Ever since 23 June 2016, UK business leaders have rallied around one clear objective: how to navigate Brexit with minimum disruption to their business and minimum damage to their bottom line. Media reports of major firms threatening to pull out of Britain have contributed to a climate of apprehension, further fuelled by the scrutiny applied to Theresa May’s global trade negotiations to plug the trade deficit.
Against this backdrop it’s all too easy to adopt a siege mentality, but is this defensive strategy really the best approach for UK business in the longer-term? We shouldn’t be blindsided by negativity. If anything, Brexit has forced a reassessment of what British business has to offer, and in that process we discovered that we do still have a huge amount going for us, alongside a necessary sense of self-reliance.
The creative industries - worth £92bn and increasing, according to government statistics - sit right at the heart of the UK economy. They are certainly not immune to Brexit turbulence, but out of this comes opportunity. The devaluing of the pound and the large work force of highly skilled creative people, for example, has made Britain an exceptional price-quality proposition for the US and the rest of the world.
Our nation occupies a privileged position in many ways: we speak an internationally relatable language, we sit at the centre of global time zones, we have a rich and varied heritage and an unrivalled cultural diversity, the preservation of which will be crucial to success in exporting our creativity.
Yet when it comes to commercial creativity, London and Britain are too often synonymous. While London’s reputation as a creative hotspot is undisputed - recognised alongside New York and Paris in the global stakes and earned through centuries of embedded culture – you will see a wealth of creative brilliance if you look beyond the M25 to centres such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Bristol.
To enhance our appeal as a creative exporter we need to broaden our London-centric view and reframe our creative excellence collectively as ‘British’; a complementary and diverse offering would be a valuable asset to the UK as a whole. Furthermore, looking beyond London will become increasingly critical to all industries in the future as skilled workers continue to leave the capital due to rising costs.
Music and art have proven for some time that creativity can happily live outside cultural capitals, and that’s never been truer than in today’s tech-led world in which ideas transcend geography. Creativity can be inspired by anything when art is found not only in national galleries but equally in local street art and nature. I was heartened to see some strong work at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity – a benchmark for global commercial creativity – emerging from India and South America for example, as well as wins for our own Birmingham agency.
The success of exporting our creativity won’t be automatic. There are still certain conditions that must be met to ensure it is able to function, let alone flourish. Although we can view ourselves as being in a good position despite – and, in some ways, because of – Brexit, we would find ourselves at a considerable disadvantage should too many restrictions be imposed upon skills, or too many tariffs weigh upon IP.
Also, we can’t ignore the segregation that has emerged throughout the Brexit process. Where Brexit divided us, unification is needed. Our strength and attractiveness as a proposition to the rest of the world is in our diversity across the nation, and so our success relies upon finding a way to embrace that. This year’s Football World Cup offered a promising start to this process, but we need more opportunities like this to encourage the nation to link arms.
If we can solve these challenges then Britain can not only maintain its position as a creative powerhouse but - by increasing and promoting our potential as a powerful exporter of creative industries – seize the opportunity to grow its presence on the global creative and trade stages.
Mark Lund is CEO of McCann Worldgroup UK.
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