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The Prolific North Top 50 Digital Agencies 2024

Top 50 Digital Agencies 2024

Today we can reveal Prolific North’s Top 50 Digital Agencies for 2024, the benchmark ranking for digital agencies in the North of England.

There was an exclusive reveal of the list at a special event last night at WPP‘s Manchester Campus as part of Digital City Festival, where we united the agency sector to address how Northern agencies can embrace and keep up with AI.

How can agencies embrace AI event

Kicking off the event after a welcome from Prolific North’s editor David Prior, we hosted a panel discussion exploring how agencies can keep up with advancements and ride the wave of rapid adoption. Prior was joined by Nadine Clarke, Strategy Partner at Tangent; Amanda Holmes, Lead Consultant – SaaS and Transformation at Fox Agency; and James Hall, Founder at Parallax.

On whether agencies should be using AI tools, Nadine Clarke (Tangent) said agencies will be “far behind” if they don’t and should keep up with clients of all sizes already dabbling in using AI tools and pilots. James Hall (Parallax) agreed. Parallax has already been using AI for a number of years and highlighting the earlier agencies start playing around with tools, the “easier it will be to get to grips with them”.

But how can agencies keep up with rapid advancements in AI? Hall (Parallax) said he reads lots of AI whitepapers to get a steer on what academia is doing. On the creative side, Midjourney is a great tool for storyboarding initial ideas for clients. To alleviate any concerns over compliance, agencies can request a data protection agreement with OpenAI.

Although AI is sometimes moving “too fast”, the best way to get started is to dig in and test with various AI apps, explained Clarke (Tangent). It’s key to give all agency staff opportunities to test different tools and ideas, which is why Tangent is hosting internal Hackathons.

But some clients are “anti using AI”, said Amanda Holmes (Fox Agency), so it’s important agencies have those conversations with clients about using AI. It’s important to “demystifying AI” as it can’t be ignored that there are fears some have around what AI will mean for their own roles. 

AI is used as a “creative brainstorming partner that happens to write some code” at Parallax, explained Hall. However, whether wider roles in the agency world may be replaced in future “is difficult to say”. At Tangent, Clarke said the agency has been thinking about how AI will transform roles rather than replace them.

On use cases, AI can automate things and be quicker at tidying up lots of unstructured data, said Hall (Parallax) and “instead of getting AI to think for you, AI can get you to think”. Clarke (Tangent) agreed as uses it daily to help her think and “wouldn’t do without it now”.

The biggest impact Holmes (Fox Agency) has seen is using AI during the pitch stage with tools like Midjourney, especially as agencies are “time poor” it can help speed up the process and free up resources. 

Following questions for the audience, AI will be “hugely problematic” for other sectors such as education especially when it comes to coursework or essay writing. There’s “always been tension” with AI but students will be the next generation and need to understand how to use it correctly. On copyright and data, there will be processes developed around AI to mitigate these issues, said Clarke (Tangent). For Holmes (Fox Agency) there are still legal implications and it’s still “murky waters” when it comes to using AI with clients. 

After a countdown of the top 50 digital agencies (which you can scroll to at the end of the story), we delved a little deeper beyond experimenting and looked into the challenges and opportunities AI poses to agencies in future. Speakers on the panel included Alex Myers, Head of Marketing at The SEO Works; Louis Georgiou, Chief Creative & Technology Officer at EssenceMediacom North, Lewis Sellers at Managing Director at idhl‘s Web Division.

AI “gives people superpowers”, said Louis Georgiou (EssenceMediaCom) and can have major benefits on productivity and efficiency not just for staff, but clients too. When it comes to creativity, AI can expand thinking and transform approaches to problems. It’s “like a collection of experts to hand” and a “great sparring partner” to help develop and push ideas.

For Alex Myers (The SEO Works), there’s less taboo around AI in paid ads, it can free up time for staff to do more of the important tasks and there’s less panic around using it now as Google’s move to automation has been happening for a few years now.

Lewis Sellers (idhl) said AI can be of benefit both to clients and efficiencies internally. The group has leveraged AI more into internal processes to improve things such as reporting. Although AI can be a great tool for speedy data analysis and to help staff get up to speed quicker on accounts, there’s still nervousness around copyright and IP issues surrounding AI. 

On creativity and in SEO, Myers (The SEO Works) warned there needs to be caution around content creation AI as it’s “hard to justify” to a client if a blog has been created using ChatGPT especially with Google algorithms constantly updating. Agencies need to be ahead of what clients want and with SGE on the horizon, some have questioned whether it’s the “end of SEO”. 

“It’s our job to be the ship that’s steady. We need to stick to best practice and bring AI in when we can, but not just dive into the next thing.”

The reality is services may change as a result of AI but it’s an “opportunity”, said Sellers (idhl). At EssenceMediaCom, Georgiou explained there are very strong policies around having consent from clients about using AI. Although some of the agency’s large global clients “prohibit any use of AI on their accounts” other major brands are pro-AI. There’s still a lot of “scaremongering” around its uses and concerns over clients potentially offering less fees if AI is used but, if anything, some may be appreciative that it offers an agency opportunities to “do more”.

Myers (The SEO Works) agreed. The “best policy is transparency with clients”, he explained, adding it’s best to communicate any ideas around AI. 

After sharing tips and tools each agency is either developing or currently using internally, everyone on the panel agreed every team in an agency needs to be given the opportunity to test out AI and figure out solutions whether it’s to decipher prospect data for sales teams, analysing and transcribing pitch processes at speed, or summarising long documents.

AI shouldn’t become a “centralised part of a brand” when it’s still emerging, argued Myers (The SEO Works). When clients ask about AI is when it becomes a discussion. As AI infiltrates the agency landscape more is when it might be time to talk about AI more directly. Sellers (idhl) agreed, AI is not included in any pitch decks and is only approached if clients ask about it.

However Georgiou (EssenceMediaCom) said attitudes to AI will change and has already seen more clients asking about AI and being curious about its uses.

Widely regarded as the go-to guide for the region’s ambitious digital agencies, we can reveal the 13th running of the Top 50 Digital Agencies ranking.

As with previous years this list was compiled independently by our research partners Mustard, with a mix of publicly available data at Companies House, financial and private background information and more confidentially shared with Mustard. Agencies are not given the option to be ranked or not.

Summary

KINESSO UK&I, previously entering as Stickyeyes, is now the number one digital agency for 2024.

There’s been a bit of a shake-up this year across the top 10 with idhl in second place and both Altrincham’s Add People and growing group Dark Matter Commerce hitting the top 10 this year.

Well done to Open Partners (4th), 26 agency (5th), Apadmi (6th), and Journey Further (8th) – all agencies climbing up the top 10 too.

The average growth of digital agencies on the list is 27%, down by 7% on the 34% of growth seen across agencies on 2023’s ranking. Regionally, 56% of agencies have an office across the North West (28). Yorkshire is home to 40% (20), while 20% (10) are either based or have offices in the North East.

The highest climbers on the ranking are Circus PPC Agency (30th) for jumping up 10 places, Six & Flow (39th) for moving up by 8 spots, connective3 (20th), Velstar (28th) and Bring Digital (36th).

There’s been a mix of new and returning agencies too – well done Dept (14th), Social Chain (21st), 9xb (38th) and well done to Bonded Agency (49th) for breaking into the Top 50 -named as one of Prolific North’s Independent Agencies to Watch in 2023.

The Prolific North Top 50 Digital Agencies 2024

Ranking ↕Previous ↕Company ↕Location ↕Private/Group ↕Headcount ↕Key clients ↕
12KINESSO UKI*LeedsInterpublic234Barker & Stonehouse, Hertz, Kroger, Aldi, Adobe
21IDHL GroupHarrogate, Leeds, Manchester & NewcastleIndependent335Costa, Hammonds, Leeds United Football Club, Fabergé, Church & Dwight
33VisualsoftStockton-on-Tees, Newcastle & ManchesterIndependent284Sportsshoes.com, Charles Clinkard, CHO, Daniel Footwear, Justmylook
45Open PartnersManchesterIndependent121Vue Services Limited, Vetted Ltd (Checkatrade), Oodle Financial Services Ltd, Injury Lawyers 4U Limited
5826LeedsPart of MSQ118Asda Money, CIPD, CEF, Ebuyer, wilko.com
67ApadmiManchesterIndependent246Domino’s, Co-op, NHS, Sykes Cottages, Asda
714Add PeopleAltrinchamIndependent233
810Journey FurtherLeeds & ManchesterIndependent151Sky, M&S, Virgin Money, Frasers Group, Adobe
99AND DigitalManchester, Leeds, HalifaxIndependent972Beauty Bay, Bensons for Beds, Richer Sounds, Sports Shoes,
1013Dark Matter CommerceManchesterGroup152Bensons for Beds, Sports Shoes, SneakersnStuff, In The Style, Jessops
1112CDSLeedsBailie Group90Bank of England, National Rail, Insight Investment, Yorkshire Water
1211ICS-digitalLeedsSpotlight Sports Group 115Infinox, Buzz Bingo, Betfair, Plarium, 888
136Search LaboratoryLeedsHavas Media Group113Burton Snowboards, Explore Learning, Riviera Travel
14DEPTManchesterIndependent122Google, KFC, Philips, Audi, Twitch, Patagonia
1515UNRVLDManchesterIndependent174Biffa, Flora, NTT, Barratt Homes, Parkdean Resorts
164CTI DigitalManchesterPrivate116Visit Britain, Chester Zoo, British Council, Prezzo, Mind
1716JellyfishWarrington & ManchesterFimalac (France)47Experian, Suzuki, Google UK, Harrods, Netflix
1817Nexer DigitalMacclesfieldSigma IT Consulting Group124Department for Education, NHS England, Research Data Scotland
1920MediaworksNewcastle, Manchester & LeedsIndependent170Metro Bank, Cinch, Southern Water, CR Smith
2025Connective3Leeds & ManchesterIndependent102Wren Kitchens, Love Holidays, Ocado, Comparethemarket, Lowell
21SocialChainManchesterGroup97John Lewis Partnership, Holland & Barrett, British Army
2226Summit MediaBroughIndependent76Wickes, Ann Summers, Hutchinson 3G, Signet, Where The Trade Buys
2327LeightonNewcastle upon TyneIndependent91British Airways, Equans, Atom Bank, iamproperty, IAG Loyalty
2419The SEO WorksSheffieldIndependent89DHL, Effat University, IPAG Business School, The Masters Golf Company
2521Engage InteractiveLeedsIndependent54Whitbread, Mattel, Jet2, Education Endowment Foundation, Ryobi
2624Code ComputerloveManchesterPart of WPP plc72Hunter Douglas UK Retail Ltd, Bluestone Resorts Ltd, The Go Ahead Group plc
2730EmbryoManchesterIndependent65The Range, Roland DG, Native Residential, CarFinance 247, Kaplan
2834VelstarLiverpoolIndependent65Neom, Tangle Teezer, Avon, Castore, Benefit Cosmetics
2928Evolved SearchNewcastleIndependent55Vanarama, Peter Vardy Group, Marks Electrical, tombola, Gridserve
3040Circus PPC AgencyLeedsIndependent18Simplehuman, RSM, Interparcel, Roman, UCI Cinem
3123ParallaxLeedsIndependent48Glencore, Brass Monkey, SCIEX, Hexagon, Ninja Leisure UK Leeds Ltd
3236Hedgehog LabNewcastle / YorkIndependent64AJ Bell, YourParkingSpace, Aviva, Deliveroo, Santander
3335Fusion UnlimitedHeadingley & LeedsIndependent22Halfords, Lansinoh, Healthy Stuff, Lanes Group, Fuel Card Services
3431ActiveWinManchesterIndependent137Betfred, Wigan Warriors, GGRecon.com, Peninsula, Bucky Bingo
3529CantarusManchesterIndependent59FDJ Gaming Solutions, ICAEW, INTO University Partnerships, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Sesame Bankhall Group, Worldpay (FIS)
3643Bring DigitalBoltonGroup57Cotton Traders, In The Style, Jessops, Fitness First, Lakeland
3733Shout DigitalNewcastleIndependent50ICO, Northumbrian Water, Novuna (formerly Hitatchi Capital), Parkdean Resorts, iamproperty
389xbHarrogate & LeedsIndependent50Euro Car Parts, Watco, Kooltech, Jigsaw 24, Williams Trade Supplies
3947Six & FlowManchesterIndependent50Canadian Red Cross, Cambridge University, Ocado, Hostelworld, Smeg
4038Enjoy DigitalLeedsIndependent53Sherwin-Williams, Fortune Brands, Bank of Ireland, Northern Trains, Brompton Bicycles
4141EnigmaNewcastleIndependent41National Grid, Solopress, Snaparazzi, My Childs Art, Superdrug
4222Rise at SevenSheffield & ManchesterIndependent95Parkdean Resorts, Pretty Little Thing, Boohoo, ODEON, Interflora
4332DigitaloftManchesterIndependent44booking.com, RVU, JD Outdoors, BOXT, Christmas Tree World
4437MandoLiverpoolIndependent49USS; British Red Cross; JCB; SSE Transmission
4539Click ConsultCheshireCeuta Group45UEFA, Zurich, Viessmann, Chums, Liverpool Airport
4644Fat MediaLancasterIndependent70Lakeland, Four Seasons Healthcare, Yotel, Age Concern
4718TangentNewcastleIndependent8UK Power Networks, Reed, SAP, IWG, Guide Dogs
48AykoLeedsIndependent54CPL Distributions, Salons Direct and International Dance
49Bonded AgencyNewcastleIndependent21CEF, Bravissimo, Pink Boutique, York Racecourse, Skin Clinic
50House DigitalBurscoughIndependent32Ello Group, Modern Milkman, BiGDUG, World Travel Holdings, EGO

*Stickyeyes are entering as KINESSO UK&I this year after the group consolidated its brands

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