Let’s set the scene here: you own or run an agency and you are thinking about relocating the business.
We both know the safe thing to do is to stay put; don’t move and make the most of what you’ve got. But if you’re reading this article it’s highly likely that you’ve already reached this stage and now you’re looking, dare I say it, itching, to relocate.
There are numerous drivers for agency owners to consider such a move and each will be as unique as the agency that it will affect.
In my case it was the task of evolving a successful marketing department, a department that was powering the marketing activity of UK’s largest independent funding house and turning over £100million plus and to turn it into a bona-fide agency with its own external client base and broader industry exposure. Challenge accepted.
So back in December 2012, I joined the business and set a two part strategy; Part 1 – To grow and diversify the external client base, primarily to prove the business and team we’d assembled was solid, but to also fund Part 2 – the inevitable relocation that would enable us to build on the new agency’s foundations.
To add a bit of pressure, I set a two-year window to achieve both phases of bringing on significant new business and relocating to new premises. It was hard work!
As I mentioned earlier, your reasons for relocation are your own. We were in a very nice, new and very well furnished office. But, with the move to being an agency as opposed to a department, it was now the office of our client.
This meant we were struggling to establish our own identity and our new clients found it confusing when they visited us.
Focusing on location
You may expect that I bulldozed my team into making this move. But in reality my only insistence was that if we moved, that we moved to Birmingham.
In my mind, if we were to flourish, if we wanted to find, hire and attract the best talent, we needed to be where the talent is. And if we want to be a recognised agency we need to go up against the region’s best. So that meant a complete relocation and not just an office down the road.
Outside of London, I’d argue that Birmingham would rival any other major city in the UK for creative ability. So my mind was set that in order to attract the best talent we needed to be in the city, not 20 miles away in Tamworth.
Engaging the team
We spend a huge part of our day at work and whilst our industry is as diverse as it is fascinating and rewarding, I thoroughly believe we have to get the work-life balance right and moving the office would, potentially, flip that concept on its head, as my team – a team I wanted to retain – was located in a neat radius around the existing Tamworth base.
So I set about engaging the team and ‘selling’ the idea of relocation. The opportunity to mix with the best, go shopping at lunch, be in the vibe of a big city, grab a decent coffee anytime you wanted, take clients to smart restaurants and have a funky office. But, I also spelled out the downsides; the longer, slower commute, the lack and cost of parking, the stress and noise of a city. Quite simply I sold ‘change’ and then handed the decision of ‘should we move’ to the team.
Initially I floated the idea at a team meeting with a casual “should we relocate?” – primarily to get a sense for the team’s desire for adventure. With a cautious, “yes” I then talked it through with each team member in turn and asked for his or her thoughts and concerns.
Then I asked them to discuss it without me and anonymously vote on it.
The process took about 2 months, but the results were unanimous. It was time to move.
Choosing the premises
I was of course drawn to the Digbeth area of Birmingham, the architecture and industrial warehouses make phenomenally creative spaces with huge factory windows, exposed brick and steel. But we had to temper that with accessibility and client expectations. A good number of our new clients are in the financial services and telecoms sectors – and they are used to easy access and ‘corporate’ environments. So we had to get the balance right. Too corporate (Colmore Row area) and it wouldn’t fit us. Too ‘agency’ (Digbeth) and it wouldn’t fit our clients.
So we identified Ludgate Hill, just off St Paul’s Square, in the trendy Jewellery Quarter as a potential target area and then did a bit of homework on where we were in terms of transport links for road and rail. We needed to get in and out of the city as quickly as possible for client meetings – so we needed to see if the St Paul’s area would meet our requirements.
The easiest way to do this is grab a map from Google Maps (thanks, Google) and plot some points on it.
Ludgate Hill, nr St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter – near several train stations and with very easy access to the A38 and M6. Perfect.
So far, so good. The proof would be in the pudding – so we got out on our feet to perform a reccy with Holly, our agency’s ‘Head of Team Morale & Distraction’ with a view to discovering more about the area, the types of buildings available and to see what was available now.
On Foot: Always perform a reccy of the area, just as you would when buying a house.
Just like the housing market, the commercial property market is moving fast in Birmingham, so with the reccy complete we decided that this was the perfect spot for us. And as luck would have it there was a great building in exactly the right spot and it was available. The challenge now was would the space work for us, were the terms acceptable and could we get it?
Griffin House, 18-19 Ludgate Hill – Our new home to be.
The office is almost 2,500 sq/ft, bright and overlooks the canal with access to the towpath for lunchtime runs or walks and we are next door to a great restaurant and bar. The space works perfectly for us and we couldn’t be happier.
So far it’s absolutely been the right move. The team has gelled and raised their game even further. The offices look great and heads are being held high. And we’ve already picked up new clients, purely due to our location – clients that would not have considered us before.
But the biggest improvement has been the calibre of new staff we’ve been able to find. We are now getting regular approaches from experienced designers, developers, account managers and BDMs. And what’s most rewarding of all is that these guys are from major agencies, meaning we’ve been able to bolster our team with some big hitters that have actively sought us out.
The other thing to consider, and was something we missed off of our ‘to-do list’ – was creating a series of assets that we could give to clients visiting us. These included helpful files for parking locations as being located in the city-centre means parking is at a premium and not on-site. So remember to factor in the time required to create these assets and establish how you wil use them.
We send the .pdf file of the map above, out to new customers visiting for the first time.
Another advantage to being in the city is the vast array of service providers we needed to get our new offices up and running. The disadvantage, however, of having all these different companies to choose from is making sure you choose the right ones. Everything from cleaning contractors and caterers to A/V suppliers and IT services – all within easy reach and banging our door down to become their newest customer.
Then there are telecoms suppliers. We have been very badly let down by our internet supplier (you know who you are!) which has been a major issue – so make sure you get testimonials from potential suppliers as this area is taken for granted when it ‘works’ but massively dissruptive when it doesn’t. Lesson learned.
Making the move
If you are thinking about making the move, then make a decision one way or the other. If you need to grow and need more space then make the move, you are only putting off the inevitable. If it’s just a flight of fancy, a dream and not grounded in commercial rationale, then I’d probably suggest you stayed put.
Our move, although well planned, has proved to be very distracting. We predicted the physical elements but failed to adequately guage the psychological ones. Change is good, but it’s not for everyone and it can take time to settle. We found that in the first few months, but having come out the other side we’re bigger, better and pulling together as an exceptional, creative, re-envigorated team.
Catalyst is now on the map and we plan to stay there.