Two years after swapping Asia for Newcastle upon Tyne, Mark Hadfield, Strategy Partner at Cravens, shares his thoughts on how surprisingly similar the two regions are.
“My wife and I are coming back to the UK at some point next year…”
“OK great, we’ll get you a role back in the London office,” my old boss said. “Actually, we’re not coming back to London, we’re going to move to Newcastle…”
That was the conversation where I told my old agency I was leaving.
Leaving Singapore to leap into the unknown
Leaving Singapore. Leaving an established worldwide agency. Leaving a role I’d loved after nearly six years. To leap into the unknown.
Pre-pandemic, it was a bold move, and not one taken lightly. But it was the right time to leave and life is determined by the decisions we make.
I’d been heading up strategy across the APAC region for Iris for five years at that point. A brilliant agency with some brilliant people, brilliant clients and brilliant briefs. The earnout I’d signed up to as a shareholder was coming to an end and the role had started to feel a little ‘samey.’
A new challenge was needed. Somewhere I could apply my learnings. Somewhere I could continue to learn. Somewhere with great clients I could get stuck into.
Cravens was the answer, and Newcastle was the place. A 75 year-old agency with a start-up mentality, a client list and talent-pool to be envious of, that luckily had a Mark-shaped hole.
And whilst I originate from the North East, I’d never worked here – having left many moons ago to study in London, spending 20 years there before going to Asia. All the while continuing to support Newcastle United wherever I went.
So it was a bit of a leap into the unknown and I had concerns…
“How will I adjust back to working in Britain?”
“How will working for a Newcastle agency compare to a Singapore agency?” “Will we be able to go toe-to-toe with London agencies if I work in the North?” “Can I do the best work of my career in the North?”
“Just how many Newcastle United matches can I watch before my wife questions the move!?”…
But it’s been a move that has delivered on all fronts. I haven’t doubted it for a second and have settled straight into the work pretty well.
Interestingly, I’ve observed a few parallels between working in Singapore and working in The North that I feel have helped me adjust. Let me share a few with you…
Choosing to work at an agency in the North or Singapore is a minority choice. It’s an active decision that you make that signals you are different to the norm.
It would be much easier to work in London or New York. More roles, more choice, more security.
But life is made on active choices. Getting out there, choosing the path that’s right for you, learning in the spaces you want to learn.
I find this is also true of the clients we work with. Clients that are making an active choice to want something different. To want an agency and its people who are not headquartered in the expected place, and all the baggage it can bring with it.
Hidden depths of talent
Singapore has a population of five million people. The creative industries aren’t traditionally an aspirational industry parents push their children into. So you end up with a really interesting, eclectic mix of local talent that have again made an active choice to do something unexpected.
My time so far in Newcastle – and the North in general – has shown me there is also a really interesting proportion of people who have a different way of looking at things. A different viewpoint. Sometimes with a family background that is different to the London norm.
This manifests itself in interestingly diverse opinions, energies and discussions. Isn’t that what our industry should be all about?
Passion and pride
One of the best pieces of work I have ever worked on has never seen the light of day. It was for Guinness in Singapore, and was part of the ‘Made of More’ platform – highlighting the immense pressure Singaporeans grow up in to achieve more than those around them. We found Singaporeans that had eschewed this social pressure, forged their own paths and brought them together to show other Singaporeans it is possible!
Likewise in Newcastle, there is huge pride in the city and its inhabitants to show the outside world that it is possible to be yourself, be ambitious, have a great career and do great work whilst based in NE1.
This for me takes the form of a positive ‘chip on my shoulder’ – I want to prove to people it is possible to do great work, that helps client businesses grow, achieve your ambitions, but crucially have a brilliant work life balance so I can enjoy the amazing countryside and beaches of beautiful Northumberland. I’m sure there are many of you with similar motivations in Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and elsewhere.
Being shortlisted for six categories for the upcoming Prolific North Marketing Awards is a good step in proving this, and I look forward to the 21st September where I’ll be celebrating all the work on show, and all the people in the room who have made an active choice to eschew the norm, not default to London and instead want to do great work from the amazing North.