Interview: David Craik, founder of Bright Signals

David Craik's agile marketing agency has grown to 15 employees on the back of a series of award-winning short comedy clips for brewing giant Tennent's. Picture: Contributed
David Craik's agile marketing agency has grown to 15 employees on the back of a series of award-winning short comedy clips for brewing giant Tennent's. Picture: Contributed
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CREATING content that consumers want to watch is music to the ears of clients

David Craik is no longer a one-man band, but like his favourite musician of the moment, he knows how to work solo. Just as his electrofolk idol James Yuill takes the stage on his own with laptop, mixing decks and an acoustic guitar, Craik’s done time ­singularly plying his trade in digital marketing.

His firm, Bright Signals, hired its first employee two years ago and has since multiplied to a staff of 15 at its office in the Finnieston area of Glasgow. But for nearly five years prior Craik was a solitary ­consultant, a member of the self-employed ranks that make up the bulk of Scotland’s creative sector.

Even now – with revenues of more than £1 million and the award-winning Wellpark campaign for Tennent’s under his belt – Craik says he feels as though he still inhabits the “parallel universe” of the so-called digital underground, which may lack cohesion but remains a goldmine of prime content.

“That is where we come from,” he says. “That world exists, but I think a lot of ­people are not aware of the talent that is out there, ­simply because these people are working on their own in their bedrooms or somewhere like that.

“But they are just as capable of creating something great in that world, something that would have required a bigger, more rigid agency structure in days gone by.”

Despite Bright Signals’ recent expansion, Craik says he and his team still “definitely felt like the small guys” at last year’s Star Awards hosted by the Marketing Society, where his firm took the top prize for SME agencies.

Entries for this year’s round of gongs closes on 19 February, with the society encouraging Scotland’s marketing community to raise its game .

Organisers are particularly keen to attract SMEs, which account for more than 99 per cent of all private enterprise in Scotland. Latest figures show that the biggest growth is among the smallest firms, with a 13 per cent increase in the number of sole traders and partnerships that pay neither VAT nor payroll tax.

Craik, formerly head of ­marketing at s1, believes the way forward is to embrace this diaspora. Zulu, one of the experimental “ventures” run on the side at Bright Signals, supplies music from original artists for use in film, TV and advertising productions.“That can be very time-consuming to track down, so ­having it in one central location helps to create a community, a kind of ­network for creatives,” he says.

Other sidelines include disposable mailbox service Slippery Email and Stem Cloud, a music sample download site for amateur producers that is expected to go live within the next couple of months.

These may eventually evolve into bigger lines of business, but for the moment the team at Bright Signals remains occupied with the mainstream task of creating content ranging from words and video to interactive installations for a roster of clients dominated by the food, drink and media sectors.

One of its highest-profile projects is unquestionably the Wellpark series of ­animation clips for Tennent’s, Scotland’s best-selling lager brand. Owned by Irish drinks group C&C, Glasgow-based Tennent’s ranks among Scotland’s oldest ongoing businesses and controls one of the country’s most highly-coveted marketing accounts.

Craik says Wellpark – a series of short comedy clips conceived in the first instance for online distribution – was “a gift” that arrived on Christmas Eve 2013 when he got the call that the project would go ahead with Bright Signals and Leith-based animators Something Something in charge of production.

Targeted at consumers in their 20s and designed to react to current events, the brief fit perfectly with Craik’s vision of what he calls an “agile” ­marketing agency.

While the Girlfriend Voice episode of the first series eventually pulled in the most views, the breaking of the FIFA scandal in May last year provided Bright Signals with the best opportunity to flaunt its rapid reflexes. Entitled A Fly on the Wall in Zurich, the 30-second parody of what went down at the offices of football’s governing body was turned around in short order.

“We had some characters that were ready to be slotted in to a variety of situations, so when the news came out we were able to plug into that,” Craik says. “We turned it around in probably three or four hours, versus days or even weeks.”

A quick response like that requires trust between client and agency, he says, as there is “no time for to-ing and fro-ing in making decisions”. The bond between Tennent’s and Bright Signals has carried through into T5, a campaign that captures the highs and lows of competition at eight five-a-side football parks across Scotland.

Craik says T5 represents the holy grail for Bright Signals – marketing content that ­consumers want to watch. By pushing a giant red button on the sidelines, players can ­capture and upload 20 seconds of play for review via social media or T5’s dedicated app.

“It’s really great, providing that sort of advanced technology to the average guy or girl out there having a kickabout,” Craik says. “It makes cutting-edge available right down at the grass roots.”

30 SECOND CV

Born: 1975, Dingwall.

Raised: Embo.

Education: Dornoch Academy, University of Glasgow.

First job: Caddy, Royal Dornoch.

Ambition at School: At one point I wanted to be a vet.

Can’t live without: I couldn’t live without music.

Favourite musician: James Yuill.

Preferred mode of transport: I have a Vespa scooter but I also like having my feet on the ground. I also love flying. I don’t understand people who dread long-haul flights – I could sit on a plane all day.

What car do you drive: Nissan Qashqai.

What makes you angry: I don’t get angry, but there are things that frustrate me.

What inspires you: It sounds a cliché but it is true – working with a great bunch of people and seeing what we can create together.