Those of you in the know or with little else to do, will have already said hello to Prolific North or How-Do II as it will inevitably be known. How-Do I went under last Spring amid a welter of insinuations, recriminations and going into administrations by a number of the various parties associated with the dying days of its original incarnation.
I think it’s fair to say that, King Arthur-like, there was always the expectation that How-Do would return when the need was greatest. It was always going to awake from its enforced slumber in its digital Avalon when a truly big media story looked likely to go uncovered in the North, when a major creative renaissance saw a North-West agency win some non-retail business or when Nick Jaspan, the once and future proprietor, accepted, for good and all, that he was largely unemployable anywhere else. Well one out of three ain’t bad.
The reason it’s not billed as How-Do II must remain a mystery, however, one known only to the sundry parties involved and, presumably, my highly earned friends. So should the arms and lower limbs of the Northern creative community be widely spread to welcome back this re-interloper? Well yes they should. Prolific North will have, quite literally, a defining role in the Northern creative and media communities.
Let’s be brutally honest about this – outside of London, the UK now only has Manchester as a true creative and media hub. At one time, the city was coming a poor third to the combined might of the Glasgow and, more particularly, the Edinburgh scene.
Severely knacked by both the decline (and relocation) of its booze business, the un-Scotland-ising of its financial services industry and the comparative lack of high-spending north of-the border-only charity and health clients, Scottish marketing communications staff are now as rare as Comet Christmas casuals.
Birmingham, Bristol, the North East and Yorkshire never gained the creative or critical mass to spawn more than a few “where the fuck-did-they-come-from?” fleeting aberrations that are now only found under the “PMT machine for sale. Buyer must collect” heading of a Craig’s Listing near you.
It is to Prolific North’s credit that both Liverpool and, in an extension to the original How-Do remit, Yorkshire are to be covered by the new site. Will these two regions accept that, as London is the governor in the South (and nationally and, less definitely, internationally), so Manc is the daddy in the North? Almost certainly not, but then there’s still those in Manc that like to make out that London isn’t really a factor in the thinking of any client with a half-decent telly or national press budget. Well good luck with that one. Best pitch for that pliers account, mind, while you’re waiting for the Carlsberg call-up, happen.
In truth, drawing up boundaries for an out-of-London marketing and media site is a tricky matter. Even if you restricted it to Manc, would you still include the Altrincham companies? Even the Manchester Evening News is now based half-way to Yorkshire, would it get a look in? Client companies, media owners and marcom companies all, like it or not, have a focus on one particular region if they are based outside of London. A client will use an agency either based on his doorstep or in Soho. A media owner is interested in national advertisers and those local to him.
The people that staff these sundry businesses, though, are a different matter. As soon as staff get “found out” on one side of the Pennines they are likely to scoot across the other side or, if it was something really bad, apply for a job in the ‘Pool. With a statement worthy of the bleeding obviousness mastered by Sky News sofa commentators, it’s people that read websites and it’s people that have a migratory tendency, whether it’s a matter of necessity or aspiration.
In that respect, the Manc, Liverpool, Yorkshire footprint is not a bad one and should, at least, be welcomed by recruitment consultancies and those unwelcome in their own region.
For two industries as dynamic and as fluid as media and marketing communications, definition is a key issue. New talents are ever emerging, while more mature businesses are ever dodging their due date with Dignitas.
Similarly, new technologies – all of them remorselessly digital of hue – are also making almost daily debuts. If clients are to know where to look, if they are to have the confidence to say ‘no’ to a weekly Euston trip, then they need to have a sense of the local landscape. They need a map.
The region was de-sat-navved when How-Do withdrew. It was half-heartedly Apple-mapped by several contenders, not all of them Scottish.While the commercially creative community in the North is lucky to have a more vibrant business press than in most other regions, standard business coverage and media business coverage do not mesh well.
The MEN or the Yorkshire Post is hardly likely to give unbiased house-space to the success of rivals, while, as everybody knows, all business editors are morally obliged to fucking hate PR folk, even the cute ones. I believe it’s in their contract. Similarly, advertising agencies get short-shrift as business journos secretly suspect that any positive coverage will prove a boon to their own ad sales departments and that would never do.
Believe me, some small, admittedly dwindling, number of journos, are still free to exercise some discretion in these matters.
The need for Prolific North, then, lies in the specific dearth of informed, opinion-altering coverage of the vibrancy of the creative and media scene across the North. That is unassailably true.
The return of the site formerly-known-as-How-Do to the fray, though, does usher in another issue – there’s going to be an awful lot of awards events in the North (and, in particular, in Manc) this spring. With Prolific North looking to build on the hugely successful heritage of the How-Do awards with its own re-booted event, we now have a total of three ceremonies happening in May.
There’s the Prolific North Awards on May 16th, the MPA Awards on the 22nd and the Roses at some unspecified date the same month. There are also several other regional marketing, PR and creative awards spread out across the year.
Which ones should you enter then?
Well, the MPA has a huge up-hill battle in terms of credibility. For most, the Manchester Publicity Association is still best-known for its Christmas piss-up, with even that not as highly-regarded as it once was. The appointment of a full-time paid MD has, as yet, done nothing to show that the association, as a whole, has in any way been revitalised.
Its massaging of its membership figures, quite frankly, hasn’t helped. Its 2013 awards were announced when How-Do vanished from the scene. An awards event would have seemed an obvious way for the “new” MPA to prove its relevance. The problem is that the precedents don’t look good. Both the Yorkshire Publicity Association and the North East Publicity Association have long organised their own events and both have faced the same problems. As they are both organised by pub clubs, there is a sense that, Alice in Wonderland like, all shall have prizes, with many awards made on political, rather than creative grounds.
Have a look at who the judges are, before writing your entry cheque, and ask this crucial question – do the judges walk away knowing the results? If the answer is “no” and the results are to be “moderated” or based on secret ballots, then don’t enter. It’s a swizz. My prediction for this one – it will run for one year, put on a good show, have highly factional results and will merge with Prolific North for Year Two – a vastly more sensible proposition.
Then there’s the Roses – once the daddy of all of the out-of-London creative awards events, it has struggled in recent years. The Scottish agencies, once its mainstay, have blackballed it en masse, opting to both sweep the floor at their own national awards and to get a nomination in the charity copywriting section of truly UK-wide events.
Similarly, the decision to split the advertising and design categories into two separate Roses events and to graft on a number of architecture categories was short-sighted and disastrous in terms of numbers of both entries and attendees. Despite the lack of North of the Border entries, the event also garners little coverage outside of Scotland, making it little more than an exercise in onanism (as if they needed another) for most North of England creative teams.
If the Prolific North Awards can galvanise client awareness and participation in the same way as the How-Do awards did, then they could already be on a winner. Similarly, the successful entrants received wide spread coverage across the North West, ensuring at least indigenous clients and recruitment prospects were aware of any given company’s success. True a little more thought could go into the categories and maybe a little more specialist muscle into the judging of categories such as PR and Creative Agency but, over all, it’s by far the best prospect of the three.
While it’s a bit spartan and under-populated at present, Prolific North marks a welcome return for Jaspan and his team. If you’re serious about establishing the north as a viable creative community, one that client companies can turn to, safe in the knowledge that its diversity can provide a solution for most marketing communications requirements – except telly obviously – then support Prolific North. It’s your shop window, after all, and there’s enough of those boarded up across Manc and beyond already.
Tony Murray is Managing Editor of Gafencu Men in Hong Kong. He was previously editor of Adline and group managing editor of the Carnyx Group, publishers of The Drum and former publishers of The Marketeer. You can contact him at tonymurray37ATgmailDOTcom