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Focusing on the brand and helping others do the same

CREATIVE THINKING: Tayburn creative director Malcolm Stewart admits that he loves being a part of building the company's reputation, and hates losing. Picture: Steve Cox
CREATIVE THINKING: Tayburn creative director Malcolm Stewart admits that he loves being a part of building the company's reputation, and hates losing. Picture: Steve Cox

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a firm that had a particular reason to be glad that Glasgow succeeded with its bid to host the Commonwealth Games which will light up the city this summer.

Name: Malcolm Stewart.

Age: 46

What is your business called?

Tayburn.

Where is it based?

Edinburgh and Manchester.

What does it produce, what service does it offer?

We create and build brands. We believe an organisation's brand and reputation are the most valuable assets it owns. Our job is to help organisations maximise the value of their assets by changing the way the world thinks and talks about them. We do this through strategic and creative thinking, delivered via digital and integrated communication campaigns.

To whom does it sell?

Our client base is diverse and we mainly work with large and mid-sized companies. Our clients include Glasgow 2014, Standard Life Wealth, The University of Edinburgh, Diageo, Heineken, Aggreko, The Yard, Scottish Water, the British Council and Toshiba.

What is its turnover?

Turnover this year will be £3.1m and we've grown fee income by roughly 5% each year since 2008. The economic downturn inevitably had an impact on marketing budgets.

But it also placed even more emphasis on proving effectiveness and on delivering value for money. As the economic recovery has gathered pace, we've won a number of new clients, with new business income growing by 30% in the past six months.

How many employees?

40 strategic planners, creatives, digital experts and account managers across our Edinburgh and Manchester offices.

When was it formed?

Tayburn was originally formed in 1979. Through a management buyout, myself and fellow directors Simon Farrell, Steven Mitchell and Bill Davidson acquired the business in 2008. Richard Simpson joined the board last year.

Why did you take the plunge?

We were given the opportunity to buy out the previous owners when Tayburn already had a strong brand and a fantastic team, which was getting stronger and winning more and more new business.

The MBO was a chance to shape a creative business that we felt had a lot to play for. Taking over at the start of the economic downturn was a risk, of course, but as we knew the business inside and out, we felt it was worth taking. It took around fourth months to complete and was relatively pain-free. Although there were numerous conversations, both parties wanted to make it work and the approach was calm and rational. I think everyone ended up feeling pleased with the outcome.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

At the time of the MBO I was Tayburn's creative director, running the creative team.

I'd always wanted to work in a larger creative business, with plenty of bright, inspiring people to learn from. And I'd always wanted to work on bigger brands, which particularly at the time, tended to gravitate towards the larger design companies.

Having begun my career with the agency in 1990 as a junior designer, I have benefited from the opportunity to grow and develop as the business has.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

The four of us used our own money to complete the MBO.

What was your biggest break?

A few things stand out, the opportunity to buy being one. Instead of focusing on selling out to the highest bidder, the previous owners had a strong belief in allowing the next generation to take control and grow the business, to remain independent with the belief the best people to own a business are the people that run it. I'll always be grateful for that trust.

In the early days of our management we pitched against seven other companies to create the brand and generate support for Glasgow's bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. We won (and so did Glasgow eventually). This brief was fantastic for our profile and great for morale — it seemed to kick-start a real belief internally.

The connection with Glasgow 2014 continues today. We've just completed the brand communication strategy for the games and have a team consulting with sponsor brands to capitalise on their involvement.

What do you most enjoy about running a business?

Building something we're proud of, creating a reputation, seeing talented people wanting to join the company and then flourish here. I also have the opportunity to be creative every day, and that's very important to me.

What do you least enjoy?

Losing. I'm not very good at it. We pitch for new business regularly and a huge amount of thinking and effort goes into it from the whole team involved. It's impossible to win everything, but no matter how rational you are about the win/lose ratio, it always hurts.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

Firstly, reputation. Development is also important. We are growing and we want this to continue. But I'm more interested in growing our reputation in Scotland and throughout the rest of the UK, than chasing size for the sake of it.

What are your top priorities?

We are currently ranked 5th in the UK for effectiveness and 7th in the UK for creativity. I'd like to continue to improve and climb the rankings.

Talent is very important. At Tayburn we need to recruit, and retain, the best possible people for our team and for our clients.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Government do that would help?

In some areas of the public sector, the understandable need to control costs and find budget savings has led to a situation where cost becomes the only real criterion. This ignores the potential value and effectiveness of creative work.

I'd also love to see the argument for and against independence set out more clearly and simply. It would avoid the never-ending to-ing and fro-ing, claim and denial, scaremongering and exaggeration, which creates uncertainty for businesses.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

It's better to make a decision based on what you believe is right and then change or amend it later, than agonise over it at length and delay getting on with things. If you're confident, you can make decisions and they tend to be better decisions. When you apply that to creativity it means stronger, more distinct work that gets better results.

And it's important to spend time building clarity, belief and confidence internally — you won't get very far if your people aren't sure what they're trying to achieve.

How do you relax?

I find sport is a good way to relax and I play tennis every week. When I'm not at work, I enjoy time spent with family; enjoying a movie or gathering round the table for some great food.

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