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The Wrap – Chris Norton, MD of Prohibition


Each Friday in The Wrap, one of the North’s leading media and creative figures will be giving us their take on the news covered by Prolific North over the last seven days.

This week it’s the turn of Chris Norton, MD of Prohibition.

It’s been a busy week in the media world for us in the North and last Friday a story that caught my eye was the reported 21% drop in print advertising at Trinity Mirror over the last six months. It seems the decline of the printed newspaper is continuing as the industry keeps looking for new and interesting revenue streams. It has to be said that the article did also mention that digital display and transactional revenue were up by 18%, so they are very much still fighting the good fight, but the days of the printed newspaper may soon be over altogether if their rapid decline continues.

I was also interested to hear on Monday that WRG, based in Manchester, had been sold to Huntworth PLC for around £25million. As a former employee of that business myself working in healthcare many years ago, I know that the senior team there are always looking for innovative agencies that can help it grow its portfolio strategically – but a business with more than a £47million turnover is certainly a significant acquisition by anyone’s standards.

Tuesday brought the news of the week for my sector, with the latest rankings on the PR Industry from Prolific North, which listed the Top 50 PR Agencies in the North. Manchester is leading the way in terms of creative agencies, and PR is no different to this, with seven of the top ten based in the city and only one from Yorkshire. However, there are still eight agencies from Leeds in the list and a few more from this side of the Pennines, and even a couple from the North East, but Lancashire is clearly leading the way.

Despite the doom and gloom of Brexit, the PR industry still appears to be thriving and diversifying as it looks to move into new areas, not least as the consumer becomes more integrated and brands need their reputations managed in different places. The largest PR agency was revealed as Citypress, which has more than 70 staff – clearly illustrating you can build a large PR outfit in the north of the country despite not being within the M25.

Also this week the BBC announced its biggest investment in children’s content in a generation, amounting to an additional £34million to 2019/20. It seems the BBC has recognised that the youth of today want their content on tablets and mobiles and are moving away from the traditional TV set – the huge growth in YouTube influencers has a big part to play here, as well as the rapid growth of Amazon Prime and Netflix.

The new funds will pay for an enhanced online offer for children, with new forms of content and interactivity, as well as a renewed commitment to CBeebies and CBBC. Hopefully, the BBC can remain relevant for the new generation and keep making interesting content, because I personally feel it plays a big role in the education of our young people. That said I am not so sure about the importance of Iggle Piggle and his In the Night Garden Friends though.

On Wednesday the marketing colossus that is Jaywing announced a loss after tax of £2.98m in the year to 31 March 2017, which is a substantial figure no matter what size you are. The company now has offices all over the country and beyond – including one in Sydney Australia. It has been expanding and acquiring a lot of agencies in the last couple of years and it put the loss down to ‘goodwill impairment’ and acquisitions. It bought the Leeds agency Bloom in September 2016 and Sydney’s Digital Massive in July 2016. The management team have been busy, so it will be interesting to see how it tweaks its service offering over the next twelve months. It already has artificial intelligence and virtual reality offers under a new brand called Jaywing Intelligence. AI certainly appears to be the new shiny toy that agencies want to play with.

The Greater Manchester Internationalisation Strategy was launched this week, which is a three-year framework for action worth more than £2.2bn to the region’s economy. It will be implemented by members of Manchester Growth Company, the Department for International Trade, private sector organisations, the local Universities and Manchester Airport. The strategy sets out how Greater Manchester can achieve its long-term vision to become a top global city by 2035 and identified eight key priorities.

Yesterday, saw some more good news for the North West as the BBC announced plans to hire more than 200 people to work on digital projects at BBC North, which is great for the creative sector. The new employees will work across BBC Sport, Children’s, Education, live events, as well as its Homepage and Content Discovery departments.

This latest move will solidify the BBC as one of the largest tech employers in the North. There is no doubt the move to the North has been a success for this part of the country, it’s just a shame Channel 4 didn’t see it the same way as they issued a 46 page document detailing why it should remain in London, explaining that it already invests heavily in the Nations and Regions. The report stated: “Channel 4 makes a significant contribution to talent, audiences and the independent production sector in the Nations and Regions, spending over £1.5bn on TV production in the Nations and Regions over the last decade. In 2016 this was at a high of £169m, £36m of which was spent in the devolved Nations. External analysis commissioned by Channel 4 calculates this activity as supporting around 3,000 jobs in the Nations and Regions.”

The truth is the North benefits from the production houses moving up here. If we can get others to move to our Northern cities it will benefit us all in the creative sector.

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