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CIDA Creative Business Club – ‘Exploring Online Opportunities’

I had a great time on Tuesday evening at the Creative Business Club, a new initiative from the Cultural Industries Development Agency (CIDA) which aims at ‘providing knowledge through networking’.

The theme of the evening was ‘Exploring Online Opportunities’ – we heard presentations from four very different organisations with the common theme of exploiting the opportunities of the latest phase of web development. The presentations were followed by questions and networking.

The phrase ‘Web 2.0’ was handled with care – none of the presenters seemed to like it but there was a sense that ‘we have to call it something’. User-generated content was a common thread running through the presentations, which thankfully emphasised the social aspect of ‘social software’ – technical explanations were kept to a minimum and there was a healthy focus on the implications of the new technology for people and businesses.

First to speak was John Parnell, Business Development Director of the digital agency Head, best-known for Webcameron, Conservative Leader David Cameron’s online home. He began by painting a dramatic and slightly disturbing picture of a world in which ‘everything is disappearing into a browser’. He cited YouTube as an example of success through using technology to provide a solution to a widespread simple problem – with the growth of video phones, camcorders and desktop editing tools, how can we share all these video clips with our friends? He also highlighted the changing role of the creative agency, away from purely client-oriented commissions and towards self-generated content – with reference to Head’s World Cup website England All Stars, which they are now looking to develop via other media channels.

Next up was Victor Omosevwehra, Label Manager of Eastside Records. He began with an overview of the technical and media landscape of Web 2.0. and gauged the audience’s knowledge levels with a quick ‘hands up if you know what this means’ – terms such as ‘pay-per-click’ and ‘RSS’ got about a quarter of the hands up in the audience. Eastside are an interesting example of working with technology within the grasp of your audience – because their target audience includes a lot of teenagers, band pages on MySpace feature prominently in their marketing strategy. And because most teenagers don’t have a credit card, but inevitably have a mobile phone, they use something called ‘reverse SMS billing’ (my hand stayed down for that one) to allow them to buy downloads via their phone.

Penny Wrout from BBC London talked about the corporation’s use of the web and user-generated content to provide a much more comprehensive and interactive local coverage than is possible on television and radio. So public events such as the Remembrance Day parades are increasingly seen through the public eye, via camera and video phones, and a film by Bexley teenagers about ASBOs, which would struggle to get an airing on television, can become a popular feature on the BBC website. As Penny said, it’s ‘not TV exactly’ but ideally suited to a niche audience on the web. Which chimes in with my sense that much of the debate about old vs new media seems to miss the point that it’s not necessarily an either/or question – a lot of new media is simply different, and not necessarily in direct competition with established media channels.

Finally, Andy Townsend of Second Run DVD did an excellent job of describing the impact of the internet on the world cinema market. A self-confessed ‘grumpy old man when it comes to technology’, Andy said Second Run ‘became a long tail business without realising it’, by focusing on arthouse films. Neglected by the large video and DVD distributors, world cinema enthusiasts previously had to go through a convoluted process of ordering obscure catalogues and sending international money orders to small dealers scattered across the globe. Now Second Run streamline the process on the web: they are active members of online film messageboards such Criterion where they have a dedicated Second Run forum featuring a ‘wish list’ of films people want to buy; when he sees sufficient demand for a given title, Andy negotiates the rights and puts the DVD into production, which is then marketed through the forums and other key websites – a beautifully effective feedback loop.

Overall the presentations were varied and full of interesting stories. Even if there wasn’t quite as much about blogging as I had hoped, it probably did me good to have a look at the bigger picture of online marketing. To judge from others’ reactions, the audience were left with plenty to think about.

The networking afterwards was an excellent idea, and really helped to make the evening worthwhile. Firstly it was a great opportunity to meet lots of interesting people from different creative disciplines and business backgrounds. And secondly, it was a good way of digesting the ideas in the presentations. It was inspiring to see the reactions of people who were new to online marketing as well as those who were already immersed in it – the first group were full of curiosity and the second full of enthusiasm.

Among the people I met were Mike Brett of Archer’s Mark, who is involved in all kinds of literary and commercial writing, Suki Foster who is producing some beautiful portrait photography, and Dave Sharman of the Woodlands Farm Trust – billed as ‘the farm on your doorstep’, it’s on mine so I’ll be paying them a visit soon.

I believe this was the first meeting of the Creative Business Club, but CIDA are planning to run these events once a month. If so, it’s a flying start and I’ll definitely be going back for more. If you’re a creative professional in London then I suggest you go to the CIDA home page and sign up for the e-mail newsletter for advance warning of future events.