Digital exports are a major growth point for the creative industries, and a Creative Industries Federation report estimated that they were worth £46bn in 2016, a figure which is probably considerably higher in 2020, despite Covid-19. The increase in online gaming etc during the global lockdowns is being serviced by major games companies in the UK. Clearly, increasing this aspect of exports is a potentially massive contribution to growth and employment.
In this context marketing support is one of the few areas of ‘The Creative Pipeline’ which has seen significant movement since 2017. Most noticeably within the areas of advertising and screen industries. However, this focus has been on exporting across the creative industries rather than developing UK markets, it is very metro-centric, and so far fails to tackle the needs of freelancers, sole traders, and micro-companies. A failure which still points to the need for a new marketing support strategy dedicated to sole traders and micro-companies, and which is web/social media orientated.
In 6 Positive Steps to improving Creative distribution it was clear that the advent of digital distribution has not increased the earnings or potential growth of some sectors of the creative industries. The Creative Industries Council International Strategy, following on from discussions held at the BCre8ive seminars, has set a new agenda for exports. This is being driven by Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board (CITIB) with a focus on new exporters, in particular, small businesses, who make up over 90% of the UK creatives industries. It is estimated that around half of all creative businesses do not export at all. Reasons for this have been discussed in previous blogs. The strategy reflects three of the key points suggested in ‘Expanding The Creative Pipeline’ :-
- Support freelancers and micro-companies to engage with existing and potential customers.
- Undertake market research for creatives in key web based content markets.
- Using existing internationally recognised creatives to promote new talent and content.
Living the Screen
In these respects developments have improved the scenario for some members of the creative industries but the overall weakness of marketing remains. The scale of the problem is most obvious when it comes to the screen-based sector, in particular films. This is a sector dominated by freelance workers, short term contracts, and micro-production companies.
The UK film industry exported a record £2.6 billion worth of services in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), of which £2.2 billion (83%) comprised royalties earned overseas from the exploitation of UK intellectual property and £0.5 billion (17%) comprised the sale of UK-based audiovisual and related services to foreign investors.
YouTube saw 500 hours of video uploaded every hour in 2019. The most popular of which are either reality – mainly young children, or animals – often cats. A market flooded with content with very little room in which sole traders or micro-companies are able to flourish. UK Vloggers DanTDM (2018 Earnings: $18.5 million) and PewDiePie (2018 Earnings: $15.5 million) were in the top ten of YouTube vloggers in 2018. Their brand contracts, and in some cases online contracts, indicate this is a lucrative platform for some individuals. However, it is clearly not an environment for new creative content and relies heavily on a personal investment of time, and marketing spend.
Equally, though the steaming platforms have led to some UK-based TV-style successes e.g. Sex Education the overall situation for UK indie film making has remained largely unchanged from 2009 to 2018. The average UK independent market share for the 10-year period was just under 10% with a slight upward trend from a low of just over 5% in 2010. In 2019 only one of the top 20 film releases in the UK&Ireland was a UK independent feature, made possible by Focus Features, and Perfect World both US based companies. Meanwhile the budgets for UK independent films remains low, therefore, their ability to reach much beyond the festival circuit is limited. A position reinforced as the producers have little or no access to marketing spend, and the UK distributors cannot match the spend of the major US-based distributors.
However, a digital based approach, the use of websites and in particular e-commerce platforms, has seen a major change in the craft sector.
A Crafty Vision
Craft is a creative sector dominated by sole traders and micro-companies who often pass under the radar of national statistics and government policy. A situation highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis. This is, in part, because the craft sector is one of the smallest within the creative industries – £300m in 2018. The estimated total number of craft jobs in UK creative industries in 2018 was 9,000 according to DCMS. By way of a contrast, e-commerce sites show a vastly increased vision. In December 2018, Etsy reported that there were 220,000 active sellers in the UK with a further 9,000 makers on Folksy. However their size is measured, craft goods worth £4.84bn were exported in 2017, an increase of 5.3 per cent over the previous year.
In this context, the Crafts Council developed an export strategy. This strategy includes a tips list for craft exporters which in part can form the basis of a wider marketing strategy for the majority of the creative content creators, artists and makers within the creative industries.
Some Key Exporting Tips from the Crafts Council’s strategy
- Protect your brand – Intellectual Property Rights are critical to growing trade
- Identify the right markets – micro-companies do not have the resources to do this on their own
- Choose trade fairs carefully – a critical role for Department for International Trade
- Shipping and packaging(for non-digital objects) – an essential part of an overall marketing approach in the form of branding
However, beyond these key points they have provided a Exporting Toolkit, which include:-
- How to write an export strategy
- International Access Directory
- Case studies of three creative businesses researching an export market
- International Event Year Planner
Working with micro-companies, sole traders, and freelancers in the direct to consumers market with digital marketing is a major route to improving productivity and growing exports.
7 Positive Steps to Successful Content Marketing
- The creation of a digital online support hub, with sector specific portals, for sole traders, freelancers and micro-companies in the creative industries.
- Support for Creative Industries Council International Strategy beyond 2022
- The creation of online Export Tool Kits for all sectors of the creative industries targetted at freelancers, sole traders and micro-companies.
- The Creation of a Marketing Fund for freelancers, sole traders and micro-companies.
- Ensuring realistic marketing spends are part of all production/distribution grants, and financing in the screen-based sectors.
- Creating compelling stories around new entrants into the creative industries.
- Ensuring freelancers, sole traders, and micro companies are part of all international trade activities.
Images from unsplash