Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Playing safe

Government needs to give more opportunities to small creative industries, suggests Chris Arnold

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There’s no doubt that Britain rules the waves when it comes to creativity. We’re in the top 10 of many creative industries, from design to architecture, fashion to television, music to computer games, art to advertising. Britain really is still ‘great’ when it comes to the creative industries and it’s big business for the UK economy.

Creative businesses are very organic, unlike manufacturing. A company starts small, grows and finally becomes big. At that point the up and coming talent leaves and starts a new business. The cycle goes on. It’s a great business model.

It’s tough running a creative business but it’s both challenging and fun. I’ve worked in the advertising industry for over 20 years and have worked on everything, even Labour party advertising. I was a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi before I decided to start my own agency. And what a leap. I exchanged a creative factory for bureaucracy. Starting a business is all paperwork rather than creative work at the beginning.

Small creative companies need support, but most of all they want interesting paid briefs, not grants. Government departments, like the COI, spend millions annually on creative communications. So does it hire small, young creative shops? Is that large pot of budget cultivating a new generation of creative minds and businesses? Not in the ad field. Instead it hires big established safe companies. Worse, many owned by non-British firms. The biggest ad agency COI uses is American owned; two others are French.

One reason I’ve been told they don’t do business with small young companies is that if they go broke, it would be embarrassing. Ironically, having government business could be the biggest reason you wouldn’t go broke.
Earlier this year I set up a unique new model of ad agency, Creative Orchestra. It’s the first social enterprise ad agency of its kind in the world; it’s also a talent incubator. As a community interest company we don’t seek to make a profit but to share our income with a group of the very best young talent – a sort of creative cooperative. We both develop talent and sell that talent to top brands.

If we want to grow our creative economy we need to invest in it. For this, we don’t need to create a new fund but simply use what we spend more wisely.
For our company, government campaigns would be a steady and reliable source. The government would get more cost-efficient work, and in the case of campaigns aimed at youth (sexual health, drink, drugs) get young people working on it; our average age is 25 – 10-years younger than the average agency. A win-win situation, except the rules don’t let us even enter the race, let alone the paperwork.

If government agencies like the COI put just 10% of its massive communication budget into young creative businesses it would accelerate growth and help develop Britain’s creative future talent and reduce graduate unemployment. In turn, it would grow the economy.

Many small creative companies are more inclined to cultivate young talent because creativity is their ethos – not growing the share price. I have almost 20 young creatives working in my office, more than any big agency.

Someone once asked me how do creative people like me see things? ‘Most people see a half empty glass as half empty,’ I replied. ‘I see something to water a growing plant with.

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Chris Arnold

is founder of Creative Orchestra and author of Ethical Marketing and the New Consumer

1 comment

  • I have to agree with Chris that we need to invest in those small acorns within the creative industries. Governments have never been good at providing seed capital. The grant system is slow and too much red tape to help small growing companies.
    It’s shocking that we employ foreign firms before British firms. I believe the COI needs to explain this.
    Nice to see someone adopting a socialist approach towards business rather than a Tory, lets get rich, approach. Nice to have a Labour supporter in the business world that puts his values ahead of profits.
    Is the Labour party using their creative services? Maybe they could teach us how to connect with youth.

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