The gap between London and the rest of Britain – subject of the recent BBC2 ‘Mind the Gap’ series, Evan Davis’ take on the subject – has been much in the news recently, though not always for the right reasons.
All too often, it seems, the debate is focused in one direction: on what London has while the rest of Britain has not.
That more than one fifth of Britain’s income is now generated by the capital, for example. Or its disproportionate share of the nation’s talent – graduates account for 58% of London’s workforce compared to the 38% of the rest of the UK’s working age population they represent.
That in Out of Home terms, currently, 45% of all digital out of home (DOOH) is in London along with more than 90% of digital roadside panels, too, as Kinetic’s UK chief executive Stuart Taylor recently pointed out.
But attitudes are changing.
Take, for example, the Institute for Public Policy Research’s call in its March of the Modern Makers report for the UK’s creative industries – including advertising – to back more strongly regional diversity because of the huge benefits this will deliver to the country’s economy.
Such clarion calls to close the gap between London and the rest of Britain are all very well, but to achieve this goal an important first step must surely be: to wake up and smell the facts about what the regions beyond the M25 already have to offer.
The thriving creative communities in Manchester and Leeds, for example.
Or the strong development of DOOH outside London in cities from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham powered by recognition that, as the capital’s DOOH market approaches maturity, the national offering must be improved.
For further proof consider opportunities such as Ocean Outdoor’s full-motion network The Grid, Signature Outdoor’s CityVision offering in Birmingham and – in Manchester – MediaCo Outdoor’s very own real-time, interactive digital touch screen network: CityLive.
Consider this alongside the abundance of statistical evidence and consumer insight now available and you have an argument too compelling to ignore.
Behavioural trends have always existed well beyond geographical boundaries. Planners know that if you’re looking to reach a young, fashion-conscious connected audience you’re as likely to find them out and about in the centres of Manchester, Glasgow or Leeds as in the capital.
And, furthermore, that regional audiences can deliver good commercial value and spending power for brands. Which is why for many audiences, regional delivery can be a more cost-efficient option when compared with the more cluttered, pricier London market.
Scrape the surface off the trends data and you will see little variation in spend between the regions and London for many product types, for example:
Average weekly spending on recreation and culture in the North West was £58.90 compared with Londoners’ £60.20, according to ONS figures covering 2010 to 2012.
The same report also shows the gap between North West/London figures for household goods and services expenditure – £29.20 compared with £30.80. That’s narrower than some might expect, by the way.
Prospects for the year ahead, meanwhile, look encouraging – and not just nationally where headline consumer spending growth in January 2014 was 4.2% up on the same period in 2013, according to Barclaycard’s monthly analysis of UK spending.
All regions bar Scotland saw spending above inflation, the same study showed – up 5.3% in the East Midlands year on year, up 5% in the West Midlands, North East and East England, and up 4.1% in the North West.
(Interestingly, the comparative figures for London and the South East were 4%, for each.)
Drill beneath the perennial north/south divide debate, then, and regional economies are showing clear signs of recovery with some – the North West, especially, which PwC recently tipped to grow by 2.1% in 2014 – beginning to gather real momentum.
Add to this the rapidly evolving regional media infrastructure and the take out for brand owners is clear. There are opportunities aplenty which are ripe for the taking if planners and buyers can forget the gap and widen their focus beyond the M25.
Richard Blackburn is the commercial director of MediaCo Outdoor