Channel 4’s Most Disruptive Choice

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The UK went a little crazy when Channel 4 announced their search for a new HQ. I work closely with the Inward Investment teams for Coventry & Warwickshire, and it was like no other inward investment project they had experienced! A couple of years earlier I worked with them to secure global media publisher Ubisoft’s new studio in Leamington and there was much less spotlight on that project despite it being a greater number of initial jobs. I think what got us all excited about it was the fact that Channel 4 is an iconic national brand, in a different way to the BBC. Launched in the 80s, it was the channel of choice for me and my peers growing up in the 90s. Channel 4 was about youth and vibrancy; challenging conventions; creativity and diversity and so every place in the UK that wanted to be associated with that got caught up in the whirlwind. And even those who maybe didn’t understand what that all meant, knew that it was a great opportunity for media attention for their part of the world.

The West Midlands Combined Authority decided to submit a collaborative bid across the region’s geography. The recently formed West Midlands Growth Company saw it as their first ‘big ticket’ inward investment opportunity and a chance to establish a regional way of working for activity which had previously been the remit of smaller teams in the Local Authorities. It had taken a number of months to convince Coventry and Warwickshire to co-brand an inward investment offering for the region and yet I had been on Trade Missions to China as both the ‘London’ and ‘Manchester’ contingents. When you are selling yourself on a global scale, local geography doesn’t have the same nuance as when you are living in it. The decision to work together was a sound one and I maintain I am glad we did it, despite the navigation of politics and egos along the way!

I learnt a lot from the Channel 4 process about myself and my region. I had been a CWLEP Board Director for almost three years at this point and had helped to form the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Digital Board the year before; but Channel 4 gave us a reason to bring our creative talent, assets, and opportunities together. I also learnt how to deal with my own anxiety following a disastrous dress rehearsal of our pitch the night before the big Channel 4 visit. I was honoured to be one of five people presenting to their Executive team including the Mayor, Chief Executives of Birmingham and Coventry City Councils, and the Chief Executive of the West Midlands Growth Company. I was chosen to represent the disruptive side of the West Midlands and put forward by the team we worked with on Blueprint for Growth. Most of the room hadn’t heard me speak before and I was a bag of nerves on dress rehearsal night. The slides had been changed around earlier that day which didn’t help me and I was talking to empty chairs as the support team continued to rush around us tweaking technical settings and making calls. I thrive on feedback and that was lacking so my performance lacked as a result. I stuttered, spent lots of time staring at my slides in silence, and genuinely delivered something no one would be proud of. The room was shocked. The support team questioned whether I was up to it and talked about alternatives way of presenting my material – through a Q&A style or a panel discussion. But the Mayor stood up for me, said I would be fine tomorrow because I had to be, and sent me home to practice at around 9pm ready to meet back in Birmingham at 7am the next day.

I did practice. But I also thought about what had got me so nervous. This really mattered to me because it mattered to our region. I wanted to do them proud because I felt Coventry & Warwickshire had given me so much. A home to raise my daughter, a place to build a business, and my first Board role. I had come to Warwickshire in a difficult place and together we had rebuilt my pieces so I was back to a whole. I wanted to use that emotion in my presentation. I wanted to show Channel 4 why I was passionate about the West Midlands and hope that they would get passionate about it too. I built that into my presentation. I talked about my daughter, my business, my role. And I nailed it. Alex Mahon, Channel 4’s Chief Executive, even complimented me afterwards! It was a great moment in my personal and professional development.

You will know that Channel 4 didn’t choose the West Midlands and instead went to Leeds; but all was definitely not lost for us. Create Central was born as an industry body for the ‘screen’ sector to represent TV, film, games, and interactive entertainment; the West Midlands Creative Scale-Up programme was piloted with £1.2 million investment from central Government; and I learnt how to use overwhelming emotion for good. I will never forget how it felt to be in the industry showcase room after our pitch with Stephen Knight (Peaky Blinders), Adil Ray (Citizen Khan), and Debbie Isitt (Nativity) listening to the words of Casey Bailey as I stood with Alex Mahon and my fellow creative business owners from Coventry & Warwickshire. I cannot put into words how proud I felt of the place I lived and how proud I felt of myself. We may not have won the competition but on that day I was definitely winning.