Following our recent feature City Brand Leaders – Edinburgh, we decided to do a Q&A with a select group of Edinburgh’s leading agency CEOs to help focus on the Edinburgh brand and consider their own agency vision.

Here, Tom Holmes, creativebrief Founder & Chairman talks to Fiona Proudler, Digital Director of Realise


Fiona Proudler

Fiona Proudler, Digital Director of Realise, Quay House, 142 Commercial Street, Edinburgh EH6 6LB

Born and educated in Glasgow. Studied Business Economics with Marketing at what became the University of Paisley. Chose the degree specifically for its one year sandwich placement which I secured with Clarke Hooper Scotland which was one of the leading sales promotion agencies in the UK at the time.

Loved every minute of my time there and on graduation joined as an Account Executive. Was promoted over the years through to Account Director before leaving and working in that role at a smaller Glasgow agency (which became BD-NTWK) and then moving into an advertising agency role before settling for some time as Regional Director for TMP Worldwide in Scotland.

Made a move to Edinburgh around 2000, and did a short stint as a Marketing Director in a design agency before finding my feet (and what feels like home) at Realise. Originally joining in a business development capacity, I now run the Digital agency arm of Realise. I hope never to leave. Much to the horror no doubt of the staff.


TH: What does the Edinburgh brand stand for?

FP: Tradition, class, substance, history, hidden gems.

TH: How do you think Edinburgh should position itself?

FP: London but on a smaller scale!

TH: Are the city’s brand values reflected in your own agency culture?

FP: Yes, definitely. We are an agency that has been around for many years. We were the first digital agency north of the border so we consider ourselves part of the institution. There is a tonne of history that we love to talk about too when it comes to describing Realise – that we started out as an internet café. We built the first ever websites for many household brands. We created a reputation for excellence in technical capability well in advance of many others. And that we have clients who have pretty much been with us since the start!

I also think there is real substance to our staff and business. We are down to earth, hard working, “roll up the sleeves”, no frills kind of people. We talk in plain language (often quite fruity language too). We don’t waste time/effort and client money on convoluted process – we get right down to it quickly and start to deliver as fast as we can with the appropriate amount of Strategy, Planning and Discovery upfront.

And just like Edinburgh I think we are one of the industry’s hidden gems. We don’t brag about our successes nearly enough. We don’t push ourselves out there too aggressively. We’re almost a little too humble. We seem to shy away from shouting about our achievements – and as a result when we do get in front of new clients, they are often overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of our work.

Like Edinburgh, we still feel small enough “to get around in a day” and see many different sights. Although we have a busy London office in Farringdon meaning that we are in 2 cities, we have tried to keep a sense of family as we have grown. Despite the 100 odd staff we have, the culture still feels like one where we’re all very much in it together. The management team are like a typical family round a dinner table – jostling for attention, teasing their siblings unrelentlessly, but all wanting the same things.

There was a speaker at a Marketing Society conference yesterday who said a secret to success was “one team, many tribes” and this rings true here at Realise. There are significant differences between an interactive designer, ux specialist, front end developer, back end developer, planner, account manager and all the other many talented people that work here and those differences have value, but people joining us often comment on the feeling that we’re very much united.

TH: Does being based in Edinburgh influence your creative output? If so, how?

FP: No. Not at all. Creative inspiration is not from a specific geography on a practical basis. We’re inspired by everything around us not least the myriad of wonder that’s available to us online. Yes, walking around a city as beautiful as Edinburgh cannot fail to inspire but we’re an agency in London and Edinburgh, and one that works with clients in different continents, so we are getting our stimuli from far and wide. What’s been refreshing here at Realise is seeing how many ideas are coming from the new recruits we bring in. Their hunger to do well and carve a place in “digital history” is palpable.

TH: What makes your agency offer different?

FP: I’d say brutal honesty which is at the core of each of our people. We put it all out there with each other and then with our clients. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. I used to say it was the Scottish “chip on shoulder” that made me work harder than anyone else to achieve. But it’s not that. It’s a professional work ethic that I seem to have magically found in the people I have surrounded myself with, which means we always want to be better than we are, despite our fantastic successes. We simply don’t stop. Even when the going is ridiculously good. That determination to be bigger and better gets us out of bed every morning, makes us question what we are doing well and less well every day, makes us commit to each and every project with nothing short of 100%.

Realise logo

TH: Why should clients consider sourcing work from Edinburgh agencies?

FP: For the record I don’t think where the agency is based matters when choosing an agency other than at a practical level if you want to pop over for a coffee with 10 minutes notice it helps if you are on the doorstep. Agencies should get chosen for their talent, skills, because they have the right fit for the client’s project and people. Of course the cost of resourcing in certain cities is more expensive and therefore rate cards in, for example, London can be higher on average than that of an Edinburgh agency. So for economic reasons there can be advantages. Technology has of course also meant the geographical distance has become far less of an issue. All that said, a client likes to see you. Nobody will ever convince me that a phonecall, video conference or Skype can replace sitting in the same room. Clients should choose agencies that will make sure they’re doing just that no matter where their registered office is.

TH: What sort of clients do you want to attract?

FP: Ambitious ones. Those that mirror the kind of people we are. They don’t necessarily see themselves as no 1 in the market but they know they are a real contender – right up there competing with the best. And they want to win – more market share, happier customers, greater returns for their shareholders etc. We want clients who love digital the way we do. And who want to innovate in their space. Clients who are willing to give new agencies a try – well, those agencies that deserve a try. The agencies, like Realise, who will do whatever it takes to demonstrate upfront that we are an agency of real calibre and talent. We’re interested in markets like media, sport and leisure, FMCG, where digital strategy and execution can be really inspiring and produce amazing results.

TH: What work have you done recently makes you really proud?

FP: I’m very pleased with the Beam Me Up campaign we produced for CBS TV (where, through a fantastic mobile app that was free to download, Trekkies could beam themselves up on the Starship Enterprise transporter and share the experience instantly through their social networks).

A brilliant example of an idea that a member of staff came up with ages before the brief even existed. We took it to CBS. They loved it and ran it at the London Star Trek convention and we had people queuing out the door to download and use it, making our client look like an absolute superstar.

And all for an incredibly small amount of money. Out of this world!

TH: What Scottish brands do you most admire and why? 

FP: Scottish Rugby Union. How can you not love a brand that posts up huge images of men in their shorts at the Omni Centre.

TH: Are there any local marketers who have inspired you?

FP: I have been lucky to meet many great marketers locally through the Marketing Society. Most share the same characteristics – gritty, determined, fiercely competitive, but with a great sense of humour. Everyone from Malcolm Roughead at VisitScotland to Ken Grier at Edrington.

Marketing Society logo

TH: What business would you most like to win?

FP: I’d like a beer brand. My early career was spent working on the (then) Scottish & Newcastle account, running sales promotion campaigns on a portfolio of brands some of whom no longer exist (I swear that’s not my fault!). I had the time of my life working on McEwan’s, Beck’s Bier, Coors and others, making lifelong friends in the agency and client side in the process.

In truth though I’d like to win the ones that are on the table right now. We are pitching for some of the best known brands in the country at present – a biscuit company, toy manufacturer and major entertainment group. I don’t want to win 1 of 3 – I want all 3. I’m greedy that way.

On a very personal level I drink a ridiculous amount of Costa Coffee and feel they almost are obliged to give me their account based on the spend I generate for them. Alternatively I’d take Toys R Us on quite happily – would make Christmas a whole lot cheaper.

TH: Thanks Fiona.


About the Editor

Tom HolmesTom Holmes, creativebrief

As Founder & Chairman, Tom launched creativebrief in 2002 with the intention of revolutionising agency search and selection.

For many companies, marketing success depends largely on the quality of agencies and media partners a brand engages. However, finding the right one can prove difficult and time consuming, as the marketplace is complex and constantly changing. is now the leading provider of agency intelligence to senior marketers and makes the marketing landscape more accessible, transparent and navigable, providing brands with the critical intelligence required to make accurate and informed decisions.

Tom’s role now focuses on evangelising about creativebrief and raising the profile of the business across all our core audiences of leading brands, senior agency executives and government. A major part of this sees Tom drive our Market Leader Interview initiative which puts the spotlight on what it means to be a leader in marketing today.

Prior to creativebrief, Tom spent over 20 years working with some of the world’s leading agencies and brands in UK and internationally, including Account Management roles at WCRS and Saatchi & Saatchi, Board Director of The Lowe Group and Executive Vice President of Grey Worldwide.

Tom’s Linkedin profile

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