From the creative playground


An original article written by Tom Cleeland, Founder of The Cool Commentator.

Is Manchester the UK’s new creative playground? Everyone says that Birmingham is the UK’s second city, but we all know that was an assumption made long ago, and doesn’t quite stand with as much authority in 2011. Manchester on the other hand is the often over-looked gem of the North West and now it would seem the creative industries are starting to pick up on it’s untapped potential.

With a city center that is split into distinct quarters, an ever growing skyline and a mixture of traditional architecture and chic modern new builds, Manchester has just as much to offer as London but carries half the price tag – this has already attracted the BBC and we are starting to see more young start ups and creative agencies follow suit.

It hasn’t been an uncommon occurrence for an ad agency with a global presence to open a regional office in Manchester, with the likes of TBWA and McCann having presences in the area for many years – but we are interested in the younger companies, the boutique digital agencies that are taking up shop in the city, and starting to pump culture, art, technology and the occasional hipster onto the streets and into the homes of unsupecting Manchester residents. Ok, so the clients aren’t CocaCola or Nike, but that doesn’t mean the local clientele doesn’t have a bit of imagination and want a piece of the pie, and these young digital agencies are in a prime position to do the cutting.

As a student I was always told that working at a smaller agencies gives you more chance to learn, grow and ultimately shine through and I can say the same for Manchester. As a recent graduate deciding where to focus my career, I looked at both London and Manchester, choosing the latter and I haven’t looked back since.

To highlight this growing creative community I collated a number of creative agencies ranging from large advertising agencies, to boutique design shops (as seen in the above, interactive, map). The map shows that agencies in Manchester follow a similar trend as those in the likes of New York.

Let’s take a closer look at the Northern Quarter, highlighted here in green.

There is a large cluster of agencies fighting for space in the converted warehouses and factory buildings of the cities trendy Northern Quarter. If it is good enough for Hollywood, who recently shot scenes for Captain America on Dale Street, then it’s surely the best place to open up a new office and be at the epicenter of the creative boom in the city? With the likes of Reading Room, Code Computer Love and Dinosaur all having a presence in the area it is clear that the big players in the digital and design industries prefer a loft style open plan space to a high rise, glass fronted office block.

Here I draw a comparison to those boutique agencies residing in New York City’s Soho and Willamsburg. The hipsters of NYC made it clear that if you wanted to have any street cred, you needed to be living in Brooklyn and working in Soho, and so agencies quickly jumped on the band wagon and positioned themselves square in the middle of Broadway and Spring Street. Topshop recently opened their new flagship store in the heart of Soho, so that must mean it’s cool, right?

Of course New York and Adland is famous for Madison Avenue – it is, after all, where it all began and there is some evidence to suggest that Manchester’s creative community began life in the more affluent, financial districts of the city.

Highlighted here in orange we see a splattering of agencies carrying some of the industries more recognisable names and who take up residence in the more affluent areas of Deansgate and Oxford Road. Some of these agencies are the daddies of the industry, and are certainly the older generation of agency in the Manchester area. Some might argue that their location shows their preference of billings over creativity, others might argue that Deansgate was once the creative mecca of the city, and the agencies simply haven’t moved yet.

Either way you look at it, the younger digital agencies are flying in thick and fast and are threatening the safety of the older, more established players. This could go one of two ways of course, we could see the big boys of the industry fight back and devise some truly mesmerising campaigns to compete, or we could see them settle back into their armchairs and watch as the digital boys take over, naively believing that the fad will pass and the younger agencies will fall into administration. They might have a global, multimillion pound organisation to fall back on, but without tapping into their creative resources, these agencies won’t be dining in the fine bars and restaurants of Deansgate for much longer.

Jumping back to why Manchester is the UK’s new creative playground, I argue that yes it rains a lot, and yes we don’t have the Tate Modern or Natural History Museum but what Manchester lacks in tourists it makes up for with the New Media City, The Lowry, passion and heritage – not to mention a few extra pounds in the wallet at the end of the month. Whilst London is consumed by the 2012 Olympics over the next two years, Manchester will be thriving and creeping up on the London creative trade as clients begin to see the benefits a small boutique digital agency based in Manchester could have on their advertising budgets.

Watch out London, the North’s finest are coming and they are bringing their thinking caps with them!


About jeromefox

'Frenglish' PR consultant. Love the creative, quirky, unusual. Anything to do with food & drink (wine, cocktails, spirits - NO VK/WKD and other rubbish allowed!!!). Will talk about anything but mostly travelling (the farther the better), sports, books & movies (oldies are the best!). Equally passionate about cultural differences & other languages. Thrive on extreme sensations and new experiences. Always a fan of challenging people and opinions.


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