Banging the drum for North East creativity 

March 5, 2018

Award-winning marketing and communications agency, Drummond Central, has pioneered live odds advertising and taken it around the world, broken the internet with a puddle and been described as ‘mad but insightful’. Here, its traditionally publicity-shy owners, Julie and Stephen Drummond, speak to Alison Cowie about their company’s journey so far

Stephen and Julie Drummond established Drummond Central, a marketing and communications agency, in 2004 after returning to the North East following the birth of their son.

Julie and Stephen had both previously enjoyed successful careers working in internationally-renowned agencies in Newcastle, London and Edinburgh; Stephen in creative roles and Julie specialising in account management and communications.

Over the past 14 years, Drummond Central has worked with locally based companies such as Sage, Atom Bank, Tor Coatings and Newcastle Building Society, as well as with national and international clients including Money Guru, Subway and bet365 – who could forget during the 2008 Euros when Ray Winstone provided live odds for the games during the ad breaks – a concept developed by Stephen and his creative team.

The agency – now 50-strong – has been regularly recognised for its work with scores of awards on show in the waiting area of the Newcastle office – styled as to look like a living room, complete with fireplace, bookshelves and even a bamboo bar (dedicated to a former employee who sadly passed away in 2017).

Surprisingly, this is the first time that Stephen and Julie have participated in an interview, having previously shied away from any publicity in favour of their work doing the talking.

But the complementary dynamic between the pair is clear to see. Creative director Stephen is the more emotive, spontaneous one while chief executive Julie, who oversees the account management and day-to-day running of the agency, provides the business-savvy, level-head; she is ready to jump in when Stephen unintendedly reveals confidential information about a future project.

“This is why I don’t do interviews,” Stephen responds with a grin as his wife rectifies his slip.

Julie and Stephen established Drummond Central to replicate the method of working they were familiar with from their London and Edinburgh agency experiences.

“We wanted to create a highly creative agency where we were judged on our results, as opposed to just trying to get as many ads and commercials as we could,” Stephen explains.

At first, the agency was run from the couple’s spare bedroom, where Stephen and Julie shared a single Mac computer. From there, the agency relocated to offices in Gateshead before moving to one of Newcastle’s most aesthetically pleasing streets, Jesmond Road West, where two characterful Georgian terrace houses have been converted to accommodate Drummond Central’s growing team.

Stephen reveals that they initially named their agency Long Hot Summer (after the Style Council song) but changed to Drummond Central after a shared email address led people to assume this was their brand.

But as Julie explains, the rename has proved an important element for the company going forward.

“It encompasses that we’re a central resource for all things marketing,” she explains. “A lot of agencies our size bring everything in-house. They make sure they have all film and media, production, photography, PR and media buying in-house. We do things exceptionally well in this building and have very talented people but if there’s something we can’t do well, we transparently outsource this to a partner of ours and tell our clients, these are the guys who will be doing the work.”

That said, the agency did make its first acquisition last year of software developers, Coalface.

“They’re great guys and we’ve worked with them for a long time,” Julie says. “I was keen that it wasn’t just a financial transaction, but it was a really good culture fit for them and us.”

Pressed on what the culture of Drummond Central is, Julie reveals that the agency recently went through an extensive brand exercise.

“For about four months, we reached out, not just to fans of Drummond Central, but to people who maybe hadn’t worked with us for a while or people who might be quite critical of us.

“Pleasingly, the feedback was largely positive and very complimentary of the team,” she says.

“One comment was that we were ‘utterly mad but completely insightful’ and I really liked that. But the overarching theme was that our staff cared about other people; this was important to us as it’s one of our most important values.”

Another key value, Julie and Stephen reveal, is that their agency has no place for egos.

“I’ve seen a lot of companies over the years talking about how good they are,” says Stephen, “but if something goes wrong they’re left with egg on their face.

“We run a meritocracy and don’t like show-offs,” he adds.

Drummond Central has worked with companies of varying size and sectors but is perhaps best known for its long-term relationship with online gambling company bet365.

Julies explains: “We started working with bet365 in 2006 when it was a digital start-up company. We worked with the team on their original identity, delivering brand work, design and product development.

“We went on a journey with them in terms of advertising and then came up with the live odds commercials, which sparked a whole trend in terms of the gambling industry.

“It was truly one of those silver bullet-defining moments and after that, everyone was playing catch up.”

bet365’s live odds commercials featuring Ray Winstone – first aired during the 2008 Euros – indeed caused a stir and were even debated in Parliament.

Stephen reflects: “It was just an idea that we had – whether you could put live data onto a television screen as part of a commercial.

“We could have easily said, ‘it can’t be done, don’t bother trying’ but through pure persistence we did it.”

The creative director goes on to say that one of his career highlights was when Ray Winstone was asked about the advert in an interview and replied ‘They were done by a guy from Newcastle called Stephen’.

Drummond Central has subsequently taken the live odds concept around the globe, producing similar bet365 adverts in Denmark, Sweden, Italy, America and Australia, and using alternative celebrities in the different territories – including Samuel L. Jackson, who fronted the Australian adverts for four years.

Julie explains that another client – a financial comparison site – approached the agency to develop its brand as a direct result of the bet365 work.

“We’re two years into that journey with Money Guru and it’s now recognised as the UK’s fastest growing comparison site,” she adds.

Drummond Central’s commitment to giving its team time to explore new ideas and technology led to one of agency’s most high-profile and unexpected ‘success’ stories in 2016, #DrummondPuddleWatch.

At the time, Stephen and his team were getting to grips with Periscope and live internet streaming. They decided to set up a live recording of the, often elaborate, ways people tried to cross a giant puddle that would collect at the entrance of an underpass near to the office.

Within hours, the innocuous live streaming had gone viral and eventually attracted more than 700,000 views, causing Periscope to crash (its capacity at the time only supported 10 per cent of that figure).

A spike in the share price of Twitter (which owned Periscope) led Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, to email Julie to thank her for the boost and for ‘finding a use for Periscope’.

Despite Drummond Central’s appetite for delivering pioneering work and its proven international results, Julie and Stephen have felt no need to open additional offices in London or elsewhere.

“If there was a benefit to doing something we would do it but we live here, we’re based here, and we don’t understand why we have to open an office a few hundred miles away,” says Julie.

“Similarly, I don’t believe you need offices in various territories because you can be anywhere, at any time, thanks to Skype and digital technologies.”

The agency and its owners are instead proud of its Tyneside roots, and by being part of what Stephen describes as “Newcastle’s fantastic creative hub.”

Julie finds it particularly satisfying quashing preconceptions about the regional agency among her London-based peers.

She reflects: “I can be at a meeting or at an event in London and after I tell people what we’ve done, they cock their head and say, ‘you’ve done all that?’. You can literally see their mindset changing.”

While Stephen and Julie remain heavily involved in the business, they are now looking to their team to take on more responsibility and decision making.

Beth Hazon joined Drummond Central in 2006 as an account executive and is now in charge of the company’s operations as managing director.

“After I interviewed Beth 12 years ago, I turned to Steve and said, ‘She’s going to run the company one day’,” Julie recalls.

The chief executive is also adamant that she and Stephen have no intentions of selling Drummond Central.

She says: “As soon as we got four or five years in, everyone was asking me, ‘what’s your exit strategy? When are you going to sell?’ I used to think I must be doing something wrong because I haven’t got one but I really enjoy what I’m doing.

“I’m now at the stage when I couldn’t care less what other people think. We don’t have an exit strategy and I’m bloody proud of that. But what we do have is a growth strategy. We have a strategy to bring people on within the business, to do more interesting and challenging work and to remain ahead of the curve.

“It’s not about me and Steve anymore; it’s more than that. We’re on that interesting business journey – not the traditional one.”

“Good answer,” Stephen adds – followed by a reassuring glance to his partner.

Drummond Central

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