The creative industries in the West Midlands have boomed over the last ten years, making a substantial contribution to the region’s economy. But as the recession develops, the sector - known for risk-taking and largely comprising small to medium sized businesses - could feel the pinch more than others. Lizzy Sharman reports.
It has been suggested that, with a drive towards innovation, creative industries could be tipped for pulling the country out of recession.
With this in mind, creative companies were invited to ‘Crunch Time’, an event organised by Screen West Midlands and Creative Republic, offering inspirational ideas, tips and advice on how to survive the recession.
Panels of experts spoke about access to funding, skills, marketing and the need to adapt. The words ‘digitisation‘, ‘innovation‘, ‘upskilling‘, ‘flexibility‘, ‘adaptability‘ and ‘diversification’ were used frequently - all sold as the chance to give businesses the cutting edge in a tough market.
James Meadway, from NESTA, co-author of ‘Attacking the Recession‘, was keynote speaker at ‘Crunch Time‘. He said a recession on this scale should force major changes in the way we think about business and that a new approach was needed, building on skills and technologies.
He added: “Consumer industries have more potential for growth and in five or six years time we think the creative industries could be employing more people than the financial services.”
Helga Henry, chair of the board for Creative Republic, said it had been interesting to hear James Meadway speak about both the challenges facing the industry and the potential for recovery through their innate creativity. She added: “What came through very strongly in his address was the need for new networks and how digital media is one way to forge new networks and explore new markets.
“We also heard from online experts, including Chris Unitt, about how those networks also have to be created in the real world as well as the virtual one.
“This is where Creative Republic comes in. We provide opportunities for members of the creative industries to meet one another, get inspired and also connect with the professional and manufacturing sectors in the region. “It’s creating a strong, integrated and inspired sector that will shield us most effectively from the rigours of the current economic situation.”
Suzie Norton, chief executive of Screen West Midlands, said the sector in the region had a large number of strong companies and a highly-skilled workforce, making it well-placed to beat the down-turn.
“The message that came out during ‘Crunch Time’ and other places is that the creative industries will help the UK out of the recession because it is one of our strong selling points internationally.
“In our region we have the cream of the crop of UK creative talent and therefore we’re very hopeful that’s going to help to get our region back on track.
“I think that coming through to the next financial year when new budgets are being set, we will really start to see the impact of the recession in terms of jobs.
“Our region is not immune and certainly the smaller the business, the more vulnerable you are to any kind of recession.
“Other things that we are doing to help companies - in partnership with Business Link, Advantage West Midlands and the UKTI - include tailoring existing funds, lobbying the regional development agencies for new funding, lobbying central government on behalf of the region, promoting the region and the regional agencies internationally and taking delegations to international markets.”
Although credit is scarce, Ms Norton was confident that future funding would not be hard to come by.
“We have put a very good case to our regional development agency as to why the digital and creative sectors should be supported because they are part of the region’s lifeblood in terms of the regeneration of our region and in terms of getting it out of recession.
“So they are absolutely vital. I think the argument has been made very strongly to our Regional Development Agency and I’m confident that they will continue to support our sector.”
Paul Davies, co-managing director of Television Junction (TVJ) was on the ‘Crunch Time‘ panel ‘Change or Die’. He spoke about the challenges facing media companies in the current climate.
“I think the main challenge is that some of our trade markets are starting to dry up and the work we do tends to be for a lower tariff," he said. "As a small company it is much harder to cover staff costs and over heads.
“These challenges are largely the result of a changing market. They started before the recession but are compounded by it.”
Mr Davies said TVJ had made a good response to these challenges by diversifying and looking at new markets. “I really believe that if we want to keep the people we have trained over the years we need to look at different forms of production.
“My top tip would be to look at the things you have done well over the years and look at how you apply those skills over a wide range of media. Take these skills and the new environment and combine them.
“I think it is diversifying or die. We have all started to think about doing things that we never thought we would do.
“Television Junction would not be in business if we still just made television programmes for 100 per cent of our time. Upskilling is the choice that we are making all the time. To survive you have to be flexible. You have to adapt. ”