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Celebrating Britain's Creative Cities

Celebrating Britain's Creative Cities
IPA Director of Marketing Janet Hull reflects on a hugely rewarding trip around the cities to celebrate our booming UK creative industries.

What do Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester have in common?

A booming creative sector, that’s what.

This year the IPA, in partnership with Creative Skillset and The Drum, have been on a mission to uncover what makes each of these creative cities tick.

The opportunity arose with the launch of the Creative Industries Council (CIC) creative industries website in January and the strategy document in July at Facebook’s London HQ. The IPA has been integral to both.

They provided us with a channel to take each city story national and global, along with a stated vision, mission and action plan to debate and mould around the five key pillars of IP, access to finance, skills, infrastructure and international.

What was our formula?

A series of events under the banner of Creative Birmingham, Creative Bristol and Creative Manchester; VIP invitations to a wide cross-section of the creative community; an inspiring venue and line-up of speakers; new content, and ample opportunity for debate and networking.

‘Simples’ you might say – but it took some organising!

The new content started with a roving reporter, Lewis Blackwell, former editor of Creative Review, being commissioned by The Drum to provide an outsider’s perspective on each city.

The event became the vehicle to launch his findings, packaged as a special city supplement in The Drum. Participants were given the supplement to take away.

Not surprisingly, some of the views expressed by Lewis were controversial. So the purpose of the speaker schedule at the event was to get each city’s creative community to respond; first with an informed insider providing letter and verse about what was going on in the City and what the future held; and then through a panel of speakers from different sectors of the creative industries; games, TV, film, advertising and digital; with ample interjections from the floor.

But more importantly, the event was designed to bring the creative community of each city together in a new way; to unite public sector and practitioners; to join up the dots between sectors and businesses of different sizes; to recognize and articulate a common purpose, and strength in diversity.

In essence, to mark the beginning of a new drive to present a united vision, a common purpose and a higher profile to each city’s creative cluster.

Did it work?

Better than we could have expected.

Our three City heads, Andy Reid (McCann, Bristol), Andy Wilson (WAA, Birmingham) and Peter Craven (Madhhouse, Manchester) have all reported back very favourably.

We’ve made friends with regional networks like Bristol Media and the Manchester Publicity Association as well as tapping into Local Enterprise Partnerships, and further and higher education.

We’ve worked alongside national organisations like Creative Skillset (skills) and Creative England (access to finance) therefore we’ve helped unite the disparate activities of these different creative communities.

What have we learnt?

Bristol came first out of recession; is buoyant and bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. IPA member representation in the city is small, but growing in influence, with McCann, Bray Leino and Mason Zimbler leading the charge.

The City benefits from a vibrant champion of the creative sector in Mayor George Ferguson. An independently elected Mayor with a passion for the City’s future wellbeing, he sees the creative sector being at the heart of growth and new jobs.

“What isn’t there to like about the creative sector in Bristol? It’s fun, it’s funky, it’s environmentally friendly. It’s a force for economic and social good”, was his rallying cry. And the Bristol community warmed to it.

Birmingham was badly hit by the downturn, and is still licking its wounds, but there is hope on the horizon. Anita Bhalla, of the Creative City Partnership, drew attention to new government statistics which showed that job creation in the creative sector was growing faster in Birmingham than in any of the other out of London cities.

The Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP, Minister for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, might have something to do with that. He’s also local MP in Greater Birmingham’s Bromsgrove district and sent a message of support.

Birmingham is also the most diverse city in Britain, and a leader in creative technology, so, if Birmingham’s creative sector can capitalise on this, there is opportunity to set an example for other cities to follow.

IPA member agencies like Cogent Elliott, The Partnership, McCann, 383 Project, and WAA were out in force and welcomed the fact that ‘The IPA was in town’. Already, there is talk of a sequel.

Manchester was last, but not least, in our city programme this year. Given it was the start of the new ‘academic’ year, it provided the opportunity to welcome the first of the city’s Creative Pioneers apprenticeship intake.

It was great to see 10 of the 23 IPA member agencies in the city joining the IPA/Metro scheme this year, including Madhouse, BJL, TBWA, Delineo and Access, and it looks like we might double that number in 2015.

Manchester was also notable for its arrogance and honesty! There was a lot of soul-searching in the panel discussion about the way it presented itself to the rest of the UK. Hailed by Lewis Blackwell as the second biggest creative city in Europe, ahead of Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, he urged Manchester not to rest on its laurels.

Birmingham and Bristol were snapping at its heels, and gaining an increasing percentage of government funding and support. There was a sense that the city needed to reassert its identity and local authenticity to regain its rightful place in the pecking order.

Where does this leave us?

It’s fashionable in government circles to talk about the economic impact of creative clusters and what we found in Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester was proof positive of this theory.

There’s a real appetite to keep the Creative Cities ‘brand’ alight, and to build on this year’s programme. The IPA’s role is to facilitate and make it happen.

As custodian of the new Creative Industries website , supported by the Creative Industries Council, we have a responsibility and interest in taking our individual city messages national and international.

We’re also keen to take our national message local, to build the reputation and profile of the sector as a whole with the British public, and help rebalance the UK economy.

The creative industries are now the fastest growing sector of the UK economy, and account for one in 12 of all new jobs. Now that’s something to shout about. And we are.

The new advertising campaign ‘Creativity Pays’, developed by Karmarama for the Creative Industries Council strategy launch, will be appearing in the conference programmes of all of the main political parties this September and October. And we’ll be stepping up a gear in the development and marketing of the Creative Industries website in 2015.

Janet Hull OBE is the IPA Director of Marketing and Executive Director of Creative Pioneers.

Discover and share more content from the official website HERE and YouTube channel HERE.

If you want to contribute to the IPA Creative Cities initiative, please contact

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One last thing! Follow @CreativeIndsUK on Twitter and spread the word using #CreateUK

Last updated 12/09/2014

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