Someone is doing very well out of Liverpool’s New Economy. And that person is probably holding a workshop next week, in a reclaimed warehouse, teaching you how you can do well out of it too, for £40 plus tea and cakes.
The same person will have wangled the hire of the event space for free, in exchange for a contra deal. The warehouse owners will have a big advert on the other person’s blog (that no-one reads, but who’s really checking the figures anyway in this land of make believe?)
The band they’ve dragged in for the after event party will be getting free exposure from the bloggers who are coming to write about it. And, really, they should be grateful.
The writers will be writing it for free, getting valuable experience for the next workshop, and the tea and sandwiches will be made by a friend looking to secure a catering contract with the event organisers, so is offering her services for, you guessed it, nothing.
Welcome to Liverpool contra. A city where a virtual army of dream catchers, pop-up happenings, strategic networking consultants and conference producers eke out a healthy living, and a bouncing business plan by couch surfing off the talents of others. A city that students are fleeing from, because they can’t live off virtual money, beer tokens or free wristbands.
A business model that exists thanks to grants, back scratching and plea bargaining. Where nothing new is created, and where no-one outside the cash-in-kind circle jerk stands to benefit. And, because the people who orchestrate this economy don’t create anything of substance, they seem to believe the rest of us live in a cash free world too.
Does it matter that, increasingly, it is the brand strategist, the PR consultant and the networking guru that have their hands around our economy?
Does it matter that we’ve granted £100,000 in grant funding to an organisation that freely takes content from other websites to create a facsimile of something that exists, like some quantum mechanics mindbender, in another form in another place, at the same time? Net contribution to the world, zero?
Does it matter that the city is currently in love with debating, rather than doing? Of workshopping rather than skills learning? That the same talking heads spout the same thing in the same publications, thus serving to promote their own self-appointed role of gatekeeper to culture?
“Mr Smoke, meet Mr Mirror… tell us, why is culture so important to you (apart from the fact that you syphon off thousands in grants while never once writing anything approaching a memorable hook?)”
Yes. I think it does. Because this airy strata of snake-oil salesmen and soothsayers are parasitic interventions, ensnaring the city’s real talent (the bands, the writers, the app developers and the bakers) are creaming off the cash before it hits the factory floor. And if you don’t feed the factory floor, the entire ecosystem dies – and we’re left with the grotesque spectacle of people who can’t do or make anything, holding workshops for other people whose ambition is not to do or make anything either.
A mediocrity-go-round that serves no-one, and kills us all, slowly. We’re crying out for a meritocracy built on skills – and all we get are social meet ups and sandwiches.
Of course, we’ve always needed this tier of society. Agents, middlemen and promoters (and God knows our promoters work hard to bring seriously good talent to the city).
But SevenStreets sees a worrying increase of meta-companies in our midst – of agencies set up to scoop up public funding, failed writers setting up magazines that are no more than a collection of clashing fonts, misplaced apostrophes and cut and paste press releases. Communications consultants merely shuffling information from point A, to present it to point B. Their ‘strategic media advice’ little more than an email with different headers and footers. And a pop-up fete.
We see ‘business organisations’ whose every waking hour consists of little more than grubby breakfast club meetings and networking evenings – as the sun arcs across the sky of a parallel city where other people are doing real jobs. Producing real things. Getting on with doing, rather than talking.
And let’s talk about publications. For most of these, too, are a service, not a product. They exist to throw pop-up adverts about dog racing in your face when you log on, or turn their homepage into one huge ad, kettling you off to somewhere you didn’t want to go, or to conspire to commit advertorial out of editorial without your consent. They exist not for us readers, but for their advertisers.
When a new magazine launches with the chutzpah to print its salaries – for editor, distributor and advertising executives – and openly admits to not paying its writers, well, we’re sorry but we’re out. The entire enterprise rides on the talent of the only people they’re not paying? And when LFC advertise for unpaid columnists because it’ll be ‘great exposure’ how do these unpaid columnists pay the gas bill, exactly?
Why would a music/art/craft event not pay all its musicians/artists/crafts people first, before then paying its army of PR, communications consultants and strategic development officers. Why? Because we let them. Why? Because this city’s creative economy favours those who talk a good talk, rather than devote time and devotion to creating something new. And the artists and product-makers should be grateful for the meagre crumbs from their table.
And the workshops they promote? They’re not held for your benefit. They’re not arranged to impart some hidden, gnostic gospel of truth to you. You are simply a by-product. A business throughput. A spike of excitement on their cashflow forecast.
Increasingly, we are the raw material that feeds these businesses. Just as the local bands are the raw materials that pep up awards shows, and the artisans and makers the raw materials for the Christmas markets and bazaars (“a stall for your hand-thrown tagines? Certainly, that’ll be £4,000 a week, thanks.”)
Just as the awards shows are really just there to give the awards show organisers a career, so the markets exist not to amaze and delight us with their produce. If it were not so, why would you think Liverpool ONE kicked out the Christmas markets last year?
But these people are just trying to make a living, right? No harm done?
To a point. But there is a darker side to all this quid-pro-quo. We’re all so keen not to upset, criticise or complain for fear that the city-wide conga of contras will pass us by, that we’re moving inexorably to a position where the poster of an honestly held, but negative, Twitter comment is set upon by the social media police for being ‘nasty’.
There is money in this city. There is a lot of money. Don’t believe the bullshit. And there are people making a living – a great living – procuring the others’ produce. Others’ hours spent honing their skills. Others’ solid, beautiful work.
Oh, and that workshop I told you about earlier?
The woman who’s PRing the event? You’ll see her, snapping away on her iPhone, to file a big photofeature in the local paper, for her ‘out and about’ column.
She doesn’t get paid for this. She does it on the tacit understanding that it’s OK to mention her clients events every now and again, bankroll her business, and ensnare more clients. So it’s not really editorial at all. It’s advertorial masquerading as it.
SevenStreets knows this, because we checked.
“Blank was taken on to provide this column on the basis that she is a PR specialising in events, who is out on the city’s party circuit on a regular basis. She is the city’s most active party person, and as such a great resource for us. There is no payment either way.” says the response we got from a leading local newspaper, concerning such a column.
But they are being disingenuous. Because there is a payment. We who buy the newspaper pay. And we lose.
We lose out on the deal because the writing’s substandard, the events aren’t interesting, and the cosy agreement omits us from benefiting from the deal in any meaningful way.
SevenStreets has never made any money, and has never paid anyone (or ourselves). We’ve also never reposted a press release. But we’re starting to get some advertising in. And we’re about to make some major changes.
Stay with us.