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City-based clusters will drive the UK’s creative economy forward

An initiative that focuses on creating clusters of excellence around the UK will drive the entire UK creative economy forward, says Ben Quigley, CEO of Newcastle-headquartered Everything Different Group and IPA chair of its England and Wales group.

The term ‘economies of agglomeration’ is used in urban economics to describe the benefits that firms obtain by locating near each other ('agglomerating'). It’s all about the resulting economies of scale and positive impact.

Simply put, as more firms in related fields of business cluster together, there are advantages because the cluster attracts more suppliers and customers than a single firm could achieve alone.

Cities form and grow to exploit economies of agglomeration. Soho and Shoreditch/Hoxton are prime London examples of agglomeration in the creative industries; encompassing agency-land, film/ TV and the digital sector. Competition and specialization create the right environmental conditions for critical mass.

And the same is also true around the whole of the UK. Look at the M62 corridor. Look at the M4 corridor.

At the same time, our political and economic model is evolving rapidly. We have devolved government for Scotland and Wales, the London Assembly, and now, devolved government for English city regions too.

Agglomerate to accumulate

The IPA wants to help this idea of ‘agglomerate to accumulate’.

This is exactly the reason why, two years ago, the IPA appointed inaugural City Regional Heads for Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle, drawn from senior management within the IPA’s own local member agency ranks.

The simple but brilliant idea (the brainchild of Leo Burnett’s Paul Lawson, no less) was for well-known and respected IPA agency figureheads around England to drive the global IPA agenda of thought leadership, best practice and talent development in creative clusters around the UK.

On a practical level locally, this means driving engagement for IPA events, training, talent development initiatives and building a sense of community within each City Region. A third of IPA agency membership is located outside the M25, so what better way to tell this story at grassroots level than a respected figurehead in each city region, well connected and in tune with exactly what’s going on locally.

Globally, the other piece of the jigsaw was an elected Chair for England and Wales, with the remit to co-ordinate City Heads activity, champion the contribution of advertising around the UK (we need to articulate this better) and represent member agencies’ interests centrally on the IPA Council. That’s where I come in, having previously served as City Head for Newcastle before becoming Chair two years ago.

Active on the ground

Thinking globally and acting locally has worked very well for the IPA. We meet quarterly to review progress and share best practice and compare notes. Member IPA agencies now have a local champion and voice on the ground that they know and relate to:

  • Phil Coverdale from Cravens represents Newcastle and North East City Region
  • Jackie Holt from BJL Group represents Manchester and North West City Region
  • Andrew Wilson from WAA represents Birmingham and Midlands City Region
  • Andy Reid from McCann represents Bristol and South West City Region

We link up with the Chairs for Scotland and Northern Ireland too. The City Heads have brought members and the IPA together to agree bespoke training, qualifications and events, tailored for each City Region’s needs.

And access to all this is now also being thrown open wider, to clients, non-member agencies and students in each city. It’s a clear win-win for everyone.

The proof of the pudding? Well, event and training uptake increased over 40% in the first year alone. And in a rapidly changing economy, member agencies are as likely to be competing for talent as for clients.

City Heads have also been instrumental in launching and sustaining the Creative Pioneers digital native apprenticeship programme around the UK to attract fresh talent.

The IPA has played a key role in promoting the creative industries as a force for good politically, culturally and economically around the UK too.

In conjunction with The Drum, ‘Creative Cities’, part of Blackwell’s Britain, has been showcasing the wider creative industry community in the Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester City Regions.

In Birmingham, it’s gone even further. Under IPA City Region Head Andrew Wilson, public and private stakeholders including Creative Skillset, the LEP, Marketing Birmingham and Business Birmingham, are now working collaboratively together to springboard the creative, film and digital industries cluster.

The sum is greater than the individual parts.

Our ambition is to replicate this model elsewhere.

We need a central UK framework, but because we are the same but different, we also crave local control over our own destiny.

The UK creative industries deliver £76.9bn to UK economy and is the fastest growing sector since 2013. The creative industries represent one of the UK’s real success stories and also one of its best kept secrets.

Creative clusters around the UK are shaping a new future. Let’s agglomerate to accumulate.

Ben Quigley is CEO of Newcastle-headquartered Everything Different Group (http://everythingdifferent.co.uk/), and IPA Chair England and Wales

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