Dream Team of the IT Sector; with the Explosion of Broadband Internet and Interactive Digital Television the Communications Revolution Is Rewriting History. HELEN MCGURK Reports on the Award-Winning North Down Company Which Is Pioneering Change in the World of New Media
Byline: HELEN MCGURK
ARCOM Interactive's work is never done. There has been the quirky sequence title for the BBC's Hearts and Minds programme, an interactive `webisode' for Sky One's popular Dream Team show and the development of Channel 21 (in both English and German) for General Motors Europe.
There have been countless corporate videos, CD Roms, television commercials, DVDs, live action videos and a host of 3D and 2D animation projects and the business of building up an enviable client portfolio which includes local government organisations, Belfast City Airport, the University of Ulster and Royal Mail - to name but a few.
Following the recent purchase of TV production company Footprint Television, Arcom now has offices in Holywood, as well as Balloo Industrial Estate in Bangor and has its sights set firmly on new markets and business opportunities.
Arcom's success has been steady, but impressive. Turnover has grown 100 per cent year on year, with projected revenues of pounds 3/4 million for the current year.
Employee numbers have also grown from just one to 16 and the firm forecasts it will employ 20 people by the end of the year.
The company hit the headlines earlier this year when it was hailed the 14th fastest growing technology company in all Ireland at the inaugural Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 Technology Awards. It's animation project for Sky was also nominated for a Bafta and work for marine safety manufacturer RFD was featured on popular television programme Tomorrow's World.
Arcom traces its history to 1994 when managing director Chirs Astles' hobby quickly began to evolve into a small business.
"I was working as a freelance office interiors designer and was able to split my time between Arcom, which was making very little money then, and the other business to pay the bills. This also meant that any money earned by Arcom could be put straight back into better computers and equipment,'' says Chris
"My business partner and I produced several small projects that year including videos for Larsen Associates and Rotary Engineering. These small successes proved to me that there was a market for our product and it was worth persevering.''
After the transition from hobby to business Arcom worked initially as a multimedia facility for various advertising agencies in Belfast producing CD roms, corporate videos, audio visual presentations and setting up PowerPoint systems for events.
"We received financial assistance from the Emerging Business Trust. This was vital to the early growth of the company, and gave us a firm technological advantage in the early days. We also received support from Ledu, however, I feel they were unsure how to categorise us at the time because multimedia was still very new - we weren't software producers, nor were we manufacturers.
"We also became a limited company. This was more expensive from an accounting point of view but we had plans to grow significantly. This meant the sooner we were Ltd the sooner we could build up a set of accounts and trading figures which we needed to negotiate with banks and other organisations later on.
In 1997 Arcom moved to Enterprise House in Balloo Industrial Estate, Bangor and took on two visual communications graduates.
Chris says this was the first year that companies started to accept they had a need for multimedia services, and in particular website design.
In 1998 Lizzie Agnew moved from MTV to work on the customer service side of the business and increase sales. She is now executive producer.
"It was a roller-coaster ride, but it was organically growing. Around this time there was a noticeable trend in advertising agencies starting to develop their own in-house web designs. Even though we were doing well we had limited funds and did not want to lose our agency clients by competing with them and going directly to their clients,'' says Lizzie. …