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For a small company with its roots planted firmly in Manchester’s media and creative industry Relative Marketing is facing a new year in buoyant mood.

The “relative” part relates to brothers Robert and Simon Barlow who, with Martin Bradley, Gail Escott and Joe Swarbrick, make up the Bolton-based agency which has forged a strong reputation. There, anything relative stops, however, as the energetic team continue to go from strength to strength.

The company’s story goes back to agency Gillett and Bevan Ltd, established by Rod Gillett and Alan Bevan in the ‘70s. Robert and Simon’s father, John, was Managing Director there and the agency attracted major clients including Skipton Building Society, Benson’s for Beds and GO Outdoors.

John Barlow later took over the business and Simon Barlow started here as a graphic designer in 1994 when the company was based in Richmond Street in the city centre. However, a structural change in the business brought about by the recession meant a move to smaller premises at Salford Quays.

Robert Barlow then started in 1998 as an admin assistant. John later retired and this, combined with the loss of the Benson’s contract in 2011, prompted the brothers to start their own agency in a small sub-let office in their home town. They had just one part-time worker on admin and accounts but they started to attract new clients.

“We’ve always felt it was very important to build up a good relationship with our clients,” explained Robert. “We act as a marketing department for them and want to really understand their business so we, as well as them guiding us, can innovate for them effectively.”

The stance paid off and more clients joined them, word spreading about the ethical and innovative full-service agency with its finger on the commercial pulse.

“What we wanted to do from early on was to employ someone to take our digital marketing service forward. When we found Martin Bradley we realised we had just the right person for this,” added Robert.

In fact, this move alone allowed them to offer a more comprehensive marketing service that better reflected the way the industry was moving, anchoring them more firmly in the regional business scene.

In September, 2014, Relative joined the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and in October, the company moved into bigger offices in historic Wood Street in Bolton town centre. “This allowed us to grow as a business and expand our client base further,” stated Robert.

In February, 2014, Relative started working with Jonathon Crabtree of the Growth Hub to put a strategy together to increase client numbers. They also made a conscious decision to increase business networking around the North-west.

In October last year, the company joined Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and in the same month they took on their first apprentice, Joe Swarbrick, to learn digital marketing.

December, 2015, saw them on track to be 12% up on the previous financial year. Relative now had 25 clients with whom they had forged a positive and lasting relationship.

Explained Robert: “Over the past 12 to 24 months we have seen a steady growth in many of our clients’ businesses with increased turnover and profitability. There is a much more positive feel about business in general, with companies looking to spend more on marketing their brand and on digital marketing in particular.”

They hope to employ a further two staff within the next eight to 12 months and move into bigger offices in the same building. Concluded  Robert: “We aim to increase our turnover to over £700,000 – and to keep listening to what our clients want and responding to this and their needs.”


53 degrees of relative marketing

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About the author

Relative is a creative marketing agency run by brothers, Rob and Si Barlow. We really work on our relationships. It’s why we have client partners who have happily worked with us for years. Building strong connections is what we do – with our clients, and for them with their chosen audiences.

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