Creative sector seeks to create wider support
- 1 August 2012
- From the section Business
Josiah Wedgwood seems an unlikely hero for the modern business age, but the chairman of technology giant Sony, Sir Howard Stringer, urges today's entrepreneurs not to overlook his genius.
The 18th century entrepreneur and founder of the Wedgwood pottery company is an excellent example of "someone who commercialised creativity", Sir Howard says. "He made an industry of his talent."
And the significance for today? Because the UK is in an era when the exploitation of its creative talents is key to future economic success. Innovation and inspiration in the global digital age is critical for growth, he says.
And Wedgwood, credited by Sir Howard for inventing direct marketing and the buy-one-get-one-free sales promotions, is proof that a little creative endeavour can go along way - some 260 years and counting, in fact.
Sir Howard's history lesson was part of a keynote speech he gave on Tuesday at a conference in central London to showcase the UK's creative industries.
The event, part of a series of government-backed business conferences during the Olympics targeted at visiting investors and decision-makers, was an unashamed attempt to plug everything from the fashion and video games sectors, to West End theatres and the music industry.
And after what Sir Howard called the "tour de force" of the Olympics opening ceremony, who can deny the UK's pivotal role in the creative arts. "For hundreds of years the UK has been the incubator of talent," he said.
But talent alone wont generate economic success. The trick is to commercialise it. He cited three reasons why he believes the UK is poised to stay ahead of the game.
First was the risk-taking culture; second was the strength of UK Intellectual Property law, so that "people cannot steal the fruits of fertile minds".
And third was the UK's strength in engineering. "Engineering is all about creativity, men like Wedgwood and [James] Dyson. Engineers are the poets of the practical world," Sir Howard said, poetically.
Except that the creative sector has not always felt loved. There remains a commonly-held view that the video and online games industry is still in its infancy; games made by infants for infants.
Paul Gouge, founder of online social games developer Playdemic joked that his mum is still waiting for him to get a proper job. "There's a certain attitude among many people towards the industry," he said.
And yet the UK's video games and interactive entertainment industry is one of the biggest in the world, and arguably the most creative. UK-made Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto, and Little Big Planet, are among the most popular games in the world.
The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment estimates that 80% of people working in the sector are educated to degree level, compared with 24% of the population generally.
Mr Gouge says it is time to get serious about an industry whose games are probably being played by tens of millions of people around the world at any one moment.
He is encouraged to see complementary industries increasingly wanting to "form a deeper relationship with the games sector. The UK is well placed to do that", he said.
But the creative industries say they can always do with a little more help. And no such conference is complete without talk of the need for tax breaks.
Several speakers acknowledged that tax relief was essential for getting creative projects off the ground.
Ivan Dunleavy, chief executive, of Pinewood Shepperton studios, praised some government initiatives, but told fellow conference speaker Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, that he had still to "fulfil" other promises on tax breaks.
"One of the pillars that supports creativity is the fiscal incentive," Mr Dunleavy said.
The point was underlined by Michael G Wilson, a producer and screenwriter on many James Bond films. In a speech on building big-budget film franchises, like Bond, or Superman, Alien and Indiana Jones, Mr Wilson stressed the importance of government support.
"When tax credits were abolished in the mid-1990s, the big franchises were no longer made here," he said. "When they were re-introduced, we became attractive again to the franchises." Harry Potter was just one example, he said.
David Heyman, producer on the Harry Potter series, said his company had hired around 2,500 people to work on each film. Over the 11 years of the Potter film franchise he had watched people who started out as lowly assistants rise through the industry.
"In the UK we have some of the most remarkable people in the industry working in front of and behind the camera," Mr Heyman said.
And success breeds success. For the early Potter films, about two-thirds of the visual effects were created in the US. "By the last film more than 90% of the effects were done in the UK," he said.
Josiah Wedgwood said that "beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense". The creative sector would, no doubt, agree.
And as Wedgwood showed, the end result - the jobs, the profits, the beauty - can be worth it.