Where are they now?

In last year’s Top 100 we plucked out 10 young companies who, although hadn’t hit the turnover required to crash the Top 100, we thought had something special. Having dubbed them the Ones to Watch, we thought it only fair to check back in and see how they’ve been doing over 2009/10.

pete-steveArguably the boldest addition to the 2009 Ones to Watch list was Gibe Digital, who at time of print had only been open for business a mere handful of months and had yet to make a forecast on its first year’s turnover. Despite this, Gibe had 20 years of industry know how in co-founders Pete Williams and Steve Temple, a raft of first rate clients and agency overflow projects to get them started.

Now with over 12 months trading under its belt Gibe has sharpened its ROI and reviewed its positioning to take opportunity of the market, says Williams, and with a number of projects in the pipeline for Sift Groups and a strategy to win e-commerce accounts from UK high street retailers the team look solid going forward.

Stepping up

Richard-Nicholls-photoNot all companies dubbed Ones to Watch were recent start-ups however, as space was also given to those who, though having been around for a number of years, were now starting to find their feet and make some headway. Among these was Bristol-based production company Swift Films. Founded in 2005, the company was enjoying success with a series of broadcast commissions including a one hour documentary called ‘Race Across America’ that promised to catapult them to the next level. Earlier this year the film won the Judges’ Award at the Royal Television Society Awards West of England and opened doors for the company to move into even larger projects.

The most significant of these is End of the Road, a documentary about two life-long friends who attempt to travel across seven countries in a car bought for £100. “This was a real labour of love for us and a landmark as the company’s first foray into feature-length production,” said MD Richard Nicholls. Having only recently completed the film, Swift Films is soon taking it to festivals around the world before marketing it to broadcasters.

Another company that had been open for a few years but was also starting to up its game was design agency Play Nicely. Having opened in 2005 to target the arts, youth engagement and entertainments sectors, the team continued with this strategy into 2009/10 build a diverse portfolio of work. This has included print work and brand development for Globe Education and online experience development for the Central School for Speech & Drama. In the FCMG sector Play Nicely has also picked up new blue chip clients, notably in creating a POS toolkit with Epoch Design for Diet Coke’s recent digital puppet campaign.

Profile-Pic-2-bwThere have also been staff acquisitions at Play Nicely, with Phil Webster being brought in to work on 3D and visual effects. “This has enabled us to take on more projects together and resulted in us being in a more stable position than before, with our turnover trebling despite the downturn,” says MD Ollie Lindsey.

Al-Kennedy-_0003Open has had a very positive year, so much so that they made it into this year’s Top 100. They recognised that in order to be as innovative and agile as possible for their clients, they needed to invest in their own agency practice. Now structured to work ‘smarter’ with a focus on creating digital communications for a more social future for brands and businesses, they are currently collaborating on projects and working with clients who understand the power of digital communications to deliver ‘social good’.

Over the last twelve months Open have worked on a broad range of creative digital projects and communication solutions for clients. Work includes a brand ‘toolkit’ intranet for a global corporation, a CMS website for a not-for-profit organisation, a complete brand communication strategy for a public sector client and a variety of branding and moving image projects.

As if that wasn’t enough they have gained recognition from industry peers and clients attaining RAR status, attracted over 20,000 visitors to their website.

“For a small, agile and innovative companies like Open – opportunities have arisen to help transform businesses from the inside out. Leveraging digital communications to become more open, engaging and conversational rather than targeting customers as a mass market to be saturated with ‘broadcast’ messaging. ” states Al Kennedy – MD

Expansion or survival?

AC203780JONES_OD-32Scott Jones, Creative Director of sustainable films studio Footprint TV, is refreshingly honest about his company’s year, which he says started out less about expansion and more about survival. This was primarily achieved by reducing its costs and reviewing the offerings Footprint could provide. “As a studio we had to decide on what it is we really do. Once this was understood we re-wrote our proposals to introduce a much clearer, stronger and more exciting way,” says Jones.

This refocus led Footprint to make the tough choice of moving away from TV projects and concentrating on corporate clients; a move that paid off as one proposal led to a large national job with British Gas. The team couldn’t completely shake off its passion for TV though, as it recently moved into production on a documentary based on the death of the Rolling Stone Brian Jones.

SANY0017One company that opened shop to move into a new market last year was mobile content developers Mobile Pie. In keeping with its core strategy, 2009/10 has seen the team make a mark on the sector with a raft of new releases, including an original iPhone game, B-Boy Beats. The game launched to critical praise on the iTunes app store and in April 2010 overtook Tap Tap Revenge 3 to become the most downloaded free music game in most countries worldwide. Mobile Pie’s success led to the hiring of a number of new faces and relocation to new offices, twice! Looking forward, the team is working on some apparently cutting edge augmented reality projects and a series of original games for the Sony PSP.

CHPR-113-CM-SimmonsAway from the glamorous world of computer games, five person PR company Spirit also had a particularly solid year – with turnover up 50%, fee income up 30% and a host of new projects and clients on the books.

Among these were national media relations for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, business-to-business PR for carbon reduction consultancy Sustain and promotion of Westmark’s new green office headquarters for the Environment Agency. In a project that many of us here hope will be ultimately successful, Spirit was also appointed to employ traditional and social media during Bristol City Council’s bid to become a potential World Cup host city.

Some companies’ focus was more on gaining the opportunity to deliver great creative work, however. This was the case with Bob Design, who after being founded by four graphic designers stated that, “we just have a burning desire to produce the best design around.”

Skip forward 12 months and the team has put these ambitions to use across a range of innovative projects, including a commission to develop branding, promotional material and a website for a UK wide network of franchised soccer schools and a contract to produce all literature and develop new branding and online presence for The Institute of Financial Planning.

Collaborating with the region

Freelance artist collective Sun and Moon Studios have made a real effort to integrate with the local creative industry during 2009/10 and have collaborated on some major projects as a result. “One highlight from the past year has been working with BETT ICT Company of the Year, Inclusive Technology. After producing a series of simple flash games for Inclusive’s Help Kidz Learn Website, the team was retained to collaborate on a number of larger projects, including the development of new educational programmes to be used in classrooms across the UK and USA.

Other projects in the pipeline for Sun and Moon range from animation for a new flash game for Aardman’s Timmy Time website and producing animation and illustration for an upcoming website for the Technology Strategy Board

‘Keeping it in the region’ was also the cornerstone of marketing and advertising providers Digital Visitor’s year. As well as continuing to provide ongoing video production for Bristol shopping mecca Cabot Circus, the team also embarked on an e-animation project with Destination Bristol/SWRDA. According to MD Anthony Rawlins, the videos have helped push our region’s tourist board into the 21st century. “During the space of just a few months we produced 50 videos to highlight leisure and tourism highlights in and around Bristol and Bath. This provided a huge amount of rich media content for the tourist board websites and has helped raised the online presence of the region.”

As you can see from this brief run down of last year’s One to Watch, there is a whole host of small, new and diverse creative talent in the region and one way or another they are finding their own ways to expand and impress. With all of these companies chasing up significant projects into late 2010 and another Top 10 One’s to Watch list biting at their heels in this year’s mag, it will be interesting to see who can cause a stir by crashing the Top 100 in 2011.