Soho Create was on between the 6th and the 10th of June 2016 in a number of locations around London. We made our way to the Creative Business Symposium in Soho Square on the 8th of June to hear about what creativity means for local businesses and how it can be nurtured.
It's worth remembering that creative industries are worth a staggering £82 billion to the UK economy, and probably even more as we realise the importance of creative work in an era of machine learning, AI and automation. Despite what people might think about Shoreditch or even Clerkenwell, Soho is still home to 46,000 creative people. Indeed, if you hang around the area long enough you’ll get the feeling that every inch of space, both underground and overground, is crammed with businesses -- especially media and creative agencies and production companies.
The Creative Symposium sessions focused on creativity as a driver for growth. They covered everything from creative studies, recruiting, talent retention, building spaces for creatives, the craft of communicating ideas and peaked with insights on how to run, lead, and tell the story of a creative company. Here's what we took away from the day:
Amy Smith from Framestore, Lee Schuneman from LIFT, Gareth Gaydon from The Mill and Katie Lee from Gravity Road gave us their insights into how to nurture, acquire and retain talent. It was about recruitment as much as it was about the quality of education in our industries. The panelists generally lamented the lack of people to keep up with sheer demand, the sometimes formulaic approach to creative studies and how maybe we’ve dropped the ball on arts and creativity in the curriculum over our STEM and ‘measure everything’ obsession. They were, however, optimistic about universities trying their best to prepare students for what really lies ahead. Framestore and LIFT talked about their partnerships with Bournemouth and Royal College of Art respectively in order to find the students that can fill the gap in their businesses.
And what could a young employee hope for in return? Depending on the size of the company they may be lucky to get a formal training programme that sets them on a career path. They might also find that the best gift a company can give you is the opportunity to have ownership and autonomy or alternatively, flexibility so you can ‘try the job on for size while running some projects on the side as part of a portfolio career.
What did we learn? When creative companies grow, there’s a huge desire to preserve the culture and hire people similar to those already there, making life easy for everyone. Framestore argued that you should play devil's advocate: every now and then hire someone culturally different but just as capable; someone who maybe annoys you a little bit because they’re not like everyone else but will bring fresh perspectives along.
Jo Malone on building a global brand
People in the UK can’t not know Jo Malone - the fragrance creator extraordinaire who sold her business to Estee Lauder. She’s truly a creative force, and considering she’s been at it for so many years - punctuated by a serious cancer fight - she comes across as a total boss when you hear her talk, no matter your feelings on fragrance. Her talk was a tour de force on serial entrepreneurship, business and brand building, how to deal with creative block and come unstuck.
The intro to her session was a brilliant segue from a question asked in the previous session: do dyslexic or autistic individuals have value in the creative industries? Jo is a living example of how being both dyslexic and having synaesthesia can be harnessed for creative purposes. Can’t drive or read or swim to save your life? That shouldn’t stop you as long as you feed the creative urge and surround yourself with people who do what you might be terrible at.
What did we learn? That we shouldn’t forget the value of entertainment and education (for free) in a real-world store - something she calls and likens to ‘the first kiss’. You know; if it’s good then you don’t forget it.
Creative spaces with Pat Joseph and Peter Moore
We moved into our 82 Baker St home just over a year ago but we’ve only just started to personalise it to make it feel like home. Pat and Peter’s talk as architect and business co-founder team was relevant to our interests: they talked about how important buildings and their interior design are to people’s well-being and productivity. Together they raised the bar on the idea that a building is just a box; it matters how it makes you feel when most of your waking life is spent at work.
As technology enables us to be be always on, the idea of work-life balance is being replaced by a notion of work-life integration. Spending that bit of extra money to make your space feel nice can seem like a luxury to some; when cost and location become pressing issues, design and comfort are the first things to compromise on. We champion human-centered design and often say good design is invisible, so if we truly believe that then we should extend that notion to our fellow creatives - architects - and give them credit when they surprise and delight us with how they think about space.
What did we learn? The Mill decided to put their producers and account people on ground floor by the entrance - a clever move that means the right people in the agency see clients as they walk in and strike up conversations. And you never know where conversations might lead...some new business perhaps?
Sixty Second Theatre with Sir John Hegarty and Michael Seresin
You’ve heard us talk before about new video and new forms of storytelling - it was good that Sir John Hegarty and Michael Seresin brought up the subject. While there weren’t any definite conclusions or recommendations, we’re all sensing the same thing: that we’re in a world where a lot of branded content is being produced, too many cooks are spoiling the broth in the production pipeline and as a result (video) work lacks the cultural impact we all hope for.
What did we learn? That quality of an idea is an idea in itself.
Leading Creative Companies
Andria Vidler from Centaur, Nir Efrat from King.com and Mike McGee from Framestore talked about the challenges in building, scaling and telling the story of their creative business (or transformation). Managing creative people makes people think of herding cats, making all of us seem like very difficult people to deal with. What did come out loud and clear from the three was that honesty, authenticity and integrity go a long way. People with an urge to make stuff are perfectionists: they want change things until they come close to the unbearably high standards they set for themselves, except these standards are constantly moving goal posts. It all sounds simple: all managers and leaders need to do is give people resources, super-tight briefs and specs and finally put some rigorous process around this desire to fiddle with work until the last minute if they want the work to get out the door on time. Then get out of the way. Good luck with that.
What did we learn? As former BBC employees, Andy and Andria reassured us that even TV presenters and producers have their scripts ready at 7:59 when the news is supposed to start at 8:00. If it looks smooth on the outside, it’s definitely not the case on the inside.