What makes a good network?

Posted on October 23, 2013 | 1 Comment | Edit

Networking and Networks (groups)

What makes a Free, Effective or Enjoyable network? Are these three elements mutually compatible or maybe only one of these is necessary to attendees?

A recent article I read about networks by Caelan Huntress a digital producer inSan Francisco looked at those who attend business focused networks as three general types of people.

Go getters – People who have become accomplished at networking.  They show up with lots of leads, and a bright attitude.  They also tend to receive most of the referrals.

Slow getters – People show up regularly, but their businesses are not doing well.  They do not give, or receive, many referrals.

No getters – People who show up to a networking group for the first time, delivers their pitch, and are affronted that nobody at the table wants to buy from them.  They don’t come back.

He continues that you should ‘Sell the network, not the networker’ because people don’t go to networking groups to sell each other their services, although many long-term group members do end up doing business together but only because a long-term relationship is developed, including familiarity and trust.

Local creative networks

Always looking for the network to reflect the most benefit to the attendees, we have regularly asked what makes a good network?

Fashion trends come and go and many creative sector networks have historically either; Formed because there was funding to do so, formed by funders to validate funding investment /spend or formed due to the desire to find funding- but is this the whole picture? Nearly all of these networks cease when the funding runs out.

The relatively new ‘craze’ for un-conference’ networking is hailed as a new concept. Birmingham Music Network by any measure of an ‘un-conference’ style is also then an ‘un-conference’ , the agenda has always been led by the attendees, it is a mutually beneficial and supportive network of individuals where they are given a platform to engage (Without been led), sme’s and larger companies as well as some public sector attendees (Though these tend to appear only to validate a position rather than offer tangible meaningful contribution to the network) . The network is an intentional community – it is there because people value it. Unfunded it has now been running 13 years – so not such a new idea then?

Similarly I set up Birmingham Screen Image Network off the back of the Screen WM supported RedRex network which was dropped when the regional screen agencies were axed. At the time I thought it was such as shame to let the momentum and platform that those members had given to the network go to waste, and so set up BSIN. Again there is no funding directive or policy agenda driving it, it uses the same model as BMN. Numbers fluctuate and it is hard to organise these events with all other more than full time commitments. But I see these platforms as essential to the creative sector. We are very grateful of the support that we receive since moving them to Birmingham City University at Millennium Point TEE department where they are hosted and teas, coffee and biscuits provided, and the networks in turn act as a great support to the excellent wider remit of the Creative Networks held each month.

What is interesting is the shift from those attending these networks over the last few years – from those seeking to find opportunities for cross sector collaboration or new markets, those who look to the networks to broker these relationships to develop their business into new areas and the attendees more recently who are asking a more fundamental question ‘Where exactly is my sector in the region’?  In many ways the severe cut or total wipe out of any meaningful investment into the regions creative sectors can be felt in this basic assumption that we still have one – to many of the attendees of these networks the sector is either invisible (Worrying) or we don’t actually have one in any meaningful tangible way anymore (Even more worrying). But given the desire to attend these networks (BMN 13 years active, regularly 20 – 30 businesses each month round a table and thousands of online subscribers) the networks play a vital part in holding them together in some tangible way.

The question:

As I am always trying to ensure the network is useful, relevant and free to access I am asking the questions for the development of BSIN –

What makes a good network?

Why do you go?

And what do you want from a network?

Any comments welcome…


Annual SnapShot

This was a discussion launched back in September 2011 around establishing some contextual views of the current and past support for the Film and Screen sectors in Birmingham.

I think it would be useful as a network to have an annual census of this kind – taken as a snapshot of where we are. It would be good to add tothis discussion so please suggest further questions.

1 Who is currently tasked with supporting and promoting film and screen image industries in Birmingham?

2 When working with these agencies/ organisations what have been your experiences?

3 Regarding the promotion of film/Screen Image Culture & Industry in Birmingham, what is your opinion on what has been achieved?

4 How can Birmingham better promote and support Film/Screen Image Culture & Industry in the future?

5 How should we promote and support our film/Screen Image heritage? What do we need to do for the future?

6 What opportunities and limitations do you think the current film festivals offer film makers in Birmingham?

7 What would you like to see in terms of international promotion of Birmingham Film/Screen Image Culture & Industry?


My Answers from  September 2011

Birmingham Screen Image Network – 7 Questions about film & production in Birmingham UK

1 Who is currently tasked with supporting and promoting film and screen image industries in Birmingham?
With the demise/rebranding of the regional screen agency ScreenWM and the intermediate period of inactivity for over half a year, there is no recognisable body tasked with the support of Film. By Film I include both production of film and video content, advertising and commercial video, as well as other related trades and skilled freelance work in Screen Image industry.
Creative England’s original remit to represent ‘Creative Industries’ in it’s broadest sense does not appear to be reflected in either it’s initial call for applications for Film Exhibition or the core funding for Creative England remaining BFI/Lottery. In effect the government appear to have dismantled one ‘Quango’ – A Private Limited Company to be replaced with another who’s focus is even more limited than it’s predecessor and now has a name that bares no resemblance to it’s remit – ‘Creative England’ could just as easily be a guild of Cottage Crafts.
Aside from Film Birmingham, who for a long time have focused on providing a locations service for production which seemed to be exactly the same remit as SWM locations service provided? There is no indication as to what role Birmingham City Council and it’s recent re-focus on Birmingham as a city of culture have planned in the way of Film or Music. Nor with other ambiguous organisations / cartels such as Digital Birmingham?
The only dedicated organisation (albeit around feature film producers ) is producers forum.
The sector I feel is much bigger than that, I work in media content production but with a focus on digital signage as well.
At our recent BSIN meeting the group could not name one organisation currently tasked with supporting film in Birmingham. Either this is true or those tasked with providing support and or representation are not effectively communicating this role?
2 When working with these agencies/ organisations what are your experiences?
I am in a fairly unique position as having worked for 20 years commercially in the creative industries as well as having public sector /funding roles; effectively on the other side of the table.
I have had funding and film submissions turned down and have had to, in these roles, turn down others myself. I feel my work as a commercial freelancer has often met with a lack of industry knowledge but has been tapered with a good understanding of the requirements and ‘restrictions’ of funding and business support. If you are looking for funded support or project development it’s always important to really get an understanding of how funding works, why it’s there and what role and outcomes the funding administrators expect in return for their investment. In this respect it’s no different from commercial investment of business loan.
In my experience, the requirements of funding are therefore different from what I expect an agency or individual to provide. Even where there is a will by individuals to serve the industry in an informed way, as I always tried to do, there have often been restrictions on the outputs vs outcomes associated with that funding stream which prevented me from addressing the real needs of the industry in question. The problem therefore is to what extent you can bend the rules to compensate for the fact that they were ill advised in their initial design, often from a central government or european level. Where their has been a regional remit imposed that creates artificial aims and objectives this has invariably been due to the lack of industry knowledge mentioned above.
On the whole the systems have, unfortunately, proven to be more important than the results or the impact on the industry/ sector.
My engagement with the regional development agency also confirmed a lack of representation by industry practitioners. Where they were apparently represented, there was an element of manufacturing consent by presenting ‘problems’ in the industry with one hand under the guise of impartial research quickly followed by a ready made funding solution with the other – less than impartial.
However, having said that, as I often used to advise, the business of the agencies is often to give money away – not in itself a bad thing, just lacking in accurately addressing where it should be spent. The business of creatives shouldn’t always just be to help them spend it!
3 Regarding the promotion of film in Birmingham, what is your opinion on what has been achieved?
Promotion of Film in exhibition through festivals, showcases and access to media skills has been quite varied. We have supported some high profile festival programmers who have taken the banner of Birmingham to an international audience (ie Flatpack) and presented a varied and rich international programming of film against a backdrop of multiplex domination (i.e. Award Winning – Birmingham International Film Society).
Promoting the city as a production base has been much less targeted and largely unsuccessful. We failed to capitalize on the industry we have/ had and have in my opinion focused too heavily on certain sectors that are seen as ‘new’ and ‘innovative’; largely gaming. This is a sector that is very strong in the region (Around 25% of UK share) and possibly needed less investment or promotion if it has been at the expense of others like film/ Screen Image Industries.
As an inward investment model I don’t think there has been a strategy to address this successfully. Again, I think the wrong people have been tasked with this and it has been very much a footnote to other agendas.
Support for young people and access to film, media skills and film as a social engagement tool has been good (through first light/ media box), but as with all these schemes, not necessarily the fault of the organisation, there has been small investments and these have not been strategically linked to mainstream education or continued learning. They are also incredibly short term and not linked to industry.
The real issue has been the lack of capital spend funding. Providing funding ‘support’ that ties you in to time allocated sessions with financial advisors producing 3 year financial forecasts is not the best use of funds with SME or mostly sole trading Micro Enterprises, who really need incubation space and subsidised access to quality production equipment. They also need industry focused and recognised training that they don’t have to remortgage for. SkillSet has provided this around broadcast production on a UK level, but this doesn’t seem to have been adequately communicated due to the regional agencies lack of engagement with the industry practitioners themselves.
Film exhibition support via Independent Cinema Office has run some great workshops.
Work placements have been insignificant and as across the whole industry, the wealthy can afford to gain ‘experience’ on production and broadcast if they can survive unpaid for a year. I would never condone the rise of ‘unpaid’ work masquerading as opportunities. Those tasked with supporting the arts and creative industries should think twice about devaluing those it should be supporting. A great deal of blame lies with creatives themselves who seem reluctant to demand industry fees for their work for fear of loosing work.
Use of public monies to set up trading arms and offer ‘free’ services is also questionable. Having tried to compete with the tide of free videos offered by such projects whilst trying to pay overheads, staff and grow a business – you can’t compete with free (Even if the quality does suggest that even as a freebie, the client had been ripped off) Overall there has been little support for filmmakers networks and trade focused opportunities – hence the formation of BSIN and previously BMN. The region has supported low level short film development through competition and ‘some’ feature production on a ‘low’ budget but have had no consistent support for platforms to show or distribute these.
Cinemas should be encouraged to platform these and offer, even in a basic first feature, a chance for work to be critically judged by the public and gain exposure.

4 How can Birmingham better promote and support Film in the future?
Based on my experience, Birmingham has a few major areas to focus on
1 Production as a regional base: If we are to ‘temp’ the industry away from it’s historical locations (London) we need a viable business plan. There have been public debates around the relocation of Pinewood to the former Longbridge site and this continues to be discussed. Geographically we are well placed (Closer than Manchester) for some production to be outsourced. The needs of a soundstage or other production buildings require certain considerations; Noise being one of the most important. No flight paths, nearby major roads etc. Location and access. An attractive and cosmopolitan surround or at least nearby environment – after all, for those we are seeking to entice, are well paid professionals who possibly wouldn’t find whats left of Longbridge an attractive vibrant lunch break? So maybe Post facilities? similar concerns apply but this could be more achievable. Nothing will be achieved if the outward message perpetuated by the marketing of Birmingham brand it merely as a retail destination. Retail can be any city or out of town mall. The demise of independent traders and the rise of ‘sameville’ frontages, curbing, lighting, paving, city planning and even iconic copycat statues of bulls offer nothing individual for Birmingham except the frontage of Selfridges. Why not promote creativity as a true USP?
2 Home grown production. Support for developing the expectations raised through support for short film/ trailer funding. Greater support to build careers and nurture the first steps to become second, third etc but avoiding repeat funding for the sake of it.
3 Skills – Industry skills that reflect the industry and the emerging technologies (eg 3D production values, Augmented Reality) Subsidised training vouchers that can be redeemed against local training providers rather than inventing new support that is counter-competitive. strengthen the market don’t close it down.
4 Scrap the suggested plans to build a cinema as part of the new Eastside developments! as cinemas are already facing an uncertain time, what is the logic behind this? who would programme this? would it be independently programmed? and, as above, this would surely be counter-competitive use of public money for the independent cinemas such as The Electric? not to mention the chains.
5 Engage with industry from the start. Don’t develop plans and then expect industry to endorse or validate these by their mere attendance at discussion events. Even worse, don’t fail to engage at all. As outlined in the need for this questionnaire, ensure that those tasked with the support and development of the sector are those fit for purpose or are required by contract to engage with and adequately reflect the views, opinion and needs of the sector. Ensure that individuals and agencies are accountable and employ industry knowledge.

5 How should we promote and support our film heritage? What do we need to do for the future?
Birmingham has an amazing tradition of production including world class regional television, features, animation and historic and ground breaking citizen journalism through pioneering social documentary makers such as Philip Donnellan. I was lucky enough to award funding to the very important work helping to curate this collection as well as the fantastic ‘what was Pebble Mill’ events. We have only just started celebrating the music heritage (about 20 years too late) and still in a less than socially enabling way. We really need to celebrate our achievements in Television, Film and Digital content.
Promoting this internationally rather than regionally would offer more impact. Ultimately we need large scale events, shows, exhibitions that MUST NOT exclude economically disadvantaged by pricing them out of events. This needs to be a civic pride campaign and of course it needs money spent on it. The wasted budget spent on campaigns to sell birmingham as a shopping trip or an extension of the airport departure lounge could be utilised, as could the corporate ‘giving’.
Most important would be to have the regions media finally offer a consistent positive spin on creativity.

6 What opportunities and limitations do you think the current film festivals offer film makers in Birmingham?
As above – we have award winning and internationally renowned festivals in Birmingham. What they need is longer term funding so they don’y have to come back cap in hand each year. Understanding their 2/3 or 4 year plans and working with them against these would help.
Supporting only quality festivals regardless of whether they tick equality boxes or funding themes would also help raise the game. A festival that has no film value is just a party.
Marketing film events, and generally getting behind all creative events, should be organised much more cohesively by all stakeholders, press and civic leaders and should always have a remit to reach those who currently don’t or are prevented from attending.

7 What would you like to see in terms of international promotion of Birmingham film?
As above. If we can pay for a delegate list as bizarre as those who went to SXSW often just to ‘blog’ about it, lets use the money more intelligently to support distribution and screening opportunities on an international level.


2 responses to “Comment

  1. I’ve attended all sorts of different networking sessions for both creatives and business people, in lots of different venues. I enjoy the BSIN sessions as they are regular, the venue is good and it is easy to find out who is there, what they do and then I can decide who I want to talk to. Rather than the scatter gun approach which occasionally happens at larger sessions.

    I think the venue is very important, the worst venues for myself have been bars and pubs. I find the main problem with these is they are to noisy due to loud music and are often being shared with members of the public making them unnecessarily crowded. I found that people end up getting hammered and it just seems pointless talking to some of them as they’re totally incoherent.

    A venue should have features that provide opportunities for conversation. A drinks station is always good. If I run out of people to talk to and cant see any open groups then I normally get a glass of water and engage the next person to come over to the drinks table. When food is provided finger food works best especially with tall tables that you have to stand at. As you can remain mobile and easily start up a conversation with a new group/table. I think it would be good to put spikes on the walls as it can be to easy for attendees to hide at the side and this would force them into the middle of the room.

    Recently I’ve been attending sessions that have art, interactives, prototypes, puzzles and other assorted conversation props that are great for facilitating networking.

    Another style of networking I’ve enjoyed is speed networking. You all sit in two rows facing one another and have about 60 seconds each to talk, swap cards and move on when the whistle blows. When the speed networking has finished everyone carries on with regular networking but now you know who everyone is and can carry on promising conversations.

    Finally the most important thing for me is the people. I preferably want a good mix of creatives, animators, film makers, artists, sound people, writers, photographers, actors etc and preferably some business people, different entrepreneurs who are interested in the skills on offer by the creatives. Most importantly the attendees have to have a good attitude ie polite, friendly and be prepared to try to make conversation.

    I go to BSIN each month for a variety of reasons. I enjoy the structure, each person introduces themselves, who they are, then news is shared and interesting debates normally arise. Although the attendances are low there is normally a couple of new faces each month. I have made some useful contacts, I get to hear of news, events and different opportunities coming up.

    I think it would be good bring the Screen and Music networks into the same room for the last 20mins to further share news, info, leads etc

    When paired with the free dinner and creative networks events after its a really enjoyable and useful way to spend an afternoon.

    I also go to support the network and hopefully support the creative scene in Birmingham by attending. Attendances are low which is disappointing, although I wouldn’t want the groups to have massive, if it could get up to 15/20 each week that would be great. The only way the group will grow is by people continuing to attend, talking and promoting the meet ups.

    • Thanks Richard, I like the idea of the Music Network having some interaction with Bsin and we’ve discussed this with Dave Taylor and Mike as to how this could best happen. Not sure about spikes on the wall 🙂 but I know what you mean.
      I would really like a greater attendance at BSIN but I’m glad you recognise the benefit of how the small meetings doesn’t mean it cant be useful.

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