Tom Holmes on creativebrief and its role in the marketing industry

Tom Holmes, creativebrief
Tom Holmes, creativebrief

I asked creativebrief’s Tom Holmes how the marketing industry’s leading intermediary agency is faring in the economic downturn and whether big brands are spending any money on advertising.  Read Part 1 of our interview here.

JH: Did you always want to be in marketing?

TH: No. I went to boarding school in Northern Ireland, Cabin Hill and Campbell College and then, at the height of the troubles, to Leighton Park in Reading, a school where creative thinking was encouraged.  It produced individuals like Oscar award-winning film director Sir David Lean and Labour party leader Michael Foot.

I was particularly interested in writing, politics and the performing arts.  On completing school I decided to finish my education in South Africa and go to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where I did a B.A. Degree with majors in Psychology and Drama.

In retrospect doing a Drama Degree was a great springboard for life.

It certainly increased my confidence and respect for the creative industries and because the course was technically and practically focused it allowed me to concentrate on ‘doing’, not just thinking.  This proved invaluable later as I had to become self-sufficient and ‘make things happen’ as an entrepreneur.
My first step after graduating was to become a professional actor and I joined the Cape Performing Arts Board in Cape Town.

However, I was involved in a couple of banned plays by the South African authorities and soon became disillusioned with theatre and politics, so I decided to leave and explore opportunities in the UK.

By this time I had become fascinated with the world of advertising, an industry that exists in that wonderful synapse ‘where commerce meets creativity’.

When I arrived back in London in 1982 the advertising industry was about to take off, marketing had become exciting and the rise of the ‘mega agency’ was about to happen. 

JH: What prompted you to start creativebrief?

creativebrief logoTH: A lot of my working life in agencies was wasted in unproductive new business meetings, spending ridiculous amounts of money on speculative pitches with clients who didn’t really know what they were looking for.
I felt that what the marketing industry needed was a matchmaker that enabled a client with a marketing budget to navigate through this complex, ever changing marketplace to find the most effective partner to match their brief.

After two years research and development, I launched creativebrief in 2002 from my kitchen table.

Since then we’ve met over 3,000 agencies across the British Isles and I’ve built an experienced team, including Managing Director Paul Duncanson who joined creativebrief at launch, bringing with him over 20 years client experience in marketing and general management.
In addition to working within the FMCG industry for companies such as Coca-Cola, Beecham and Andrex, Paul had previously made his mark within the telecoms and entertainment software industries – holding Marketing Directorships at Alpha Telecom, Sony and Carlton Television.
At creativebrief, we believe in a simple truth – every company, no matter how small or large, needs marketing if it is to achieve commercial success.
However, finding the most effective marketing partner can prove time consuming, confusing and expensive. That is why I built creativebrief, so that brands can find the most effective agencies to match their brief, saving time and money in the process. is now the leading intermediary for the marketing industry.
It connects buyers (clients with marketing budgets) to sellers (agencies) and is used by many international brands, enabling them to find the most effective marketing partners and allowing them to do this confidentially, in an objective and transparent manner. 

JH: How did the economic downturn affect creativebrief in 2010?

TH: creativebrief entered January 2010 in a continuing tough climate for the media and marketing communications world.
This much is well known and, whilst the economic conditions within this market have improved, most notably from Autumn 2010, the legacy of curtailed marketing budgets has severely affected the new business marketplace throughout the year.
However, during 2010, creativebrief bucked the overall trend and whilst the market remained tough, the level of client engagement increased at a consistent pace.
Pitches that did occur through creativebrief in the first half of the year tended to be smaller scale, project based work (at least in the initial stages) with many clients still uncertain of budgets and somewhat reticent to commit to any long term spend or contracts with agencies.
There were however some notable highlights of the year with briefs and significant appointments from clients including Axa Insurance, BMI Baby, Heineken and Nissan amongst others.

JH:  Are clients spending less money on marketing activity?

TH: One of the most positive signs though from 2010 was in fact that it finished with a flourish.  Almost 30% of the client opportunities we handled last year came in the last 2 months of the year. 

This looks set to continue apace into early 2011, with numerous clients we met in November and December focused on reviewing agencies within the first 4 months of the calendar year.
It’s also worth pointing out that the range and scale of briefs continues to be wide ranging (£20,000 – £35,000,000), meaning a true spectrum of benefit for our members.

Plus we have seen an increase in the last 12 months of international briefs with 33% now involving more than just the domestic market.

JH:  What does the future hold for creativebrief?

TH:  Looking to the future, our aim is to simplify and streamline sourcing creative and marketing services, creating commercial opportunities and a fair and transparent system for the global marketplace.  We aim to make creativebrief the natural choice for marketers everywhere.

JH:  How pivotal is creativebrief’s role in the marketing industry?

TH: creativebrief is unique to the marketing industry and its role is pivotal in many ways.

creativebrief is the only online industry marketplace and the place that marketers with budgets go to find agencies and where agencies, uniquely, can showcase themselves to the world of brands.

Why is this so important?

Well, because we provide a market for all types of agency, from SME to global, London to Scotland, Amsterdam to Sydney, to get in front of clients who have struggled to find partners who can help them release their growth potential.

Thus we help companies grow their business through access to best fit agencies, and we help agencies platform themselves to a market many have never been able to reach.

And there is another aspect of the creativebrief service that makes it so pivotal to our industry – it is the first and only online service.

This means we provide open, transparent and objective support to marketing executives, many of whom could now be called the first truly digital generation in full time employment, worldwide.

JH:  2010 saw the first International Marketing Festival in Edinburgh – how successful was that?

TH:  Yes, in August we saw the launch of the inaugural International Marketing Festival in Edinburgh, deliberately set in the world famous ‘festival city’.

Co-founded by creativebrief, The Marketing Society and The Assembly, the first year took in a range of topics over 3 days, with over 75 speakers from some of the world’s top brands and agencies all following the theme of ‘The Next Decade of Opportunity for Marketing’.

The event was a great success, intrinsically tied to the thriving creative centre that Edinburgh is during the month of August, with the Fringe and Television festivals also taking place around us. 

See the review which contains details of the topics, speakers, press coverage and industry comment (pdf).

During the festival the ‘Brands of the Future’ initiative was launched. Six finalists delivered presentations in a Dragon’s Den style competition and the judges awarded Blue Marmalade with the £8,000 prize.

For a video of the presentation, see the blog here.

In Part 2 of my interview with Tom we talk about the opportunity for Northern Ireland’s creative industry as a result of the UK City of Culture coming to Derry in 2013.

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