I think Bath and Bristol chose me. I came to Bath University (from London) and have never really left apart from a short spell when I was director of consulting at Warwick Business School. We get all the upside of a decent-sized town with none of the downside of a big city.
How has the region’s creative sector and thus those servicing it evolved in the last five to ten years – any key trends?
The creative sector has blossomed as Bath has become a destination city for those fed up with the grime of living in London. As more people have come this way so it has become increasingly attractive to like-minded people. More recently, location has become increasingly irrelevant to clients so Bath and Bristol have become even more attractive to people seeking a great place for the life/work balance. It is only in the last year or so that the area has got serious about recognising and celebrating its contribution on the world stage. Today we are proud of what we can offer.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the professional services to the creative sector in the region?
I may not be popular for saying it but in my opinion, apart from a small handful of individuals, the professions serving the creative industries are relatively unsophisticated and are short-changing the creative industries. There are few true niche players (focusing exclusively on working with agencies or digital) although most have become keen to support us as the demand has become more obvious.
The strengths are the sense of community. Sometimes the south-west is just like a village. This can be translated to look like a mafia, the same faces running and driving things. I just think we all need to up our game contributing, helping and sharing where we can. There’s always room for improvement.
Inevitably, those with the most to share are often the most in demand so we need to find as many opportunities as possible to get people to engage and support each other.
Biggest challenges facing companies servicing the creative industries in the region?
The creative sector is incredibly diverse in scope and size of businesses. From the micro-business to the global brand leader – all need to be serviced by appropriate specialists in the various professional service skills.
My concern is that many services cannot answer ‘yes’ to the questions:
Do you understand business?
Do you understand my business?
Do you understand me?
I think professional services (as a whole) need to work harder to engage with their clients and add real significant value, consistently. (This is true of most regions!)
I want a professional (an accountant, lawyer, etc) who actually understands the specifics of my business – that way they can add true value over and above a standard job.
Any issues relating to recruitment and the talent pool? A limited talent pool with demand increasing faster than supply is not a great space to run a business in. There are too many stories of millennials staying for a week or so at an agency and then moving elsewhere to earn an extra 10p per hour. We must work even harder to attract, train and retain our talent. No easy task when everyone is in the same boat. The result is that larger agencies with deeper pockets will often attract talent away from the smaller and less well-off agencies.
Case study of a successful creative business in the region that you have worked with
We help digital agency owners to run the agency they really want to run. Our client names are confidential and they usually prefer that we do not share their stories. I will therefore tell the story without disclosing the name of the local agency.
As a result of working with us, this agency saw profits increase 107% within 12 months. They are now about to lead a joint venture which will take the agency to 40 staff. We were uniquely positioned to help them do this after working intimately with some 90+ agencies across Europe in the last year.
I met the agency owner some 24 months ago; she employed 12 staff but felt increasingly frustrated that she was having to be part of every aspect of the business and that the business had been built around her. We went off for an awayday to establish a three-year plan for the business with a view to hitting 50 staff within the three years.
We literally re-wrote and re-launched the business. The product focus became highly niched, prices and minimum fees went up by nearly 30%, new deals were created with suppliers and under-performing staff, clients and suppliers were re-educated or removed.
A positive cycle was created where higher fees meant better people could be employed (who were better at cross-selling and up-selling).
An exit plan is already in place and the agency owner has also achieved her own private goal of working four days a week.