Sober suits v cargo pants – how do we bring the creative and professional services sectors closer together?

Representatives from both sides of the divide gathered at the offices of digital firm Mashbo in Liverpool city centre to discuss the issue in a round table event. Tony McDonough was there.

How can professional and creative firms work better together?
How can professional and creative firms work better together?

Sober suits on one side of the room – colourful t-shirts and cargo pants on the other. Professional services and creative & digital are, on the surface, poles apart.

However, given the rapid growth of the creative & digital sector – worth £1bn a year in Merseyside alone – such meetings between the two are becoming increasingly common.

And it was with this in mind that representatives from both sides of the divide gathered at the offices of digital firm Mashbo in Liverpool city centre to discuss the issue in a round table event, jointly organised with Professional Liverpool.

Mashbo founder Gavin Sherratt chaired the discussion and also around the table was Alex Clark from Professional Liverpool; Jayne Croft, a corporate lawyer from Brabners; Chris Cumber, Brabners Corporate Finance; Anne King from Steve A Hunt & Associates; Kevin McManus, from Invest Liverpool; and Owen Cotterell from Mocha TV, who was also representing the Institute of Directors.

Getting the right advice

Gavin Sherratt opened the debate talking about how Mashbo itself was changing from a company that builds and manages websites to one that is diversifying and investing in start-ups.

This, he said, required expertise in areas such as law and corporate finance and simply trying to get by using Google Law, was fraught with dangers.

Round table discussion at Mashbo in LIverpool
The discussion took place at Mashbo in Liverpool city centre

“There is often a fear factor among digital and creative firms about approaching professional service providers,” he said.

“It is about getting in the room with the right people and getting the right advice. We need joined-up networks bring both sectors together.”

‘Intimidation factor’

Kevin McManus, who oversees the digital & creative sector for Invest Liverpool agreed, adding: “Micro firms in particular don’t have much money to spend and there is a bit of ‘well who do we go to?’.

“There is a suspicion that too many legal and financial firms don’t understand what the sector is about.”

Chris Cumber acknowledged there was an “intimidation factor” for small creative businesses approaching professional advisors.

One particular concern, he added, was that many feared the clock would start ticking as soon as they walked in the the door.

“They will think that it is going to cost them a lot of money very quickly, “ he said. “That is a massive myth and, in reality, it simply does not work like that.

Corporate finance expert Chris Cumber talking during the discussion
Corporate finance expert Chris Cumber talking during the discussion

“That first meeting is very important for us because it is about understanding the customer’s needs. It also about the client understanding how we can help them.

“The relationship is not business-to-business – it about people doing business with people and understanding what it is they do.”

Gavin agreed, adding: “There has to be a degree of interaction on both sides – some knowledge sharing.”

David v Goliath

Owen Cotterell said he had felt that fear factor around dealing with professional firms earlier in his entrepreneurial career.

He explained: “One of the big issues for firms in our sector is intellectual property and they will need help from professionals with that.

“I did feel uncomfortable talking about the legal and commercial sides of the business. There is that  ‘David v Goliath’ feeling when you are trying to decide which firms to approach.”

Changing times

However, Jayne Croft insisted that many law firms were now recognising the need to change their approach in order to win work from the growing creative and digital sector.

“We now recognise that we are in a competitive environment,” she said

“There is often a perception that we will say ‘this is what we do, take it or leave it’ – but it is not like that any more. We can offer things such as fixed-fee deals.”

The panel was in agreement that a mix of networking events could be an important tool in breaking down the barriers between the sectors and allow better understanding about knowledge-sharing.

“How do we create ‘super-networks’?” asked Gavin.

‘Be brave’

All had had experience of attending events where the mix of people wasn’t quite right.

Anne King said: “I have been to networking events and found myself sitting with solicitors. Because we are in construction we are not going to win any new business there.”

Jayne pointed out that what would often happen at events was that people from the same firms would stay in their own groups and not interact wider than that.

Getting the right networking mix was crucial, the panel agreed
Getting the right networking mix was crucial, the panel agreed

Chris talked about the importance of bringing “like-minded people” in a room together.

He added: “The key is to have people from different sectors coming together and feeling comfortable enough to be able to ask daft questions.”

Overcoming the fear factor and getting out and plucking up the courage to meet people from other sectors was crucial, according to Kevin.

“We all have to be brave,” he said.

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