It's now six weeks since Northern publishing and events company Prolific North launched a new national directory to connect 20,000 brands to more than 2,000 agencies.
It is the second national project the small team have worked on following the successful launch of Digital City Festival in March 2020, which brought together leaders in the digital sector in the shadow of Covid-19.
As live events and opportunities to network were postponed because of a government-imposed lockdown, the team started working on a new “radical” solution to help agencies and brands to find each other.
A report by Alchemis on the impact of Covid-19 on UK marketing said the pandemic has accelerated the direction towards digital. A quarter of people surveyed said they were more likely to consider new agencies post-Covid.
In response, the Brands & Agencies team created a platform to meet the challenges facing both brands and agencies in the discovery phase, when brands are looking for new agencies to work with.
The platform slashes the time and cost involved during this phase for brands, while helping agencies of all sizes to showcase their work and services in a more accessible way.
To explain a bit more about where the idea for Brands & Agencies came from, we sat down with founder Nick Jaspan.
Q: What is the Brands & Agencies directory?
The directory has real-time information on global networks and agencies - large and small - operating across the UK. Designed to reduce the amount of time and cost involved in the search and discovery phase, brands can explore, research and identify potential new agency partners.
As brands get inundated by agencies, the platform can help them to filter agencies by the services they can actually provide and have delivered on rather than the services they think they can offer.
Q: Who is the Brands & Agencies directory for?
Brands can use the platform to look at previous work an agency has done for other brands which are half the price of their current suppliers, challenge their current suppliers or look for new ones in a specific area.
Major brands, who may usually work with multinational agencies, could discover a company in Aberdeen or Aberystwyth through the platform, for example. In that sense, it is "levelling up".
For agencies, the platform is a good opportunity and way for them to find new clients, target them more precisely and also find other partnerships with agencies.
Q: Were there any challenges launching Brands & Agencies?
If anything, the pandemic concentrated focus and attention on what could be done. There is nothing that we're aware of which is directly comparable.
I’m very proud of Prolific North and what we’re doing. We were keen to explore new growth opportunities outside the North and the national operation will be run from our Manchester base.
The young team behind the project is very ambitious, they pulled together and embraced the project despite the pandemic where everything was held virtually.
With the rapid growth in digital engagement, the trend is accelerating with Northern agencies boxing above their weight in terms of the great brands they work with.
Q: What was the idea behind launching Brands & Agencies?
In March 2020 before the pandemic forced the sector to close down, the team worked on the first Digital City Festival - a week of events which brings the global digital sector together.
The success of Digital City Festival and its ambitious objective to create a new national expo based in the North - not London - proved to be a winner. It gave us the boost and confidence to replicate this success, but this time with a virtual product.
The idea has been in our thoughts for a few years, as people outside of the North often don't realise how many great brands are handled by agencies outside of London.
During the pandemic, Prolific North also prepared to launch its first ever print publication - the Northern Agency Guide.
As the guide focuses on agencies and brands in the North, we received feedback that many Northern agencies would value another way to display their skills to the UK as a whole.
After receiving a positive response after speaking to brands and agencies in and outside the North about the Brands & Agencies idea, we invested a six-figure sum on research and development working with Enjoy Digital in Leeds.
Q: How will Brands & Agencies change the industry?
The directory is about partnerships and transparency which appealed to both Umbraco and Twitter Business, who chose to work alongside us as our partners. Both companies also recognise they are not aware of any similar platform either in the UK or elsewhere globally.
Agencies proclaim to do all sorts but with Brands & Agencies - you can't just put yourself in the directory for something you haven't yet done. It has got to be a service or project you have actually worked on relatively recently, so it is all based on actual work. That is quite different from anywhere else.
More smaller agencies are now engaging with the platform. For them, it is the ability to be seen and recognised for their work on an even playing field with much larger agencies.