New media agencies working with television and big brand companies have got to be based in London. Right? Not according to David Eccles, managing director of Leeds-based digital media agency Numiko. With a portfolio that includes award-winning projects for prime-time broadcast brands such as EastEnders, Doctor Who, Waking the Dead and CBBC, the company is now turning its attention to big-name consumer brands where Eccles feels a fresh approach is needed.

“Traditional models of advertising are dying and, as the digital media landscape becomes more complex and fractured, clients need more help in finding, attracting and talking to their audiences,” he says. “We’re now working with brands such as GHD at a more strategic level to really make sure they are in a position to exploit the web and interactive media to their fullest potential.

“How do marketers communicate with people who can fast-forward TV ads, ignore banner ads and don’t respond well to press ads?” he asks. “We think the answer will be in providing digital content and services to people that pull them towards brands for their own benefit, rather than interrupting their lives as has been the norm for the last 50 years.”

Yorkshire’s regional capital is perhaps better known as the UK’s biggest centre for financial services outside London. Figures from the government’s annual business inquiry confirm that Leeds now has more people employed in financial and business services than any city outside the capital. It has overtaken Birmingham and is ahead of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester. Financial and business services now account for around 114,000 jobs – more than one in four jobs – and nearly a third of the city’s economic output, totalling £13.6bn in 2006.
The city’s media sector is tiny by comparison, with around 1,600 firms employing just under 14,000 people. But like financial and business services, media and communications companies in Leeds have a reputation for quality and depth of service. It’s something that’s been key to Numiko’s development as an agency.

“We’ve been in business for seven years and we’ve now got 12 people. We could have grown far quicker, but we made the decision not to,” says Eccles. “A lot of agencies that grow really quickly lose their identity, their culture and what they stand for. I think that growing slowly has meant that we can retain a culture where things are done well and in a considered way.

“In turn our reputation is very good and that is based on our work,” he adds. “I don’t think there’s any secret recipe when it comes to succeeding in business really: we’re honest with our clients and we make sure that the work we do is as good as it can be.”

Vision of the future
Originally known by the name of New Media Collective, the company was first formed to develop content for broadband connections that were coming onto the horizon in 2000. It brought together a diverse group of talents that had experience of animation, photography, design, video, special effects and music. “We thought that the internet would one day combine all these things, and we have been proved right,” Eccles observes.

Now called Numiko following a recent re-brand, the company specialises in what Eccles describes as ‘rich content’: a sophisticated combination of audio, video and interactive media. “The new name is made from the first syllables of the old name. We’ve become more professional, more grown up, but we’re still creative and fun, and we wanted the brand to reflect this evolution. The new name seems to fit really well.”

Growth has taken Numiko into new premises as well as new markets. The company has just moved to the Design Innovation centre, close to the Leeds waterfront, from its previous base at Round Foundry media centre. “We were the second company to move into the Round Foundry, and we were there for three years,” says Eccles. “We really enjoyed being there and would have liked to have stayed. It’s in an area that’s got great potential and is starting to have a really nice vibe.”

Located close to Leeds city centre in the fast developing Holbeck urban village, the Round Foundry media centre was set up with support from regional development agency Yorkshire Forward specifically to nurture high value digital media businesses. It is part of a much wider regeneration programme spearheaded by Leeds City Council and Yorkshire Forward, which will see the creation of a new business and residential community close to the centre of Leeds.

“If Holbeck is going to be the place for digital media companies, it needs to provide spaces that suit the size of the average company, and offer an ‘upgrade path’ as these companies grow,” says Eccles. “The problem we found was a lack of mid-sized space. There’s nothing in between although with the next stages of the Round Foundry project well underway, I’d expect that the middle-sized companies will be catered for a lot better.”

But Eccles and the company remain committed to the city itself. “Leeds is a great business location,” he explains. “It’s got a real energy and attitude to it that suits our company. The people have a ‘can do’ attitude and it’s a good mixture of cosmopolitan chic, urban grime and everything in between.”

Eccles agrees the city has raised its game in recent years and stands up well in comparisons with other major UK and European cities. “I think Leeds compares well for commerce but I do think it could improve creatively, particularly when you look at what’s happening in Newcastle, Gateshead and Liverpool,” he says. “I think a city needs to have a cultural depth to it that Leeds seems to lack at the moment.”

“If there’s one thing the city could do to improve its image and raise its profile, for me it would be a huge city arts festival combining music, performing arts, film and interactive media, such as SONAR in Barcelona.”

Looking ahead, the challenge for the city on a business level is the same as the one facing companies like Numiko: attracting and developing new talent. “Over the next five years I’d hope that our company can continue to grow, get better and continue to work with major international brands,” says Eccles. “As for the type of work we’ll be doing, I think we’ll get involved in a lot more content, narrative creation and story-telling. But to do this, the biggest challenge we’ll face will be in finding, keeping and developing excellent people.”

David Baggaley is marketing manager at Leeds City Council