GDA Turns 30 in an Industry Transformed


05th June 2017 | Blog



GDA recently celebrated our 30th anniversary with an exclusive event at our prestigious new office.

More than 150 invited guests joined the GDA team as we enjoyed the final day of the Tour de Yorkshire. The bike race finished right outside our new premises so it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate, as Managing Director Alistair Farrant explains:

“Being in business for 30 years is a fantastic achievement for a company like us. The industry is getting more competitive all the time, we’ve had various recessions, the growth of digital marketing and new technology has completely transformed the way we work. I’m very proud of the way GDA has been able to adapt and innovate to move with the times”.

"Having so many clients, friends and family along to help us mark the occasion was very special."

Thirty years might not add up to a lifetime for most, but for a company like GDA it marks three decades that has changed an industry beyond recognition.

For if any business landscape has been transformed by the digital era and the constant advances in new technology, then design and marketing would be at the forefront.

Although 30 years ago was hardly the era of the quill pen and parchment, the changes that organisations like GDA have had to embrace reflect as big a shift as the advent of the motor car after centuries on horseback.

Creative Director Jem Hager has been with the company since it was launched in a former Co-op building in Barnsley in April 1987 by the founder Graham Dawson.

He was with it as it moved to its home of 20 years, the Old Vicarage on the outskirts of the town.

And along with fellow director Alistair, he took over the reins completely in 2013 when Graham retired, before making the move to the new home in Sheffield’s prestigious Fox Valley development in Stocksbridge last year.

"As I look around the office today, it’s hard to imagine just how much things have changed."

“When I came into the industry 30 years ago you would have had a specialist in every area - artists, illustrators, designers, sales people - and everything, of course was created on drawing paper.

“It was a world of Lettraset and special pens, tins of white paint for touching up blemishes and using external suppliers to create all of the typesetting once you had worked out the point size you needed.

“Designers had to understand the complexities of hot metal type setting processes and spacing – there are so many things that no longer have any relevance to the new generation of young creatives.

“In fact, when I was at art school there was as much focus on drawing as there was on understanding what makes an effective piece of communication.”

It was perhaps in the early 1990s, Jem says, that the first real advances began to take a hold in the industry - with GDA being one of the first agencies to embrace the changes that would very quickly transform the industry forever.

“There was a transition period which was a nightmare because some of the work would be done on a Mac and the rest still by hand,” he recalls.

"Now, of course, anybody can turn a Mac on and use a programme to create a piece of visual art that does the job very well - but I still believe that perfect creativity should still have an appreciation of the traditional skills too."

Thirty years ago, every piece of creative work would be delivered by post, courier or by a member of the team getting into the car and making a personal delivery.

“Now it’s all done with one click so there’s no doubt the Mac has empowered the industry” Jem says.

“The whole creative process is so much faster. To produce an advert by hand may have taken between one and three days – and you had to get it right first time, as often the first time a client would see the final job was when it was ready to go to print”.

The speed with which even the most complex job can be delivered does mean a shift in perceptions from the customer.

“Client expectation has changed enormously in terms of the timescales we’re asked to work towards” Jem explains. “As the process has speeded up, so have client expectations – the deadlines seem to get tighter all the time.

“Only recently we designed a 136 page brochure in just one day. Even now that is pretty incredible but back then it would have been impossible to achieve – it would have been more like a month or two.”

Today sees GDA firmly established as one of the north’s leading digital and creative marketing agencies, combining strategic thought and digital know-how with fresh ideas and creative design to give clients a truly integrated marketing service.


GDA Creative Marketing team

The GDA Team