The History of SNS Group
Here at SNS Group we a known to our clients as a one stop shop for Design, Photography and Video services. Managing Director Jim McCann explains the process of building the business, giving insider insight to the journey that has been filled with memorable moments.
The Making of SNS Group
It was the mid 1980s and the era of greed and excess was in full swing.
Ex actor Ronald Reagan was in power in the White House and if that wasn’t bizarre enough Bobby Ewing was resurrected in the famous American telly soap drama Dallas after being killed off in a previous series.
On a personal level I had achieved my journalistic dream – to work in the mecca of newspapers, London’s Fleet St, sub editing on daily and Sunday titles.
Life was good and surely nothing could top this? Well a once in a lifetime chance to write the autobiography of my footballing idol, Celtic’s famous winger Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone proved me wrong and beckoned me back to my beloved home city of Glasgow.
Long days researching in the library were followed by nights banging away on a typewriter – remember them – before ‘Jinky: Now and Then’ was born. The life and times of Celtic’s greatest ever player documented by a humble fan. The proudest moment of my writing career bar none.
Well let’s just say I couldn’t retire on the royalties, so it was back to the grindstone soon after the book launch. The tech boom was in full swing and London media moguls were chasing a new army of readers north of the border – hard to believe 30 years on!
Adopting the spirit of the decade, I decided open up my own press agency to service the growing demand for news in the Scottish editions. In 1988 Scottish News and Sport was born. The early days were far from glam, operating from a grimy little office above a sheet metal fabricator in the tough Maryhill area of the city.
Our daily diet of stories ranged from press conferences about the reviled Poll Tax to chasing tales on budding young Scottish actors like Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller. A few years in, we added photographers to our group of young reporters.
Now as well as chasing stories we focussed on picturing Scottish football games. Thanks to the demands of a quirky new invention, the Internet/world wide web around 1990, it soon mushroomed to covering to the fortunes and misfortunes of our clubs and international football team across the world.
In 1995 we bought an archive of sports images dating back to the mid 1960s and the next decade seemed to pass in the blink of an eye as reporters moved on and we concentrated solely on photography.
Fittingly, the start of the Millennium marked a major turning point as more photographers were added to our stable and Scottish News and Sport became recognised as a premier provider of sports pictures in Scotland. We also ramped up our picture desk staff and appointed our first ever Picture Editor.
The year also marked the end of our news and sports reporting as our last reporter moved to the Daily Record. As if that wasn’t enough, the company bought a new office at Fitzroy Place in an area which has now become hipster Finnieston.
The company also expanded into corporate photography and attracted a host of blue chip companies to our client portfolio.
With media demands increasing, SNS widened the range of sports covered and soon became visible at rugby, golf, athletics and other major events. We signed our first online contract with the BBC in 2003 and three years later we secured annual photographic agreements with Associated Newspapers – owners of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday – and the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.
Agreements with other newspapers, TV companies and sports governing bodies eager to use our live and stock sports images quickly followed in a rapid period of growth for the company. This was emphasised in 2005 when we became incorporated as SNS Group to reflect our expansion.
The dawning of the digital age saw film cameras literally disappear and SNS invested heavily in top of the range digital cameras and computer equipment to allow our photographers and our expanding picture desk department to service the needs of a diverse range of clients who required photographs for everything from a printed annual report to use on a website to market services.
Never content to rest on our laurels, SNS embraced the digital age by setting up design and video departments in 2009 and our design client base grew rapidly with demand for both print and digital services. We didn’t neglect photography and in 2013 another landmark moment followed when we signed an agreement with the Scottish Rugby Union to become their official photographers.
By now SNS Group had grown into the biggest independent visual media company in the country. Not a corporate monolith by any means but a far cry from the early days in Maryhill. But our core values had not changed.
I have always cherished the fact that I set up my company without a penny of government funding or any private equity funding. This has remained true to the present day. The company has been more than a business to me. At the risk of sounding too corny, it’s a family. Sometimes in families there are squabbles and disagreements, but strong family units have core values that bind them together. I am proud to say I have seen this ethos grow at SNS down the years.
Today we have 25 talented staff, working for a company built on a foundation of providing high quality services at affordable prices. Obviously in any business, bottom line financials matter and we are no different. But SNS has never been a company content to chase the ‘fast buck.’ We have worked relentlessly and religiously at building relationships with people in the media and corporate worlds.
Some of those relationships span nearly three decades and these long-term bonds have built trust. However, many clients are relatively new, and trust is building there also at an impressive rate. In my book, trust is key to business development. Of course clients require our photographers, videographers and designers to have talent to deliver on a brief and in many cases take it way beyond that. But they also want to deal with people they trust for advice and honesty opinions – even if the truth sometimes hurts!
In a world where communication tools are evolving rapidly it is easy to do business without speaking to a human being. Let’s face it some companies encourage this. But at SNS I believe in combining the old and new worlds. So, picking up a phone and speaking to a person is still more important than emailing, texting or contacting a client using any number of social media platforms. And while we never set out to make mistakes or fail to deliver on a job, fronting up if something goes wrong is also a quality, we believe in at SNS. No one is perfect. Like many aspects of life, you sometimes learn more about people or companies in times of adversity.
Like the best sports teams, I also believe the best blend of staff is a mixture of experienced individuals and young up and coming talent. You are never too young to be given responsibility. What you need to show above all is burn and desire.
In business these days it is a case of evolve or die. And we are extremely conscious of this, particularly against a backdrop of radical change in the world of print media, a traditional bedrock of our business. Thankfully SNS has always been keen and able to evolve and adapt. As mentioned above, I welcome fresh ideas from all members of staff, irrespective of age or experience.
Stills imagery will always have a large part to play in our business but moving pictures are more and more prevalent now for clients pitching a message and we are keeping pace with the change through our very active business development department. The marriage of stills and video is our future.
Social media is also integral to the marketing mix for a modern company and at SNS we are very active in highlighting the work we do and the companies we do it for. Long gone are the days when connections are made purely by picking up a phone to ‘cold call’ someone.
My burning ambition is that SNS will be around for another 30 years and still be an integral part of the media and corporate landscapes in Scotland and indeed around the world. Undoubtedly at some point in the future I will pass over the baton for someone else to lead the company forward.
However, I fervently believe the fundamental values that were introduced over 30 years ago amid the noise and dust in Maryhill, will continue to serve SNS Group well. Maybe there will be another book produced – SNS Group: Now and then – 50 years on. Now that would be worth a read.