Blurred Lines

Blurred Lines

#RBHTWENTY in The Drum

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, Midlands-based Creative Communications agency Rees Bradley Hepburn (RBH) has flourished by backing the innovative and the risky – including creating and owning its own fashion brand, Young British Designers (YBD)…

Debra Hepburn, co-founder and managing director of RBH believes that The Drum is on to something with its new editorial theme: “I agree that marketing has the potential to change the world,” she says, “but only if the marketing industry recognises the need to change itself first and start taking a few risks.

“It’s no longer good enough to approach a project and say, right, we need a 48 sheet poster campaign here, we need a brilliant microsite for this, and so on. Our process is to start with the search for a brilliant idea that answers the client’s communication needs but also resonates with the audience and sets them alight.”

Hepburn continues: “Becoming ‘channel neutral’ is unquestionably the way that marketing consultancy is evolving and we’ve worked hard to move with that trend over the past couple of years. We’ve honed in on the experience our clients get from a multi-disciplined marketing approach and spent a lot of time and resource bringing on the right sort of expertise; people who aren’t only account handlers, but who are also trained in PR or digital, or have a real passion for fashion or consumer goods or retail. Blending those additional skills and interests together with our clients has been really valuable.

“We’ve always stayed true to our ethos that a good idea can come from anywhere. This translates into a very flat structure here – we don’t do hierarchies and that is reflected in the open plan layout of our office. We chat, we listen, we share our ideas and, as a result, everyone who works here – whatever their role – knows that they can make a valuable contribution to the creative output of the agency.”

RBH celebrates the 20th anniversary of its launch this month, with its client book spanning fashion, beauty, retail, leisure, automotive and B2B, including Zatchels, Wacoal, Colab, Jaguar Landrover, Duck and Cover, Peugeot, Certsure and Grand Central. Hepburn believes that the agency’s determination to remain “seriously independent” has been fundamental to its success. She says: “We’ve had several approaches over the years, including some very attractive offers, but it would have made things harder for us not easier. The heart of RBH is our ability to take a risk. We’ve taken chances on less conventional clients because we believed in the people behind those businesses. We also take risks creatively with clients that possibly we wouldn’t if we had someone in Madison Avenue or London breathing down our necks, pushing for a particular growth target.  “It’s ironic that marketing agencies tend to measure their own progress by the number of established brands they have on their books, as, for me, it’s breaking new names and new ideas into the market that’s the truly exciting part of the industry.”

Money meets mouth

This philosophy led RBH to create its own freestanding fashion brand YBD (Young British Designers) in 2010 to discover and showcase the best emerging UK based design talent.

Hepburn says: “Over the years, I’d met a lot of people in the fashion industry and, having a personal passion for fashion, I was really shocked at the lack of investment in our country for young British designers.  I had always wanted the agency to own its own brand – not simply a division of RBH but a totally independent brand, faring its way in the world, just like our client brands have to.”

Five years on, many of YBD’s discoveries are now becoming well-known names, such as Sophie Hulme, Eudon ChoiSimeon Farrar and JW Anderson. “Every penny made by YBD is ploughed back into the brand’s further development. The real benefit for RBH is that creating YBD has further energised us as an agency and given us somewhere to play and experiment. Our creative teams, our developers, can try new things there – and establish the proof to take to clients who have boards to convince,” says Hepburn. “Our work on YBD also now means that we are renowned in the fashion sector as an agency that supports and puts its money where its mouth is and I think that will position us well in the future.”

RBH’s Commercial Director, Angel Gibbons believes that the agency and the marketing sector will continue to evolve, pointing to how business incubation, business consultancy and market forecasting services are all becoming more common within RBH’s work with its clients. She says: “We formalised out business consultancy services as our ‘Brandskates’ proposition and that has been at the heart of some of the best work we’ve done over the past couple of years. We also have access to a number of trend forecasting bodies and groups and it’s been interesting to see the interplay between the various sectors we work with – between fashion and automotive, for example.

Hepburn concludes: “A few years back, we told our automotive friends that there would be a trend towards white cars and they laughed us out of the room. If you look at the volume of white vehicles on the road now, you can probably guess that they take our predictions a bit more seriously these days!”

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