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How to really do things differently in a post-Covid world


Sarah Novotny, Digital Creative and Tech Sector Lead at GC Business Growth Hub, on how creative and digital businesses are embracing a new era of innovation in the aftermath of Covid-19.

You’ll know the famous quote, “This is Manchester, we do things differently here”, often credited to the late and great Anthony H Wilson. In fact, the source goes back to comedian Steve Coogan’s depiction of him in the cult film 24 Hour Party People.

He says the iconic line just before introducing the next chapter – the ‘Second Act’ – of Manchester’s story: the famous ‘Madchester’ era that put the city ‘back’ on the world map as a cultural and musical powerhouse.

Fast forward to today and many of the businesses that make-up our city-region’s £4.1bn digital, creative and technology (DCT) sector – just a fledgling industry in the days of Madchester – are preparing for their own second act.

This time it will be about how Manchester’s swathe of DCT companies embrace a new era of innovation to deliver products and services differently in the aftermath of Covid-19. Many have seen their client bases heavily hit by the challenges, with services that were dependent on face-to-face meetings (such as workshops and events) having to adapt to survive.

Steve Coogan as Anthony H Wilson in 24 Hour Party People

But it’s not just about doing things differently. Creative and digital businesses are seeing that, to stand out from the crowd, you have to keep the quality high when you alter how you deliver things.

Mustard Media is a case in point here. The Princess Street-based company is Europe’s leading festivals and events accelerator. They had to completely reinvent their offer following the outbreak of coronavirus. They immediately launched the “Business Keeps on Dancing” webinar series, collaboratively providing leadership with others in the festival and events sector on how to adapt to the changed environment. Shortly afterwards, they devised a new Virtual Events Lab for the benefit of their clients and the wider sector.

The new product was a first for the market, positioning Mustard as a leading provider of high-quality virtual events. In turn, it enabled Mustard’s customer base to maintain strong brand recognition and deliver stand-out moments for their audiences.

A similarly innovative approach has been led by Design a Gig, a one-stop shop for aspiring musicians looking to take control of their place in the industry. In addition to their continuity of support for clients with branding, recording and promotional services, Design a Gig has launched a virtual open-mic night under a series of live ‘pub’ gigs at the Lockdown Arms.

The success of the new live streams in reaching new audiences has encouraged Design a Gig to open their virtual doors to artists beyond Manchester and the North West – over the coming weeks, they will host a global live gig featuring musicians from around the world.

Creative Scale-Up, a programme empowering businesses to realise their full potential, has been adapted to help businesses tackle the current challenges

While these are just a couple of examples of great innovation taking shape, every business in Manchester’s DCT sector has had to make changes over the past few weeks. Speed has been at the heart of the crisis response but as businesses look at ways to create added value, maintain customers and set the right price points for new services, quality will become increasingly important.

Those looking for assistance with rising to these new challenges and to really do things differently should know that high quality support is available at no cost to them. The businesses aforementioned have worked with GC Business Growth Hub over recent months, and there are two programmes particularly pertinent for the DCT sector right now.

The first, Greater Connected, has been supporting the sector since 2016. Fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, its content has been revised to meet the current challenges and to help businesses to stabilise, adapt and grow. It includes re-modelled online workshops offering tailored expert advice from digital, creative and tech practitioners, and growth advisors from the Hub.

The second is Creative Scale-Up, launched in January by the Growth Company and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. This programme is tackling gaps in investment and growth in the creative sector, while empowering businesses to realise their full potential, providing the training and tools necessary to do things differently and better, in order to reach the next level.

Creative Scale-Up is fully funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. It too has been adapted to help businesses tackle the current challenges and will help those on the course to position themselves as strongly as possible as we move into the recovery phase.

With a vibrant community of around 9,000 DCT businesses making up the UK’s biggest creative and tech cluster outside of London, Greater Manchester is well prepared for a strong performance into its next act. We face today’s challenges collectively and both innovation and quality of service will go a long way towards truly doing things truly differently in these times.

If you want to be part of this success, follow the links below for more information:

  • Greater Manchester DCT businesses can apply to join the next cohort of Greater Connected
  • Businesses in Greater Manchester’s creative industries can still sign up for the few remaining places of the Creative Scale-up programme

The Growth Company

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