Regional bodies unite to drive digital media industry

Regional digital bodies have formed an alliance to create a network for agencies and content developers, with a long-term aim of forming a national body to champion the £52bn digital media industry.

The group, called Onedigital, has been formed by Bristol Media Group, South East Media Network and Manchester Digital, bringing together more than 5,000 companies to provide collaborative support for digital businesses across the regions.

The formation of a national body is an attempt to provide a unified voice for the digital industry, currently represented by disparate associations and help drive the Government’s Digital Britain ambitions to make the UK a global digital leader.

Onedigital is also in talks with other regional digital groups in a bid to grow the network’s coverage and explore the potential to develop a national body to promote digital business.

Mike Bennett, CEO of Bristol Media and founder of digital agency E3, said the group’s first priority was to provide a unified voice for regional businesses, which are under-represented by London-centric digital associations.

“There isn’t enough regional collaboration or joined-up thinking between the creative networks and organisations focusing on digital media industries that exist around the UK,” he said. “This is to the detriment of business and the wider industry. If the UK is to continue to be a significant and competitive digital player, as outlined in Digital Britain, we need industry-led initiatives and potentially a national platform or voice such as other industries have.”

Onedigital aims to share strategic knowledge between companies, enabling greater collaboration on projects, events and joint initiatives. It will help businesses identify opportunities across different regions and the wider industry, and lobby government about specific regional and industry issues.

Gina Fegan, CEO of South East Media Network, said, “Focusing on key issues such as skills, R&D and the development and creation of original digital content will be top of our list. We’ll also provide the DCMS and central government bodies with a single direct link to digital business across a significant part of the UK, which currently doesn’t exist.”

Onedigital aims to represent digital businesses across Britian’s regional areas, which are under-represented by the sector-specific associations such as the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising (IPA), TV industry and digital content association PACT and the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA).

Industry bodies have welcomed the initiative and expressed an interest in collaborating with Onedigital. But while the IAB, PACT and IPA have specific areas of representation and could complement the offering, Onedigital would present direct competition to BIMA, which positions itself as “the must-join association for everyone in digital Britain”, according to committee chair Justin Cooke.

Cooke, who is also MD of Fortune Cookie, said, “At the moment BIMA can’t justify its role as Britain’s Interactive Media Association. We should call it LIMA because it’s very London-centric. But we hope shortly to announce a clearer engagement strategy with the digital industry and that might be a way in which we could work closely with Onedigital.”

Andrew Chitty, MD of production company Illumina and member of the Digital Britain Steering Board, said, “The digital industry has lacked an overall body of its own because it has grown from different disciplines. The industry needs a more coherent voice and the idea of bringing it together under a unified body is a welcome one, especially if it works with the established bodies.”

Nick Stringer, head of regulatory affairs at the IAB, welcomed the initiative. “As far as I’m concerned, in this space it’s a case of the more the merrier as there’s still quite a lot of work to do lobbying government,” he said. “At the moment there’s a disparity of different voices. There are bodies to represent agencies, publishers, advertisers, and the IAB would like to be seen as the body for digital marketing.”

A DCMS spokesman said it was keen to take a closer look at the initiative, adding, “The idea of putting something together to link regions and promote skills, R&D and content development is completely in line with Digital Britain and the Creative Britain report and is bang on with the sort of thing the DCMS supports.”

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