Why 'bubble vision' is bad for business
A view from Peter Brown

Why 'bubble vision' is bad for business

Bristol-based CRM agency Prophecy Unlimited's chief executive explains why a London/Soho focus is bad for business.

As party leaders criss-cross the country in the final days before the General Election on 8 June, the media spotlight criss-crosses with them, from Carlisle to Chichester, from Falmouth to Glasgow – and rightly so.

Yet too many beyond the M25 feel that outside election season their concerns are, at best, overlooked by those within. And I’m not just talking about the politicians.

Consider the ad industry. Recently, I heard about "Get out there" – an Ogilvy & Mather London initiative to send its planners "rogue". Every month, they will "get on a train and visit Bradford. Torquay. Grimsby, North, south, east and west... They will go out on the streets and talk to people. Real people".

I could think of just one thing in response: "And about bloomin’ time, too."

Adland’s London-centricity is legendary. Remember the morning after last year’s Brexit referendum? Within the M25 many – and I’m not just talking about Remainers – were left stunned. As, too, were most of adland’s elite who were away from home toasting themselves on their expense accounts down in Cannes.

Some were happy, others not. But my point is the sheer scale of those based in the capital on either side of the debate who, to put it frankly, didn’t see it coming.

And our industry’s metropolitan bubble was further highlighted earlier this month when BMB co-founder, long-time champion of the British regions and proud Brummie Trevor Beattie spoke of the excuse chairing this year’s Roses Creative Awards judging panel (in Manchester) gave him to escape the capital’s "self-importance, the beards, the surliness, the endless craving for the new".

Now, as someone who has spent a considerable part of his career working in agencies in London, let me start by saying I am not anti-London. But as the chief executive of a new agency launched at the beginning of May that, with just shy of 200 people, is now one of the biggest outside London, it does feel that those of us in this industry who saw Brexit as a wake-up call (and, more importantly, acted on it) are in a distinct minority.

Formed by The Unlimited Group through the coming together of its agencies EMO and The Real Adventure, Prophecy Unlimited is Bristol-based and committed to delivering clients true insight into the views and behaviours of the entire UK population, not just a metropolitan few. And this insight will be informed not by monthly forays beyond the M25 but an all year round, grassroots focus – and presence.

Our aim is to deliver more relevant and engaging content through more engaging (and so more effective) content that’s locally inspired (and so locally relevant), rather than London-sourced content that’s simply repurposed.

Those living outside London are almost twice as likely to agree that marketing agencies’ activities and campaigns are too focused on what a London audience wants. 

Not so long ago, talk of companies eager to succeed internationally was all about their need to "think global, act local". Yet, all too often, many forgot the importance of this same principle when it came to doing business closer to home. And this despite the fact that concerns about "diversity" – albeit it with a focus on recruitment strategy – is now fast-rising up the agency management agenda. 

72% of those outside London think "people who work in London have very different views of Britain compared to those who work outside London", according to new findings by our research agency, ICM Unlimited.

Those living outside London are almost twice as likely to agree that marketing agencies’ activities and campaigns are too focused on what a London audience wants. And ICM Unlimited will continue to undertake research across the whole country providing insights all of us from across the group can now tap into. 

A "whole country" approach to doing business is an important post-Brexit strategy for any business – whatever sector they operate in, according to a recent Financial Times analysis offering a blueprint for life after Britain leaves the EU and how to ensure London remains Europe’s financial capital. Second on the "Must do" list (after "Think beyond Europe") was "Look beyond London".

Back to the election campaign, and it was interesting to see a final commitment to long-talked of plans to relocate Channel 4 outside the M25 was included in the Conservative Party manifesto. Without doubt, such a move would send a powerful message. This has already been achieved by the BBC’s up-weighting of activity out of Salford, Cardiff and Bristol and the associated stimulus it has provided for a diverse array of other creatives already based in or drawn to surrounding areas.

The importance of the creative industries lies in the multiplier effect of their benefits beyond the economic and the political. And the potential for all of us to diversify beyond the M25 is likely to release further potential which can only be to the benefit of everyone.

Diversity is the key here, as to thrive as a sector we need to engage with a broad range of audience and to do this effectively we must attract and retain a broad range of talent.

Which brings me back to Trevor Beattie, who said: "As an industry, we really only do two things – move product and move people." Precisely. No London bias there.

Peter Brown is chief executive of Prophecy Unlimited, the Bristol-based CRM agency that is part of the Unlimited Group.

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