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Defining what it is your company does - a conversation piece

Wired Sussex has recently improved our online directory of members. This led us to look at how member companies categorise themselves (using the dropdown list we provide). The pie chart below shows this breakdown. At the recent Wired Sussex Board meeting we had a discussion about it and I thought it might be interesting to reproduce it here.

Those who participated were: me ( Phil - Wired Sussex), Holger Bollman (WPM), Alex Morrison (Cogapp), Tracy Capaldi-Drewitt (Epic), Arjo Ghosh (iCrossing), Will Mcinnes (Nixon Mcinnes), Simon Conroy (Madgex) and Gilly Bartrip (SEEDA). You can find out more about the Board here: www.wiredsussex.com/about/board.asp
Phil Jones: “This breakdown is not as helpful as it should be; it also suggests that the sector includes a huge number of micro sectors”.

Holger Bollman: “On the Wired Sussex website, companies can only categorise 3 options of company function.”

Phil Jones: “Yes, that could be a reason why the chart is so confusing - people are taking the opportunity to list 3 categories even if only one is where they currently do business. Presumably the logic is that they may want to develop into the other areas. Probably we should be asking people ‘what is your primary function?’ and then, list your 2 secondary functions, to get people to think a bit more about how they categorise themselves. Some sectors such as gaming were added fairly recently so the real size of some areas are not reflected accurately in the breakdown, as members are not necessarily quick in updating their details.”

Alex Morrison: “It reflects two different ways of organising your company – business skill set (e.g. SEO) vs. vertical markets (e.g. we serve public sector companies and we offer a broad range of services). What you’re not seeing there is the industry sectors that members are serving.”

Tracy Capaldi-Drewett: “Would it be useful to see how this splits out in relation to organisations with 20 people or above? A lot of those categories are going to be smaller organisations and distorting the chart.”

Phil Jones: “Yes, if you created a sub sector breakdown which defined size by number of employees rather than number of companies, it would change and may be simpler and certain sectors (gaming for example), would become much more important.”

Holger Bollman: “I think the sub sector terms used are out of date and need revising”

Arjo Ghosh: “This is the digital sectors describing the sector to itself, but we need to push the sector into describing ourselves by what our clients are looking for. A better exercise is looking at what it is that your clients are buying.”

Phil Jones: “Is that really true of the top categories – web design, design and branding, marketing and PR, film TV and video production? They are classic and accepted industry definitions and presumably potential clients understand them?”

Will McInnes: “You could categorise by saying ‘we help people find your business’ (rather than SEO), ‘we help your story be told and heard’ (rather than digital marketing). In other words, categorise by need not service.”

Simon Conroy: “We are in a small but fast growing area, it is still immature. Recently one Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of a global business said that all the traditional advertising agencies are at risk of getting squeezed out because of digital empowerment of the client, but they haven’t got their definitions right. If the traditional big agency definitions are wrong for us digitally, we should be talking about what does the future look like as our clients want it. “

Gilly Bartrip: “It paints a picture of fragmentation and suggests the need for collaboration within the sector.”

Arjo Ghosh: “The issue is implementation. In start-up phase, you’re doing implementation generally, then you add value, adding things as you go on. Wired Sussex can help members starting up by talking to them about the value chain going forward – strategy and planning. These companies have talents and are doing great things strategically for their clients but only charging for the actual execution. Wired Sussex could take this debate forward as the traditional trade organisations that now try and encompass digital haven’t solved this issue either.”

Simon Conroy: “Some companies with 1-5 staff are excellent doing strategic stuff, the reason they end up charging execution prices is because they are not seen as being part of something bigger. We have the opportunity to give them the advice to go in and provide strategic advice.”

Holger Bollman: “The problem is that potential clients search via the Wired Sussex website using the criteria in the database.”

Will McInnes: “These terms are almost encouraging commoditisation, we are saying -who are you looking for - a web design punter or a branding punter?”

Holger Bollman: “Yes, but this approach does help freelancers to find work.”

Alex Morrison: “It’s about what clients are trying to buy – very few members are trying to sell strategy. Most of them deliver strategy by doing something else. Whatever model you have, it has got be dynamic. There is an enormous sector that doesn’t show up on that chart – app development.”

Arjo Ghosh: “Could be included within the mobile category?”

Alex Morrison: “This speaks for the dynamic nature of classification. Either that or we’ve got to have a Maslow’s hierarchy view of what organisation’s need and slot the services into that.”

Simon Conroy: “Why not align companies with their primary revenue streams - ask the companies their proportion of turnover in these categories. The categories need to be up to date and ensure it accurately reflects the member companies.”

Arjo Ghosh: “We could open up and allow members to tag themselves as what they want?”

Alex Morrison: “The breakdown is unhelpful in presenting the sector to third parties – it looks as though we are so diverse we can’t be dealt with. We need to categorise this stuff in a way that makes us coherent for policy making.”

Phil Jones: “The sector is complex – it is in motion, but explaining that complexity is part of Wired Sussex’s role. The question is what’s the ‘use value’ of this information , as the usefulness dictates how we categorise. Is it for clients using client’s definitions to help members attract new business or are we trying to understand and explain something about the sector? These seem like 2 different goals.”

Tracy Capaldi-Drewett: “I agree with Arjo, why not open it up and get companies to tag themselves – they are in the best position to do that. It’s up to us to then analyse it and present it for any policy issues.”

Phil Jones: “This information is not primarily about defining policy, the online directory where this information is held is to help clients find service providers amongst our members.”

Holger Bollman: “Even to use that data internally, it would be great to substantiate how much revenue goes through to each of the sectors – and is that presented to the public or just used by Wired Sussex for analysis?”
Phil Jones: “The challenge with categorising companies by their turnover means that we’re determining what is important, not the company. Categorisation has a primary use for companies and that is getting business and a primary use for Wired Sussex which is understanding our sector so as to more effectively support it. We shouldn’t just fuse them together.”

Gilly Bartrip: “If we had a company that was going to relocate here from abroad – how would you describe what the sector already is in the city in a way that would attract other investors?”

Phil Jones: “We already do that – that’s a different use of the information and we structure what we say depending on the inward investor. One of the challenges of how much difference Wired Sussex makes is that it is not easily quantifiable, often we bring people together and hear later of the success creating by doing that.”

Arjo Ghosh: “Some of those intangibles like collaboration and innovation – it would be great to be putting that foot forward – the Brighton ecology is collaborative and we play this part in it. Collaboration, innovation and creative thinking have productivity as a measure of success.”

Simon Conroy: “If we could extend it forward we have the ability to increase the Gross Value Add of the sector. The amount of cross referring and creating partnerships we could do if you could push that level of perfect knowledge across those 1,000+ members in Brighton. Madgex work most closely with people who left the company to set up their own companies doing completely different things as Madgex know exactly what their skills are and they cross refer them in – if this could be done across the whole of Brighton and the wider district that would be fantastic.”

About the author

Phil Jones

Hi, I'm the Managing Director of Wired Sussex, overseeing our strategy as an organisation and work to promote our membership and its needs to local, national and international stakeholders, including government.

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