conquer them? Is this unique to your location?
The challenges that we’ll face over the next year are related to our unique position as a creative agency and by no means unique to our location. The main challenge is to continue to deliver the best creative solutions that we can across an ever expanding range of media channels. This challenge is also one the great things about our industry – we’re always keeping our eye out for new (and most importantly) relevant ways of achieving our clients objectives.

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