I grew up in Halifax. For those that don’t know it, it’s a big town, nestled in the Calder Valley between Bradford and Leeds, and a hop across the Pennines from Manchester. They are all cities bursting with character, culture and talent. But I’ve always felt there’s a conflict between my idea of these cities as a northerner, and how they are perceived nationally, especially here in London.
The Northern Powerhouse programme is a case in point. For most people I’ve spoken to in London (excluding northerners of course) it is seen as some sort of leg up, or stabilisers, for cities like Manchester ‘struggling to keep up’ with London. It’s not. It’s less about giving northern cities new advantages, it’s about redressing unfair ones London has enjoyed for far too long.
Don’t get me wrong, I live in London. I’ve lived here for 13 years. I love this city. The capital city of the world. I am as proud to bring my kids up here as I am to have grown up in Yorkshire. But it’s high time we appreciated London’s legacy and its future are inherently tied to cities that have swallowed an unfair disadvantage for far too long.
It’s also time we started to see what London can learn from these burgeoning British cities that have carried on regardless.
Northern cities were built on foundations of industry. From coal to cloth, they were cities that did things, built things and made things, while London sold them to the world. Then the arse fell out of industry and the northern powerhouse found itself hurting.
But the north wasn’t on its knees for long. Those cities got the f*ck on with it. Built new industries. Modernised old ones. Established a tight sense of community pride London can learn from, and brought their sense of craft to emerging digital and service industries in dire need of artisans. All the while beating the rest of the country at pretty much every sport.
It’s taken a while, but now we see those cities shining bright again. Liverpool, Newcastle, Bradford, Leeds and the democratic republic of Manchester. From Media City to the Lowry, Manchester is an inspiring, cosmopolitan city standing on the shoulders of its proud community. Its push for more independent governance, especially with regards to business and transport, is not to break away from the rest of the UK, but to give it the same agility enjoyed by London and its mayor.
For the British economy it seems a no-brainer: for too long we’ve owned the crown jewels, but only polished one diamond.
Can the comms industry burst the London bubble?
It’s this division not of culture or ideology, but of respect and equality that has carved such a divide in the politics of our country. And it’s this division and London-centric focus that has bled into our industry of communications over the past decade.
We have a responsibility to be representative. We set the news agenda. We spark the conversations. What we do has a broad influence.
Like it or not, the comms industry is in a London bubble. Happy in our echo chamber, we are unwittingly missing out on enormous talent and opportunities. We’re busy patting each other on the back while agencies like Hatch, Smoking Gun, Brass and ilk do equally good work with disproportionately less industry attention. There are exceptions of course – Frank and a few others have opened offices outside of London and bring a more comprehensive mindset to their work as a result.
The truth is, businesses need to look up and branch out if we are going to broaden our horizons. The opportunity isn’t just for northerners to get into London agencies but for London agencies to gain from connecting better with the north.
It’s something we’ll be doing with our second UK office soon. This article wasn’t meant to be a vehicle to announce we’ll be opening Manifest Manchester in the coming year – but I guess it does forge a manifesto for it. We have offices in London, New York and Stockholm, but as a northerner in the London bubble, Manchester seems like a significant and timely move for us.
Just like our international offices it will broaden horizons. It will make us a better business, with more diversity of talent, thinking and humour.
As Manchester and the cities around it continue to blossom in the digital age, I think we’ll see more agencies doing the same. And the industry will be the better for it.
If you’re interested in working at Manifest Manchester, email email@example.com