Tweets, geeks, chats? CING!

by Maria-Valerie Schegk, @valerie_schegk
and contributions from Olivia Sandri, Christina Schraml

How does the theory of Richard Florida’s creative class work in practice? How do digital creatives in Manchester intermingle? How important are face-to-face meetups like CING (Creative Industry Networking Group) in the time of Twitter and Facebook? Speaking with Phil Northall, co-organizer of CING, one of the biggest monthly meetups for creative digitals in Manchester, helps us get to the bottom of these questions:

People are fantastic creatively, but…

Once a month CING gives its members the chance to meet in an informal, friendly and relaxed atmosphere to exchange their ideas and inspire each other. According to Northall there is no domination of either men or women and people of all ages are attending, even if you can feel “a slightly younger vibe” at the meetups. In addition to the monthly meeting in a local bar, CING organizes a speaker event four times a year and CING provides its members workshops on various business support. Northall says, “people are fantastic creatively, but business-wise not so good, don’t like it, don’t want to have to do it.”

With this in mind, the aim of these workshops is to support CING members in all the administrative work, which is a significant part of their businesses and freelancer  jobs. All the activities of CING are free. According to Northall their aim is not to make money out of it: that would destroy the whole concept. Because CING doesn’t have real funding, for every activity a sponsorship has to be found. But the non-profit philosophy seems to pay off. CING started originally with just six people but grew quickly.

Still very much a local organization, 75-80% of CING members are from Manchester or its outskirts and just a few people are coming from the bigger region of North-West England. A few international participants and Londoners have signed up and are coming to Manchester for the CING events.

The physical space Manchester plays a role, but…

he believes it’s definitely less and less important to live in a big city. Nowadays everything is happening online, so you can practically work everywhere you want. In fact, many CING members live in the countryside in order to find their inspiration there. But because of the fact that many people live a bit outside the city and work from their own in home offices, regular physical face-to-face meetups are very important. “You have to get out” of your daily routine to find new inspiration.

Northall believes CING gives the possibility of meeting and inspiring each other and maybe eventually also working together. But even if the city as a daily working space isn’t that influential anymore for these particular digital creatives, Manchester does have an impact on the digital creative scene in the UK. Northall and many others point to Manchester as the second most creative city after London. Manchester transformed successfully from a former industrial city to a vibrant place of the aforementioned creative class. One has to look critically at the copy and paste system of ‘being creative’ authors like Florida, Zukin or Landry always proclaim as ‘the’ way of success. Nowadays every city wants to be the next Barcelona, a city of culture and innovation. Not for every city this strategy works out but for Manchester it seemed to be the way of success, even if it needed some time in the beginning. According to Northall “there is just so much going on in Manchester!”.

CING, Northern Digitals, Social Media Café Similarities, but…

“The underlying difference between the other two and CING is: at CING there is a wider range of creative talent”, says Northall. CING members are “more from the classical cultural sector,” so next to members of the digital sector, also ‘classic’ artist and craftspeople are attending CING meetings. “The digital people are not necessarily so much interested in the design, they are more interested in the functionality and new technology, but our people know about the look, but don’t know that much about the tools.” The back and forward linking between the three meetups can have a benefit. This happens already, because many CING members attend also activities of Northern Digitals and Social Media Cafè. Furthermore CING tried to organize joint events, “but it didn’t work out, yet.”

Communications – Twitter as a tool, but…

Another difference between other meetups is that members of CING are not that “digitally bonded.” This is definitely a big difference to the Northern Digitals, where almost every communication is provided through Twitter.

Last year CING polled its members to see how many of them had a Twitter account, and just 50% did. Northall hopes that this will change, because CING also promotes itself digitally. However “word -of-mouth” is still an important means of communication for CING, often relying on the recommendation of friends for new members.

Programming and the future of CING – CING is already a success, but…

The monthly meetups of CING do not follow a fixed agenda. The programming of the workshops is also flexible. Indeed, the single workshops are held for a certain purpose (e.g. advice for legal issues), but CING is open for suggestions from its members. If they can finance the ideas, they try to realize them, “if it will bring benefit to the members and we can afford it, then we will do it.”

In the future CING plans to bring in more projects for its members, focused on design, communication and advertising because these are the fields in which most CING members work. The goal lies in bringing together members and possible clients. That is what CING always did, but “we want to do something on top of that”, create “a real value for our members.”

(Feel free to comment in a constructive way)

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