Close-up: Mayor's Idea Shop brief gets the creative juices flowing

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 25 February 2011 12:00AM

City Hall's bid to keep London on top lured the bright sparks. OgilvyOne's Ruth Jamieson and Richard O'Brien report.

Did you hear the rumours? Earlier this month, Ogilvy moved back into the West End. Really, we did - to the Plaza Centre on Oxford Street. Even if it was for one week only.

What were we doing there? We were hosting the third of our Ogilvy Idea Shops. The first shop launched last year, offering free marketing advice to businesses, charities, arts and community groups.

The aim of Idea Shop is to empower - we don't want to end up with scores of pro bono clients. Rather, we aim to give people practical solutions to their problems.

This year, though, we also tried something a little different - a "freestyle" day in which non-Ogilvy volunteers (in addition to the core Idea Shop team) were also encouraged to drop in and help work on a specific brief.

One of the briefs this year was from the Mayor of London's office. We were asked by Boris Johnson's economic advisor, Anthony Brown, to help with ensuring that London remains a creative centre in the next few years.

And what answers did our team come up with?

If London is to develop as a digital and creative hub, then there's one thing that has to be addressed straight away: the simple matter of infrastructure. One of the things of which we became very quickly aware as we set up this latest Idea Shop was how difficult it was to get online and, once you had, to maintain a decent connection. It was pretty pathetic and embarrassing.

There we were, in the alleged centre of "adland", and you can't get a decent wi-fi connection. This is not good. The new creative economy will want to be connected at all times. Local and national government has to ensure that it is. It's the future of our city and our country we're talking about.

Second, there's the issue of space. Property is expensive in London, but perhaps not quite as scarce as some would have you believe. It's nothing short of criminal how many empty buildings there are around the capital.

Boris' office should start making sure that these empty building are put to good use. Think of all that creative talent (either native or drawn to the city from elsewhere) that has nowhere to go. Space needs to be available on short-term leases, for days or even hours if necessary. The new creative economy will need to be nimble and mobile and won't want to be tied down to expensive (if prestigious) offices.

Third, it'll be necessary for everyone to accept that the centre of the creative industries is likely to shift eastwards ("Silicon Roundabout", the Hoxton/Shoreditch area around Old Street, etc) over time.

This is one for all of us - clients and agencies. If we want to survive, we'll have to go where the talent is and if that means uprooting ourselves to follow it, then so be it. And we can be sure that City Hall will be encouraging clients and potential clients to move there (London does not want its best businesses moving out of the capital to areas like the Thames Valley or Cambridge).

Fourth, it'll be necessary to communicate our connected, creative city to the rest of the country and the world. We have to ensure the best talent continues to come to London. That means we have to demonstrate how much we value creativity, and that the opportunities are here rather than elsewhere in Europe or further afield. Smart marketing is required. Let's celebrate the small and the quirky and shout about their successes, even if as established shops we may sometimes feel threatened by them.

Finally, there's the vulgar subject of money. The new digital creative economy won't be able to run on enthusiasm and goodwill alone. New businesses need capital and cash. The problem is, banks aren't lending and the venture capitalists have become simultaneously conservative and obsessed with billion-dollar mega-buyouts.

But there are lots of people who have smallish amounts of cash to invest. The stock market is too risky and banks offer a lousy return, so why not encourage them to become "angel investors" and play their part in helping London retain its place at the top of the tree?

Perhaps regular open nights would work, in which those with the money and those with the ideas could mingle freely in a kind of extremely informal Dragon's Den.

Online pledge clubs are becoming popular in the music industry - the ex-Slit Viv Albertine's new album is being financed this way. So let's finance all creative endeavour in a similar fashion.

For example, a couple of young creative hotshots need to raise £10,000 to get their ideas off the ground. In return for equity or dividends, interested punters could pledge small amounts of money, and funds are not released until the target amount is reached, so the risk is minimised.

Much of this may seem blindingly obvious. It may well be, but as far as we can tell it's not being done and it needs to be, otherwise our city will be left behind.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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