For the digital media industry, does London matter so much any more?

By Simon Akers, founder, Archmon

Not many of my friends in media know this, but I earnt my degree in Geography at Bath Spa back in the old days. Well 2004, which seems that way. 

Like so many of us in marketing, I never intended on this. Who thought they would be doing proposals, brief responses, strategy decks and reviews when their real passion was maps and cities? (Well the tube map, the greatest of cartographic expressions of course).

I find the concept of the city a fascinating socio-economic entity. Dynamics vary. People from various backgrounds and location coalesce, often with some kind of objective or ambition (reflected in the sociological concepts of Gemeinschaft, local communities and personal, versus the Gesellschaft of the more impersonal cities). Urban Geographies was my favourite module. I even did my dissertation on the redevelopment of Birmingham City Centre!

The study of urban v rural demographics, and this notion of human behaviour as synonymous with different geographies whet my whistle, and at the time felt future facing, in my first job after uni at Experian. With swathes of signalling data, their pre-eminent Mosaic product was so interesting, you could look at segments/ audiences and identify their gemein-gesell style divide.

Pubs in Nottinghamshire was no longer a segment of interest (although was very much to me personally when I was 21). An unhelpful, homogeneous audience slab, like ‘millennials’. However going meta and having Rural Pubs versus Urban Pubs and their fanciful pen portraits had a different tone and flavour.

I MOVED TO LONDON IN 2013

A proper city. The place to be for digital media/marketing and advertising. After time in places like Nottingham and Bath, working for some leading players in the data and performance space, London was the assumed mecca of digital and advertising for Europe. It was the best way for me to get into the ‘bigger’ time, and like many a migrator to the metropolis, wanted to prove myself on a national or even global scale. Some jobs at vendors and media owners led to some large agency gigs. Life was good. Working hard and definitely playing. 7 great years give or take.

However, changes in my personal life and some challenges led me to consider leaving London in 2018. But both the career and industry FOMO was too strong to make the break at that time, I felt like there was more of me yet. Besides, I got into the contract side and went self-employed. Best decision yet. However, given the pressure on earning to pay London life comfortably, I planned my exit and this time I meant it.

I LEFT LONDON LATE 2019

To be clear, I love the place. Always have and always will. A hub of commerce, culture, smart thinking, opportunities and more. Hell, I still miss London at times. I miss the chance encounters such as the get togethers, the lunches, the pints after work. But I woke up, realised I was changing, and indeed the digital way in which we work, and left. 9 months ago to be precise. A great run. Decent experiences with some of the biggest accounts there is,  However I had had enough for a litany of reasons.

WE ALL KNOW HOW 2020 HAS GONE

Usually by overused words, i.e. the opposite of precedented. Many have been hit extremely hard. In our industry alone, many agencies and vendors have had to make some major double-digit-percentage redundancies, with some publisher brands disappeared completely.  A sad yet inevitable aftermath of uncertainty, thanks in part to shift-changes in customer activity and commercial arrangements. There is a survey on here that is being collected to check sentiment; it will be great to see the results of this – hopefully they point to more optimism than anything. 

On a personal note, I am just grateful I left London when I did, otherwise not sure how I would be sitting right now given my temporary dearth in business, which thankfully looks to be recovering! I have further adapted to remote working (then again was doing it before it was cool a year ago). It has been good to see so many adapt to this n*w n*****l. 

HOWEVER THE AGILE WORKING MODEL IS WORKING FOR MANY OF US, AND BETTER THAN EXPECTED

The challenge with the current situation of course is deciphering between what the n*w n****l is indefinitely, and what the ‘at the moment’ normal is. Being neither epidemiologist nor futurist I can’t confidently comment, but what I do know is that us humans are remarkably good at adapting to circumstances of unfavour.

The digital revolution eh, albeit via a forced hand. Fears being faced by micromanagers everywhere. Proof that the tech has been ready yet the cultural shift has not. With things going well, people winning pitches, and developing their proposition, it does not appear to matter so much any more where you are geographically. Gemeinschaft everywhere now.

Not only are things working better than expected, but the creation/enforcement of new habits are not always bad. I used to console myself that the packed-in-like-a-sardine vibe of Vauxhall Station at 8:30am was worth it. Being there in the office in town was the media mecca. Not so much now.

Take Rob Webster for example, New Digital Age’s monthly adtech columnist. The consultancy he co-founded has grown to 8 people now, 4 of which are outside of London, 2 more looking to move. It matters less now. Befitting this, our exchange over messenger discussing this fact was between his Cornwall location (where he has spent the last couple of months) & Lincolnshire (where I am).

On a commercial level, this works well with my own shop, as we offer agile marketing and agency services through collaboration. For example, I will do some strategy and planning (done on a Google Slide wherever there is wifi) and I bring in partners in my collective to deliver on said plan, e.g. PPC or Programmatic buyers (who last time I checked, did not need to be in Mountain View or Soho to activate campaigns).

These partners are currently in Wimbledon, New Forest, upstate New York, Lincolnshire & Amsterdam. Thousands of miles away physically. Seconds away on Slack or WhatsApp. The need for geographical proximity has, temporarily at least, diminished. The obvious need to “catch up for quick coffee/pint as I’m out east” is less. 

IT IS A LEVELLER, AND WITH THAT IS AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY

You’re now a URL or password away from being in any boardroom in the country. No anxious waiting in an overwhelming atrium reception, rather a please wait to be let in notification whilst you quickly read the news, check the kids’ homework or track the progress of your delivery driver.

This brings me to my final and most important point. Surely there are now opportunities for the less fortunate. Those who maybe can’t afford to move to the bright lights of the cities with the big jobs.

Maybe the access to free courses currently will further accelerate digital skills and learning for younger and future-facing business leaders. I like the idea of recruitment opening up for digital talent. I particularly love the idea of the location field being removed from the job application. What this means for the cities in the near future I am not sure, but long term we well see some positive changes.

So maybe, just maybe, let’s reconsider not only what normal is, but where.

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