The top creative firms are California dreaming

To the casual observer, San Francisco has little in common with places like Seacroft or Sowerby Bridge.

Visual Media Conference, Rose Bowl, Leeds From left, Dr David Mihell, Director of Insight at Epiphany, Alan McClelland, Commercial Manager CPI, Ian Schofield, Own Label Manager, Iceland Foods, Robert McClements CEO CDi, Roger Marsh, Non Exec Chair Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Jon Tolley Director Prime Print Group Ltd, Lyle Rainey, UK and I Business Development Manager HP

But the leaders of Yorkshire’s creative and digital industries hope to emulate the success of the Visual Media Alliance in Northern California, which has made giant strides after re-branding to include printing firms, design agencies and marketing firms.

Dan Nelson, the San Francisco-based president of the Visual Media Alliance, passed on tips via Skype to guests at the Visual Media Conference, which was held at The Rose Bowl in Leeds.

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The conference promoted the work of CDi Yorkshire, which speaks up for the region’s printing, creative and digital firms.

The Visual Media Alliance in San Francisco changed its name more than four years ago. It had been known as PINC (Printing Industries of Northern California) but decided to re-brand to broaden its appeal.

Robert McClements, the chief executive of CDi Yorkshire, said: “What they (in California) found is that they need to be able to address their different communities in a distinctive way... They’ve created two communities. One which is largely populated by print companies, and one which is populated by the designers and the digital ones. The two are integrated, but distinct.”

Mr McClements believes the lessons learned in California could be relevant to businesses in Yorkshire.

He joked: “He’s got a four-year head start on us. We’ll get the best ideas and copy them.”

Other speakers at the conference included Roger Marsh, the non-executive chairman of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, and Alan McClelland, the commercial manager at CPI – The National Centre for Printable Electronics.

Mr McLelland said that near field communication – a form of contactless communication between devices like smartphones or tablets – is creating opportunities for smart packaging.

Mr McClements believes that technological advances will revolutionise the print and packaging industries.

He said: “Ink provides a conductive circuit, that could be used to illuminate a vodka bottle. It can be used to create an illuminated message, and the potential is to look at how that can be used in near field communication.

“The best example... which is at the prototype stage, is a metal packaging company... putting a near field communication device on to a can which will interact with a poster. You can be walking along with a can of something, and a poster will respond and give you a message, because there’s an interaction between the can and the poster.

“It’s at the stage of prototyping and development, but watch this space; it will be here.”

He highlighted the fact that print was still a big employer in the digital age.

He added: “Print is still the fifth largest employer in Yorkshire, and of the 62,000 jobs which are in the creative and digital sector, a big chunk of those are still in print.

“All the sessions this morning have been reminding me about how print can be the touchpoint into the internet, or e-commerce.Already, there is a bigger digital community in Leeds than on the other side of the Pennines.”

The speakers also included Ian Schofield, the own label manager at Iceland Foods, and Lyle Rainey of HP.

The emergence of a technology cluster in the North of England will provide Yorkshire with the marketing tool to compete with Tech City in London, according to Mr McClements.

He added: “That’s going to be a hub of the major Northern cities, who have got this fantastic collection of skills, where Leeds is pre-eminent. It links perfectly with the kind of encouragement we are getting from the Leeds City Region. On top of that, we’ve got the enterprise zone... where there’s been the emergence of a centre of excellence for print. You can feel the influence that the Leeds City Region is having.”