Getting Out of London

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For a long time, many people in “Adland” have seen London as the only real location option in the UK for building a meaningful career. Yet if you were offered the ideal role, perks, benefits, better work-life balance and career progression, surely, you’d consider it even if it was outside of London?

Agencies based outside of the M25 are now holding their own, competing with the bigger shops, and being taken seriously by even the most prestigious brands in the market. One of the reasons behind this is the talented agency folks who have left London and still want to keep up with the competition and be the best they can. They’ve got the know-how, the work ethic, the passion; so why should their location hold them back from working with likeminded people to deliver great work?

Nowadays, most people are aware of the immediate benefits of getting out of London. Whether it’s the cheaper cost of living, reducing time spent commuting, focusing on personal wellbeing or looking for a better quality of life.

But what does it actually look like in reality?

Attracting the Talent

Attracting and hiring the right people can be a daunting task for any agency, but when the talent pool is smaller thanks to your location it comes with added challenges. However, it’s simply a case of making the most of what you have and shouting about the great stuff your agency does. Is it your client roster, the work you produce, the people you employ, or the location? Different things matter to different people, so you need to identify the benefits your employees will gain by taking the plunge and leaving the Big Smoke to join you.

For us at Organic, like most agencies outside of the South East, there are a number of sellable factors. Exeter has seen a 47% increase in digital jobs over the past five years with the city taking advantage of a Russell Group University, good communications links, and a close-knit creative and commerce community. Admittedly, the city/beach/countryside combination makes the Exeter sell easier than most but offering flexibility, and the time and support to focus on your own wellbeing is a selling point in itself.

Like other established and ambitious out-of-London agencies, we now benefit from the ‘best of both’ when it comes to talent attraction. On the one hand, a steady stream of young and hungry locals looking for big brand opportunities, and on the other hand Big City interlopers bringing with them valuable client experience. The blend makes for a strong culture and an ability to deal with larger clients with high expectations.

Taking the leap

The decision to leave London isn’t easy but there are agencies out there who can help.

Our very own UX Lead, Joe Holland, worked with various digital agencies in London, latterly AKQA,  before relocating to the South West in 2016. “Having lived in London for 13 years, for me, it was time to get out. It was becoming claustrophobic and I was starting to feel burnt-out from the lifestyle. My partner and I went away on holiday, came back, and decided enough was enough. Agreeing we were going to move to the South West, I cast my search net over an area spanning Bristol to Cornwall. There were a few good agencies doing great work, which of course appealed to me. I think my skill set stood out in the area too. I’ve now completely nailed the work/life balance compared to when I was in London, in the summer I can finish work and be at the beach within 25 minutes with a BBQ and the kids in tow. And on the weekends, I love to open my front door, be in the middle of the countryside, and go for a run.” 

Another professional who made the move out of London and towards the South West is Natalie Barton. In London, Natalie worked as an Account Manager at media agency, the7stars, before moving to Bristol as an Account Director with digital marketing agency, Creation Media, Natalie said, “Living and working in London created some of the best experiences of my life. Fresh out of uni, I was ready to hit the ground running, and the bright lights of London didn’t disappoint. The pace of the media industry was like nothing I had ever experienced before, from the relentless briefs and late-night pitches to the boozy media lunches and after-work parties; life was wholly consumed by work, both in and out the office.

 However, after three years in London, I felt a huge mismatch in my work/life balance and began to crave a more ’normal’ timetable and some proper time with family and friends. When I eventually moved out of London, it further highlighted how unbalanced my life had become, and showed me that working in an agency outside of London would still enable me to work on great briefs with great marketeers, but also allow more time for myself. The experience I gained from my time in London was second to none and created a huge stepping stone in my career, it also confirmed that this industry was perfect for me, I just needed to find the right balance.”

For those more established in a London-based career, there’s often a higher risk of cutting ties with the capital. Higher salaries, a Rolodex full of contacts and a clear career path forged in large organizations make London inertia greater over time. Even so, many London agency stalwarts hanker for a permanent change of scene, too.

Organic’s MD, Ben Scoggins, started as a grad at Y&R London and spent more than 15 years in global ad agencies. “I love the agency lifestyle but never really saw London as the endgame. Marriage followed by the arrival of our first baby accelerated thoughts of moving and, not wanting to become a London commuter, we started looking at the other options. We decided on the South West – we have family here – and so I started meeting and speaking to as many local agency owners as I could. I’m not going to lie, the search involved looking at a lot of different kinds of agencies and kissing a lot of agency frogs! Eventually, though, I found an agency that suited me; a place with fantastically talented people and a great list of clients – plus a desire to do ambitious work. It’s been the best decision we’ve made as a family, and personally I’ve found the move energizing. It’s been a chance for me not only to continue my career but to elevate it.”

The Future

The digital age is now. We’re no longer confined to the office, chained to our desks, restricted by our postcodes or addresses. So why should London be the only place for digital marketers to build a meaningful career?

Living in London isn’t getting any easier. With a one-bedroom apartment costing on average £1,800 per month to rent, the average salary coming in at £36,000, and the average commute time taking 81mins, it’s clear to see why so many people are making the move-out.

Perhaps more importantly, over two million London-based employees will experience mental health issues this year, and as much as the necessary programs are working to support this, research has shown urban living has a significant negative impact on our mental state.

So, has an escape to the countryside come at a perfect time for many burnt-out Londoners? With more and more digital marketing companies and functions investing in technology to improve accessibility, functionality, and productivity, it’s clear that the trend of getting out of London is only set to increase in the coming years.

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