Name: David Guy.

Age: 49.

What is your business called?

Guy & Co Ltd.

Where is it based?


What services does it offer?

Creative and research agency.

To whom does it sell?

From blue-chip to new-chip clients.

What is its turnover?

£1.85 million.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

I had an ambition to set up my own agency and to build into its proposition an innovation culture but needed the opportunity to take that next step.

When I was made redundant from UK creative agency, Billington Cartmell, (they closed the Edinburgh office having been bought over by a private equity firm), the opportunity presented itself. At the time some of my key clients including Edrington, Albert Bartlett and Scotty Brand were open to continue working together.

It ended up being the right place, right time and being brave! I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do and the chance to do something on my own.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Running the Edinburgh office of Billington Cartmell. At the time we were delivering award-winning work and had moved the proposition from one of promotional marketing to a truly integrated creative agency in Scotland. Their corporate structure changed when the private equity firm bought the agency and the new owners decided to close the two satellite offices – one in Scotland and one in South Africa.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Redundancy money and a £50,000 bank loan.

What was your biggest break?

Applying my passion for innovation and getting access to world-leading training was a pivotal moment. We were introduced to an interesting system-based US approach to innovation by our Edrington client, Helen Potter called ‘Innovation Engineering’.

Before the training, we viewed the research phase as a necessary slow-down of a project. Afterwards we realised that research didn’t need to slow things down. It could be an accelerator that provided customer insights to enable braver thinking and greater commercial success for our clients’ brands.

We spent the next two years refining that process, resulting in a blend of creative and research we bring to our clients’ marketing challenges.

We are now seeing that pay off with 2018/19 being our best year yet.

What was your worst moment?

We had a wake-up call in 2015/16 when we caught a ‘cash cold’. It was three years into the agency’s life and a classic symptom of expanding too quickly. We launched in 2013 and turned over half a million, which quickly grew to three quarters of a million. With bigger clients came longer payment terms and longer production timelines. It was the perfect storm. We survived – but it was a good wake-up call to remind me that we are just the same as any business – cash is king!

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Creativity. As the Creative Managing Director, I love imagining the possibilities of delivering that one big creative idea, one that connects to brilliant planning and is supported by solid insights. A great example of this is our brand-building campaign for our fantastic spirits client, Smokehead Islay Single Malt. ‘NOT FOR EVERYONE’ has contributed to a phenomenal year on year sales growth for brand owner, Ian Macleod Distillers. I love it when great creativity equates to incredible commercial results – it makes the client and agency team very happy.

What do you least enjoy?

Losing a pitch. It comes with agency life, but still never gets any easier!

Just like sport, nobody goes into a match wanting to lose. The team and I are so passionate and committed, so that’s why we are selective about which brands and projects we pitch for. This strategy is clearly working, as our strike-rate in 2019 has been 100% from six pitches, including Diageo and Baxters.

What is your biggest bug bear?

Creativity by committee. Over the years, I have seen campaigns die because of ‘death by 1000 creative cuts’! What can happen is the original idea being diluted as more and more people become involved in the process, with the final execution being almost unrecognisable from the original idea.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We have a clear strategy, which we will take step-by-step to becoming a best-known specialist UK creative & research agency

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

Get their act together. Get the UK connected again and driving forward.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

My great mentor Paul Cartmell (Co-founder of Billington Cartmell), once said to me: “Invest in your clients more than chasing new business, look after your people even more and add one or two great new clients each year and David, you’ll have a successful agency.”

How do you relax?

Family time and connecting with nature, especially surfing and skiing.