Too Gallus’ Barrington Reeves on leadership, high-stakes work and growing an agency in Scotland
The award-winning Glasgow-based agency Too Gallus is proud to celebrate its second birthday in 2022. Youth is certainly a winning factor for the small and powerful team, as its connection to culture ensures future-forward and high-impact results in all of their outputs – working with the likes of Nike, V&A Dundee and luxury fashion retailer Flannels. Alongside the rapid changes and growth that come with developing a fledging business, we spoke to Founder Barrington Reeves about life in Scotland and his leading work for its creative community.
PT Hi Barrington, congratulations on Too Gallus turning two this year! How does it feel?
BR It feels great, honestly. Having started the agency in the middle of a pandemic it’s been great to see it grow from strength to strength. We started with no expectations, so every new project, new client, every advancement, still feels exciting. I don’t think any of us were expecting the growth we’ve experienced, so we’re delighted that something that we’ve put so much effort and dedication into has paid off. It’s a really lovely feeling to look at something you care so much about and see it doing well, with no signs of slowing down.
Going from designer to creative director is a bigger jump than many people care to talk about.
PT How are you planning on celebrating?
BR We’re celebrating by launching our new open studio events Out Of Office. We’ve had a great two years and we really want to celebrate by giving back to the creative community. It’s always been our ambition to lead the Scottish creative industries in the right direction, and this feels like the best thing we can do right now.
Out of Office is an open studio format event for other professionals, young and aspiring creatives, and those from marginalised backgrounds, allowing them to gain otherwise inaccessible experience and insight into the creative industries. Featuring everything from industry talks to networking, workshops and mentoring opportunities, it feels like a great way for us to thank the community in Scotland who have been so supportive of us.
PT What have been the biggest hurdles and lessons since you started the agency?
BR For me personally, it’s been an organic shift from being a popular designer in my city with a few cool clients, to managing campaigns, rebrands and strategy for some of the biggest brands in the world. It’s been a lightning-fast transition and that's come with a lot of challenges in itself. Going from designer to creative director is a bigger jump than many people care to talk about. It’s been about simultaneously advancing my knowledge in brand, strategy and design to keep up with the expectations of our clients as they grow, but also learning how to lead a team, coordinate international projects, and create a working environment that’s fun and enjoyable.
As project size has grown the projects have become a lot more about the strategy and decisions around design – we try to root all of our work in solid strategic thinking to ensure that they are smart moves commercially, and not just done for aesthetics. Learning how to articulate those decisions in a way that makes sense to clients has certainly been a steep learning curve.
On top of that, the stakes are so much higher now. We’re not operating at a local level anymore – when you step up to the international plate you need to learn to cope with the pressure of your decisions, knowing that calls you make in the design or marketing phase could have real-world tangible effects on the livelihood of people employed by those companies.
PT Can you tell us a bit about how you built your team, and what you were looking for when hiring?
BR I’ve always hired people first – very few of our roles have been necessity based or to fill vacancies. The core team in the studio, David, Scott and Paddy are all people I knew I wanted to work with as soon as I met them. Not only are they incredibly talented individuals and so dedicated to their respective disciplines, but they’re great people at their core, and that matters to me more than anything.
Everyone in the studio straddles multiple creative disciplines, and seems to do so at the pinnacle of what’s expected. We have a small team that works across almost all disciplines in the creative process from strategy, positioning, identity design, packaging, 3D visualisation, motion graphics, web design and development. Having all of these skills in-house means we never need to look outside for freelancers, which keeps our projects incredibly streamlined. Because of this, versatility, flexibility, and willingness to learn have always been so important to me when looking at potential new recruits.
On a personal level, most of us spend more time at work than we do at home so it’s important that we work with people who share our values, sense of humour and ambitions. Our studio is a pressure cooker, we’re usually working on incredibly high-stakes projects so it’s key for us to make sure there's incredible synergy in the studio at all times. I think I can count myself incredibly lucky that I wake up looking forward to go in and see the team every day, we’ve grown so much together and there's a real sense of family in the studio.
PT Where does the name ‘Too Gallus’ come from?
BR In old Scots language it means ‘to be fit for the gallows.’ In the modern sense, it's slang for ‘attitude, daring, cheeky, recklessness.’ It’s common in Scotland to hear someone who is always in trouble, or who tries their luck, be referred to as being ‘gallus.’ When I was growing up my grandmother always described me as being ‘too gallus,’ so when I started designing I used it as my moniker. We’re certainly a bit of an in-your-face agency and we’ll always try to push the boundaries of what’s considered normal in the industry, so I think it’s remained a very fitting name.
I think there is such a strength in standing by who you are.
PT Can you tell us about how the Black Scottish Business Fund began and the work you do?
BR The Black Scottish Business fund was set up in the wake of the BLM movement – I wanted to use my audience and broad reach to create some real tangible change from the back of what was a pretty negative and traumatic time. It seemed like there was a lot of energy and no one knew where to focus it. I knew from my own experience of growing up black in Scotland that it can be an alienating and inaccessible space. There’s so little visibility of anyone that looks like you to use as a role model, and even less resources to turn to.
With business and entrepreneurship being at the forefront of my mind, I decided to raise funds and managed to raise over £25,000. We distributed this to 25 young aspiring black creatives in Scotland to get started on their journey, hopefully pushing them in the right direction to turn their dreams into reality.
PT For many young and emerging creatives, particularly from marginalised and under-represented backgrounds, there can be a pressure to fit in with monolithic studio cultures – what advice would you give to them?
BR I would advise any young person, marginalised, under-represented or otherwise to stay unapologetically and authentically themselves. We are constantly fed images, videos and content about what a creative is, what a CEO should talk like, how an entrepreneur should act. But I think there is such a strength in standing by who you are, what your values are, and never wavering from that.
I would also encourage them to reach out to people in the industry who they think may be helpful to them, or that they look up to. Throughout my career, I’ve done the same many times and made some of my most invaluable connections. I think that, as long as you aren’t asking too much, many people will be willing to spend some time talking to you, giving you advice or pointing you in the right direction. Sometimes, those connections stick and last your whole career.
PT Similarly, what advice would you give to creative leaders looking to build a more inclusive agency environment?
BR Primarily, I would encourage leaders to look outside of their usual channels. The excuse I hear so often is that they’ve looked and can’t find diverse talent, but normally they’re just using the same channels. If you want different results you need to use different techniques, try talking to people from those communities, get off of LinkedIn and into more local sources. It can be alienating for someone from a marginalised community to step into the corporate world because of the expectations set up, so many of them move in their own circles and communities.
PT What are your favourite things about living and working in Glasgow?
BR The quality of life and affordability in Glasgow makes it a really enjoyable place to live – even as a young studio we were able to afford a lovely city centre studio space, at ground level, with great visibility, so commercially it’s really advantageous. Having low overheads, staffing and running costs also allows us to be much more competitive on pricing than similar agencies in London, which has always given us an edge.
Aside from the money, it’s just a really beautiful place to live – it has so much in such a small area. We’re located right in the city centre, but we’re only a 30-40 minute drive from beautiful beaches, lochs and mountains, and the capital Edinburgh. If the weather was better it would be the best place to live in the world, ha!
PT How do you see Too Gallus changing or growing over the next few years?
BR I really hope to see us do more international work and bed more into the fashion, beauty and lifestyle industries. We have such a clear picture of where we want to be and what sort of projects we want to be involved in, we just need to continue to work on expanding outside of Scotland. As you can imagine, it’s quite a while away from the fashion and beauty capitals of the world.