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Levelling up: The BBC’s move creates an opportunity for Northern publishing and media groups

Andrew Kirkcaldy

Andrew Kirkcaldy, Co-Founder at By Gamers for Gamers, explores the opportunities thrown up by the BBC’s recent decision to move a large portion of its programming and production activities to the North of England.


Devastation reaped the BBC yesterday as thousands of talented employees received the news that up to 400 roles would be relocated to bases outside of London. 

Understandably, those faced with the choice to either relocate or resign are feeling let down, worried and quite frankly, a little annoyed, but for those of us in the North who’ve witnessed talent fleeing to the South for decades, it’s welcome news.

I’ve been working in the Northern digital and tech sector for over 15 years and, as such, have witnessed significant bias towards the South. The general perception that to succeed or even begin to build a career you need to seek opportunities in the capital has meant Northern cities have lost a significant amount of talent. 

And with many digital agencies and publishing houses looking to expand heading straight to the capital with the mindset that growth can only be achieved with a London base, this belief has been reinforced.

Perhaps with Channel 4’s move to Leeds in 2019 and now the BBC moving more of their operations outside of the capital, now is the time to unite as a region to nurture a shift in that thinking.

Levelling up the North

I was a big fan of the government’s proposed plans to “level up” the north of England and other parts of the UK, but I’ve seen little progress in regard to the size of the talent pool of digital skillsets in the North. 

There is certainly a growing digital and media community in some Northern cities, in particular in Manchester where designated media and digital hubs are being built around the city. However, I have to admit until now, we’ve seen little commitment. It comes as no surprise considering The Northern Powerhouse, which was ‘destined’ to transform northern cities, has also made little difference.

It’s interesting to read the initial reactions of the BBC employees, which highlight just how far we are from being seen as a thriving region. It’s clear there is still a deep-seated misperception of the North. Then again, if we don’t champion our region, how can we expect others to?

Shout from the rooftops

We’ve all heard that “two voices are louder than one”. The BBC and Channel 4 have already got started, so now it’s time to get involved with the conversation and to find our voices. It is always easier to build speed when the ball is rolling. 

The BBC and Channel 4 will serve to be the catalyst of a much-needed change in perception. If we consistently bang the same drum that there’s a field of opportunities within media and publishing in the region, it will not only inspire other businesses to seek refuge, but also help turn the heads of the best talent. 

At the moment, the majority of the talent which media groups and publishers seek is already consumed by more established outlets. They’ve built successful careers and are typically reluctant to move, especially to a lesser-known, Northern outlet.

So how do we go about changing that? We shout – loud. We highlight how the North is home to some of the most exciting, vibrant, and innovative challenger brands and we do it together. 

Take the burgeoning Boohoo, AO, The Very Group, The Hut Group, Moneysupermarket and Rental Cars, for example. All these brands are innovative and will only continue to thrive if they are able to attract the best digital talent.

What we need to do is take the mantle and get together to combine resources. We need to align what we want to say so it can be exponentially amplified, and develop a forum which allows businesses to effectively align their own employer brand and talent acquisition plans with others’. 

If we do this, we can challenge the existing thinking that Northern businesses are competing within a smaller Northern talent pool.

Capitalise on the digital shift

Despite the devastation caused by COVID-19, lockdown has presented a rare opportunity for this country. It’s brought economic and social changes that we must continue to use to our advantage. 

A classic example is the digital shift. Not only has it enabled small businesses – small in size but not in ambition – to challenge the existing incumbents in the market, but it’s changed the paradigm that you need to always be in close proximity to be effective as a business. 

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, media groups and publishers need to ensure they capitalise on this shift.

The power of the digital workplace is that it creates more opportunities for people to live where they want to live without forgoing career opportunities. Adopting a longer-term, more decentralised working model will allow us to tap into a wider talent pool. 

There is a place and a need for people to come together on occasion. There are times when video calls and messaging don’t cut it. They stifle creativity and reduce the ability to problem-solve or develop new ideas, and that’s when face-to-face interaction is needed. 

But that doesn’t mean to say we have to rush back to a 9-to-5, office-based, working model.

Invest in the talent of the future

Students and young people have noticeably suffered the effects of the pandemic, but as we begin to bounce back, we have the opportunity to fix that. Increased internships, work experience and graduate opportunities can empower our future talent and get them excited about a career in publishing or media in the North.

Personally, I’m a big fan of practical knowledge. I subscribe to the “learn by doing” mantra, especially in publishing. Students have had massive disruption to their learning and it’s unfair to put added pressure on them to catch up. 

When I look back on my education and career, I can say that I’ve learnt more practical knowledge by working than I did during university. 

Of course, having a solid foundation of education is critical, but I would welcome and encourage a resurgence of programmes which promote students getting out into the field, learning by doing rather than having a disproportionate bias to theory classroom learning. 

We have a chance to build on the momentum that has gathered. If we use this momentum to rally and collaborate to demonstrate our success as businesses based in the North, I have no doubt that we can level the playing field and remove the Southern bias that exists.

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