London or local: Has the hard-to-shift stigma of ‘local’ talent run its course?


7 Feb 2024

8 minutes


Once upon a time, it was all pretty simple. If a client wanted the best, they’d go to one of the big London agencies. They’d pay through the nose, for sure, but it’d be worth it. 

These days that’s all changing, and changing fast. 

One reason is cultural. Socially, economically and in terms of range of issues, people in the UK regions tend to see life very differently from people within the M25. And that means there’s an increasing risk that London-centric content is out of step with the rest of the country. 

For instance, according to research from media agency UM, 56% of non-Londoners feel that the way they’re portrayed in ads isn’t authentic. In the same survey, 57% said that the media and advertising was too focused on London; 48% believed people working in the sector didn’t understand them; and 32% felt the media and advertising is biased against Northerners.

Given that 90% of the UK’s population live outside of London, this is a big problem for brands and communicators.  And yet, over 50% of creative agencies remain based in the capital.

The great escape


“Ultimately this industry is all about people,” says Holly, head of client services at Borne. “It’s the talent for ideas, for relationships, for strategic thinking… and they can be anywhere. There is no reason why they have to be in London. It’s obvious, of course, and yet most regional agencies will still have a London address for the legitimacy.”

And while there was certainly a point in time where Soho was the creative hub of the country, agency talent have long been questioning whether they need to be in London to sustain their career aspirations. It’s one of the world’s most expensive cities, and many have been voting with their feet as a result.

Even pre-pandemic, the world was moving towards remote working and talent was moving out of the big cities to get a better work-life balance. Covid only accelerated that trend. Nowadays, some of the best branding and advertising work is being done by companies that exist (shock, horror!) outside of the M25. And yet, it’s hard to shift the stigma of ‘small-town’ standards.

Holly Bamford made the move out of London 10 years ago. “I made a very deliberate, life-based decision to leave, because I wanted to bring up a family,” she explains. “I actually thought it was a compromise in my career, but I soon realised that had been a complete misconception.”

For a start, she realised that being based in Norwich, Norfolk, is no great barrier to having face-to-face meetings with clients; in fact, it meant some of them are geographically closer. And even when the client is based in London, things aren’t always so clear cut. 

“The region’s now full of people working with big brands, doing a couple of days a week in the capital,” explains Holly. “The rest of the time they’re living in the countryside with their family, so they’re actually closer to us too.”


More and more brands are being called upon to be relevant to every consumer, rather than just those within the M25.

Holly Bamford Head of Client Services

More fundamentally, though, Holly believes there’s a real advantage to regional location in terms of culture and insight. “Many clients are seeing the advantage of having people outside of London because they’re in less of a bubble,” she explains. 

England has long suffered from a North-South divide, with the two halves economically, socially and culturally different. But rural agricultural regions don’t share the Southern prosperous stereotypes; these rural areas carry their own social stigmas of aging populations, a disconnection from urban trends, and perceived educational shortfalls.  

These albeit outdated impressions are hard to shift. But an exodus from London, adoption of remote working technology and flexible working practices has narrowed the distance in a way a motorway couldn’t. And heralds the biggest shift in perceptions of where talent resides.

It’s not just agency people relocated; it’s client-side too. 

“More and more brands are being called upon to be relevant to every consumer, rather than just those within the M25. But I know this from being in London myself; it can be quite hard. You have to rely on insights and research to really get an idea of what that audience is, rather than living and directly experiencing life in the regions. 

“It’s not loads of people with the same ideas, in one big echo chamber. It’s an environment where there’s space for different viewpoints, and you’re actually really connected to grass roots.” 

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t great talent in the capital – what it really means, is that it isn’t exclusively in London anymore. “You can still have a career in the creative industry, work for big brands, still deliver the same exceptional standards from the regions – and brands have more options, and a more competitive marketplace with that diversity in agency locations.”

Scotland’s Leith agency has long been demonstrating this fact, notably with its Irn Bru advertising. From the East of England, we’re creating award-winning work including this Sainsbury Centre advert, and work with clients including Adnams, and Virgin Wines. 


Connected with the community


The mental health crisis has created another case for the countryside. “The creative industry had a terrible reputation for work-life balance, and Covid really created a shift – not just for this industry, but for everyone. It’s time that our industry took work-life balance and mental health seriously and I see a shift to a more flexible and regional-based way of working as a positive step in the right direction.”

Norwich City Football club’s viral mental health video is both a topical example, and a demonstration of the great work happening in the regions.

So while the age of the big London agency may not be dead, it’s certainly waning. As clients open their eyes to the wealth of creativity thriving in regional agencies, we’re seeing a seismic shift that challenges preconceived notions about where innovation and excellence reside. 

And the future promises a more decentralised and diverse creative landscape, where the most creative minds are not (or perceived to be) confined to a single postcode.