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Why I Represent A New Kind of Irish Voter, North & South

There has never been a stranger time to be Northern Irish. As I write, the Tory Westminster Govt. has just made a 1bn deal with the DUP – the most socially conservative, insular, backward looking party in the UK – in order to hang, by its fingernails, to power. The DUP are a party who for over a decade have dominated and repressed Northern Ireland. They have clung on to an erroneous idea of “Britishness” which has never included them; spent a large proportion of a meagre budget on pageantry and marches; enabled continuing bigotry, prejudice & corruption and ensured that so called “progressive” ideas which the rest of the UK take for granted like a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage are “not for us”.

This is not, I believe, because the majority of the Northern Irish population are themselves socially conservative or extremely right-wing. It is not tied to any global lurch to the right. It is a function of generation after generation here being exposed to the meddling of the British government, entrenched Green vs Orange tribalism, and civil war. You might say that the DUP demanding cash for votes could be categorised, in some quarters, as reparations for Northern Ireland being left to rot by Westminster. I only had to look at my Facebook feed the day after the UK General Election earlier this month –  panicked Londoners screaming WHO THE FUCK ARE THE DUP?? WHERE HAVE THEY COME FROM??  – to be reminded that up until that point, Northern Ireland was an afterthought at most.

Not that I have particularly identified as “Northern Irish” over the last 20 years, either. Although born here, and now living here again with my young son, I have spent my adult life away – first at University in Edinburgh, then for 16 years in London – although I visited often. I still commute to London a few times a month for work.  If anything, I probably represent that much criticised demographic the “citizen of the world” or “metropolitan liberal elite” – comical, given my current financial situation. Living in a diverse city has ensured that I have friends from all over the place and have always imagined that I could live anywhere I wanted.

But the EU referendum result in June 2016, and personal circumstances, plunged me into deep thought about citizenship and identity. Back in 2014 I found myself the sole parent of a new-born after having to end a relationship, trying to continue my long running business part time, far from family support & embroiled in family court proceedings. Not a scenario London, or  much of Conservative led England, is designed for. I eventually decided to return to Northern Ireland for a while, to get back on my feet. I returned a year ago today.

Immediately after the EU referendum, like thousands of others, I asserted my right to dual citizenship, applied for and received my Irish passport. This was a knee jerk reaction; a desire to hold on to an internationalist point of view, and fear that my son would not enjoy the same freedoms if he was British post Brexit. Over the last year, living in Northern Ireland, it has deepened into something else.

Initially on returning home, my sights were on the Irish Republic as a possible destination. It had taken on a new, distinctly romantic tint post Brexit. Was I not a Celt at heart? Did I not look distinctly Irish? Brought up Catholic to two Catholic parents (although now with no religion, of course, true to my demographic) my family Irish for generations? I had spent far too long under the influence of English culture, I concluded firmly, and must embrace my Irishness and show my mixed heritage son – English, Irish and Mauritian Indian – his sparkling emerald roots. Who wanted to live in a crumbling post Brexit UK? Then I updated my research on that mysterious place south of the border. Surely things had improved, after all this time under the supposedly benign influence of the EU? Certainly Dublin was buzzing with confidence and creativity, the economy alive again. But No. Still no NHS. Still no separation of Church and State. Prejudicial school selection in favour of Christians. High cost of living. Precarious job security and complex social security. Abortion illegal, as in NI.  A massive bank bailout funded by the people with no return. Allegations of corruption dogging both Fine Fail and Fine Gael. An economy based on being a tax haven for absurdly wealthy, monopolising corporations like Apple and Google, the former currently under heavy fines by the courts for its Irish operations.  A Taoiseach (recently replaced) genuflecting nervously to Trump, cap in hand. Not the place for a hopeful progressive, or a single parent who wanted to work part time (apologies to my friends in the South who, actually living there rather than nationality browsing, may disagree). The UK, though falling apart itself under the Tories, was starting to look like marginally the lesser of two evils as long as I had my trusty Irish passport.

Then I started to consider Sinn Fein. It had been a slow process, somewhat shrouded in shame initially. I had looked into their policies before the Northern Ireland Assembly Election in March, an election triggered by the resignation of the late Martin McGuiness and resulting in huge gains for Sinn Fein in the North. I had been impressed by the strident, progressive women leading them – Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald – by reports of how McGuiness had held power sharing together, and how much he had evolved politically. It seemed to me that their commitments to equality and social liberalism – pro choice, pro gay marriage, emphasising inclusion for all ethnic, religious and gender identities, suggesting “special status” for Northern Ireland in the EU and protected British citizenship for Unionists in a United Ireland, upholding and defending the Good Friday Agreement, criticising the economic dependence on corporations in the Republic and acknowledging that the EU needs serious reform – were genuine. Not posturing or tribalism or political point scoring but the result of real, organic growth over the last 20 years, a truly progressive outlook and political pragmatism.

Of course, Sinn Fein comes with enormous baggage. My parents were shocked that I voted for them this time around. Theirs is a generation that will never be able to separate them from the IRA and “The Troubles”, particularly while Gerry Adams is still their president. They would no more vote Sinn Fein than they would DUP. I understand that and respect it, although I think it would be helpful to understand that BOTH parties in the (currently non-existent) NI assembly have their historical links with paramilitaries. As Mary Lou McDonald puts it, there are “multiple narratives” about Irish history, and they can never be reconciled. We must accept that to move forward. But I think that my generation has moved on, and I represent a new kind of voter in Ireland. One that would like a united Ireland post Brexit, but a united Ireland that is very different from the current one. I am not coming from a tribal Green vs Orange religious point of view, or a romantic Nationalist point of view, or even a hard-headed economic point of view. I am able to separate life now, and in the future, from the horrors of the past. The world is in a torrid state and I have come to the conclusion that I would like to have the option of living, with my child, in the place of my birth as one island and part of the EU – even with the undeniably deep flaws of that lumbering institution.

I’m not suggesting it will be easy or come about quickly. There may be some time before we even have a border poll. I will probably move back to England myself for a time, which makes this stance a tad hypocritical. I may live somewhere else entirely, depending how life goes. But I like what I’m hearing from Sinn Fein about the possibility of a different kind of Ireland. One where Church and State are separate, there is a National Health Service, equality is enshrined in law, women can choose abortion, economic policy considers the general population and Unionist identity is respected. One that is affordable because there is no duplication of resources, as is the current situation with partition. One that is global in outlook and part of, indeed contributing to, EU reform. It seems that voters in the Republic are warming to it also, given that Sinn Fein is now the third largest party there.

Many cynics scoff at these ideas and say that a leopard never changes its spots, the Unionist population in the North will never buy it, we can’t afford it, there will be renewed violence, people in the South don’t want it anyway, tribalism will continue, we are all doomed. I’m sure the picture is much more complex than I’m presenting here. But I’m also sure that I’m not alone in looking at Irish politics anew. we can choose to see this as an opportunity. We can choose not to listen to those negative voices. And I will do what I can, from Northern Ireland, England or anywhere else, to continue the conversation and contribute to a new vision for Ireland in these unprecedented political times.

Networking as an Introvert

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Face to face meeting will surely continue to be the most useful and enjoyable way to connect in business, no matter how sophisticated virtual interaction becomes. Even when Virtual Reality has become so mainstream that events are routinely coordinated through multiple VR headsets, it will probably never beat the real thing – at least until human brains have evolved sufficiently – and that may take some time!

As those of us who have tried online dating know, it’s possible to feel you have connected deeply with someone in the digital world and have zero chemistry in person. Our brains and the memories laid down within them are linked to emotional experience, so people who make an impression in the flesh are more likely to stay with us and those relationships more likely to move forward in the real world. What we say is only a small part of making a lasting impression on another human being – non verbal cues, body language, smell, emotional history and many other factors are in the mix too.

For those really vital connections, I always meet the person face to face. And so, inevitably, we come to that most ubiquitous of business terms: Networking.

Some of us love getting out there, pressing the flesh, getting our energy from other people. I’m not one of them. As someone towards the introverted side of the spectrum, I’ve discovered that while I really enjoy the company of others, I get my energy from time alone to recharge and contemplate. Although not generally lacking in confidence, I enjoy small groups and one on one better than large crowds. So all the parties, large networking events, festivals, conferences etc. that come with the territory of running a creative company can sometimes be a drain on the energy needed to push ahead, rather than a spur to collaboration as they are intended to be.

I am not alone in this, and agree with author and co-founder of the Quiet Revolution Susan Cain who, in her fantastic book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (a revelatory book for me) who argues that we should not fight or repress our introversion, but should embrace it. I spent many years pretending to be an extrovert, because the society I live in does not accord much respect to my more introspective nature and need for quiet, space, reflection and perspective. You only have to google the words introverted and extroverted to discern a cultural bias. But this is society’s loss; there are many positive aspects to being on the introverted side of the spectrum and the more obstructive things can be managed, with a little self- awareness.

The tendency to be introverted or extroverted can be situation and company dependent, and it is on a fluid spectrum so don’t be too quick to box yourself into a category, but it does help to be realistic about how you interact and what brings out your confidence or inhibition. Remember, introversion and confidence are not mutually exclusive and introverts are not necessarily “shy” (although we often are) – we just have a way of processing the world that has not been properly expressed in our culture until very recently.

A useful pre-networking event strategy for introverts is deep research (one of my favourite things)! Research an event’s attendees before you go. This foreknowledge means you can zero in on those who seem on your wavelength, armed with a nugget of information from your exhaustive online digging the night before. Another is to have a pre-decided exit time (although you will hopefully not stick to it). I don’t advise going with friends because if you’re anything like me, you will probably just talk to them.

Over the years I have learned to respect the calm inner voice that says “it’s time to go” but also not listen to the panicked inner voice that says “get me out of here!”. The former is telling me that it’s time to recharge, the latter is not giving the event a chance because of social discomfort – which can ultimately mean losing out.

So force yourself to stay for an hour, at least – and remember that there are several people there in exactly the same boat as you, however they appear. Human beings vary in the way they negotiate these situations but you can be sure that at any large networking event there are many introverted as well as extroverted people present and if they can stick it out for a bit, so can you.

I was at a swanky event years ago with a friend and was bemoaning my awkwardness to him afterwards when he said “how do you think I felt – I was the only brown face in the room”. It really made me think, and put my own difficulties into perspective. Sometimes we’re so inside our own heads that we don’t think about the internal experience of other people.

That first conversation is the most awkward to kick off, and after this people join your group so that it flows more easily. You eventually find that you’re enjoying it, and time has flown as much as the wine. If no one is approaching you, wait for one of your pre-researched targets to become available and do it yourself. If it doesn’t go well you will probably never encounter this person again so it matters very little – and if it does you may have found a long term partner, collaborator or funder for your work.

As Susan Cain attests, extrovert is not always best. Remember that the qualities of thoughtfulness, perspective, listening ability, authenticity and focused attention are attractive in these situations too. In discussions I often have a different approach and communication style to extroverts, and this can be an incredibly useful thing in a group dynamic because I am not afraid to speak out. It aids group cohesion and helps to include those around the table who are not talking.

The qualities of introverts are essential to running a business well. Mixing extroverts and introverts according to their strengths within organisations makes very good business sense – just look at Apple, founded by introvert Steve Wosniak and extrovert Steve Jobs – now the most successful company on the planet.

 

How do Creatives Navigate the Legal Landscape of Digital?

 

 

 

 

For any company to run smoothly, grow and flourish, the basic legal aspects must be right at foundation stage; but creative companies today have a whole lot more to think about besides.

The digital age has heralded such exponential change and innovation that no one really knows what’s next. It’s an exciting and inspiring time, but also means a hundred shades of legal grey when it comes to content distribution, collaborations, industry consolidation, protecting and legalising your IP, working with influencers, digital monetisation and company valuation when looking for seed investment or growing your company.

In my book Running a Creative Company in the Digital Age I look at the nuts and bolts of setting up your company with Companies House, registering with HMRC, deciding on your business partners, the formation of your board, shareholders and voting, paying yourself, staff and premises – and how to avoid a messy divorce with partners.

I talk to legal expert Clive Halperin, partner at GSC Solicitors LLP, who gives valuable advice on what creative companies need to do from start up to exit or wind up, how IP exploitation works, staying ahead of the creative tech curve and the importance of “Pre-nups” for your company.

Clive says: “Often people in creative companies want to be treated equally, for example, 50/50 or a third each with three founders. However, like a pre-nuptial agreement with a marriage, in business it makes a lot of sense to give some thought to how you should deal with a break up”

I also explore employment law, talk about the possible effects of Brexit on the creative community and give you a heads up on all the lovely little legal surprises that might come your way as a Founder/MD/CEO.

Bobby Lane, Head of Outsourcing and Business Development Shelley Stock Hutter LLP Chartered Accountants, has a sunny take on post Brexit Britain to contrast with my decidedly gloomy one.

Bobby says: “I believe there are more opportunities for creative businesses than there were before Brexit. There is a huge pool of talent in UK creative industries and international businesses will still want to tap into these resources”.

Steve Leith, Audit Partner Media Technology Group with media veterans Grant Thornton Accountants gives us the benefit of his considerable expertise on Government tax schemes, company valuation for content creators and pioneering tech, Initial Public Offerings and what’s hot for investors in digital content right now.

The Growth section of the book goes into detail about selling your business, buying one of your competitors and whether it’s worth going public by floating on the AIMmarket, and the last section looks at the ins and outs of company wind up or insolvency.

Whatever stage you’re at with your creative venture, it always pays to keep on top of the legal stuff!

What Can Film and TV Learn From Creative Tech?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should traditional creative companies be learning more from tech?

In my forthcoming book Running a Creative Company in the Digital Age I talk to forward thinking creative tech investors, MDs and CEOs about what a thriving business means today.

Something that has come across is a continuing difference in attitude between aspiring entrepreneurs in the traditional creative industries such as film and TV, where my experience is, and creative tech start-ups.

As John Spindler, CEO of Capital Enterprise, says in the book:

“ In most creative businesses, the number one guiding principle is to create something that will get critical acclaim – and in marketing terms, to create a brand which will allow for more work. Only once they get established, which for most creatives is mid-career, 5-10 years in, do they look at it from the perspective of a business i.e. have I got anything here that can live outside my personality and creative talent and is repeatable, replicable and scaleable”.

And for Laura Franses, head of the Channel 4 Growth Fund which helps TV and film start ups grow into solid viable businesses by taking a minority stake, scalability is key. I talk to Laura and she explains that the Growth Fund have been scouring the UK for companies outside of England that both need their help, and are scalable. Laura says: “We have consistently been looking outside of England but what we haven’t found yet is a company that needs our help and that can scale – we found some smaller ones but not ones that are on a growth trajectory”

So in the digital age where so many platforms merge and so much content is inter-dependent, why aren’t more small film and TV start-ups thinking big, or partnering up with creative tech to corner markets like Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence? The creative potential for these platforms is huge.

I talk to Jake Dubbins, co-founder and MD of thriving digital brand entertainment agency Media Bounty. Jake explains how the digital revolution has changed to the way we produce and consume creative content:

“It’s now changed to the point where platform is becoming irrelevant. If you produce good content that is then optimised for platforms, that’s the trick. The mobile is where people now consume a lot of content – a certain demographic don’t watch traditional broadcast TV anymore so whether you’re making TV film or short form ads it’s about the quality of the content then getting it distributed to (the right) people”

Charlie Price, founder and CEO of creative tech company Mini Screen Pictures, describes his own journey from TV development through the start up funding jungle and how his partnership with a key technology expert was a breakthrough moment for his young company.

The FANGS – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google – constantly tell their staff to keep thinking about the innovative. They manage to keep entrepreneur capitalism as their model, rather than the traditional rentier model of making money off existing assets. Many creative ventures are still using the rentier business model in an age where entrepreneur capitalism means an ongoing relationship with the buyer and the client. Innovative businesses today are asking how they can use the premium model of hooking a client, and then establishing a fertile long term collaborative relationship over time – so that everyone rides the tide wave of digital innovation together.

Dragging Film & TV working Culture into the 21st Century

This is, obviously, a book about how to set up and run a creative company in today’s climate. It’s an accessible, nuts and bolts guide covering the lifecycle of a creative business through the stages of start up, growth, and selling or winding up – something I felt was sorely needed, and could certainly have done with myself in the beginning.
It is also a call to arms for a more progressive attitude to work in the creative industries, and particularly film and TV.
I ran my production company Mandrake Films from 2008 to 2016. It was a wonderful experience and a steep learning curve.
When I became a sole parent, and the job became too much with the added stress of very difficult personal circumstances, I assumed that it would be possible to take a break and work part time for someone else.
Having always been flexible with my own staff, fitting around their lives on the assumption that they were talented and hard working enough to get the job done, I  assumed that others in the production industry were doing the same. I was confident that, for me as a very experienced producer, flexible working was an option. In my case, it wasn’t.
The book emerged in part from a desire to suggest a way forward, and talk to those who were leading the charge. I interview a wide range of people, including joint CEO of flexible working charity Timewise, head of the C4 Growth Fund, the progressive MD of a forward thinking digital agency and CEO of creative tech investment company Capital Enterprise.
There are so many areas that need dragging into the 21st century. Flexible working, job sharing, genuine diversity in gatekeeper roles as well as in front of and behind the camera, paying key creatives properly and respect for people as rounded human beings who can get the job done in their own way and their own time – these things are key to the future health of our creative workforce.
We need to reorganise working spaces to accommodate different personality types (ditch the hot-desking and open plan, give people options for retreat and concentration as well as interaction) and stop shooing creatives away from business and finance.
Too often, the originator and creative driver of a project is not paid enough to make a living. Indeed, creatives themselves should stop pleading ignorance and the lack of a business head – it just gives those who control the purse strings and write the contracts an excuse to exclude them further. Creative tech companies are dominating the landscape with their adaptability, can-do attitude, smart creative/finance pairings and investment savvy; let’s take a leaf out of their book.
 
More women, and more people from a range of socio-economic, gender identities, and ethnic backgrounds, need to set up shop in our creative industries and thrive there. We need their contribution to and representation in our culture. 
That’s why we need organisations like Raising Films and Timewise. Let’s stop paying lip service to this stuff, and do it for real.