City Working: Creative Utopia or Creatives’ Roadblock?

Where best gets the creative juices flowing?  Is it the city or the tranquillity of Britain’s green and pleasant land?  Here’s the view of Steve, a returning exile.

After several years living and working in a sleepy, semi-rural idyll, you can imagine the apprehension as I set out on my return to work in Manchester.   Would I arrive with the all the bewilderment of Clark Kent on his first day in Metropolis, or would the city and its PR scene, fit like an old cosy slipper?

Truth is, part of me wanted to kind of hate it.  I wanted Manchester to have missed me, yet in a show of petulance of which ‘The Donald’ would be proud I would pronounce that I hadn’t missed it at all!  Surely, it couldn’t have functioned without me?  Me, a child of the city (well, Newton Heath, to be precise)... a prodigal son...a mover and shaker! 

The traffic would, of course, be chaotic.  The crowds of people, like ants in a colony, would be unbearable to be amongst (particularly when three people in a queue is described a crowd where I live now) and everyone will be bloody rude.  And, without the sight of verdant plains through the office window, how could it possibly be an environment to inspire sufficiently to get the creative juices flowing!

So it was that I arrived, listing slightly to the left, as the chip of preconception weighed on my shoulder and slight trepidation slowed my progress on foot from the station to my new PR home in Castlefield.  I started to convince myself that I would last only one day in ‘the smoke’ before heading back to my ‘Royston Vaseyesque’ retreat close to the coast, with a bad case of claustrophobia, to write about widgets and to contemplate life, the universe and everything.

Life in the slow lane isn’t so bad, I reassured myself, despite a cursory glance at the local phonebook noting that it still contains only two surnames!  After all, one can still get all the comforts one could wish for, except maybe, decent coffee.  There’s a deli a mere ten miles or so away and the area’s one good restaurant is a very reasonable £50 ride in a local taxi (double after midnight).  You know the one I mean...turn left at the wicker man, down the dirt track and first right after the sacrificial stone in the Druid’s circle!  Okay, I exaggerate, but anyway, just how often does anyone need to nip out to find somewhere that serves a soy chai latte, with honey, milk and not too much froth?

One month on and eureka! I feel like Sleeping Beauty (without the good looks), awoken from a self-induced coma, absorbing the sights, smells and noises of a city that is everything I hoped it would be and nothing that I imagined it could!  I’ve even become acquainted with café society, although I’ll still pass on the soy chai latte, thanks, despite Pot Kettle Black serving most things I’ve heard of and several I haven’t (other excellent coffee houses are available)!

My change of heart about city working has been promoted by the chance to work with a team of really inspiring and talented people at Triangle PR.  They’ve played a huge part and made me realise that all the things I have viewed as potentially negative about coming back to work in a city are actually positives.  To be in the thick of it, imbued with the collaborative spirit at Triangle and retaining a true passion for PR are the most obvious positives.

In truth, Manchester has changed.  I was right about that. I get lost searching for landmarks that have morphed or disappeared over the past few years.  However, new Manchester (on steroids) is great.  Its atmosphere is electric, the skyline eclectic and my new working home at Timber Wharf is every bit as inspiring as rolling fields or a seascape.  It always was a great place to be a PR practitioner and I believe it’s now better than ever, especially with the team I have around me. 

As a metaphor for feeling like I’ve never been away and now regretting the fact that I have, the cosy slipper fits, although it has now given way to something a little more on trend.  Nevertheless, it isn’t a bad way to describe a return to a business scene that feels like home.  Despite its uber-frenetic pace nowadays, Manchester’s PR sector is as creative, vital and professional as I remember but now tempered by a slightly more analytical, scientific and considered approach, which shows how much it’s grown up.    

If nothing else, returning has given me an opportunity to look at Manchester through fresh eyes.  And, despite being born and bred here and developing my PR skills in the city, returning now, with a new mandate and chance to play a key role in the next phase of development of a business that boasts an enviable track record and reputation for delivering on client expectations, has made me realise what I’ve been missing. 

I finally get it.  Despite my previous incarnations in agencies, working with Manchester brands and institutions, I now understand why Manchester’s bee symbol is so apposite.  And, it’s not just about a proud industrial heritage.  It’s simply because this place is really buzzing and I think you have to be away from the thick of it for a time to fully appreciate its true qualities as a working environment and catalyst for creative development. 

Long may it continue!

Categories: Opinion PR Triangle