Peter Burling,Client Services Director at Brazen, is one of AMAGAZINE’s 10 Most Influential Mancunians. Here he talks about his career journey and the future of our city.
“Businesses need to adapt to cater for the needs of a whole new generation of workforce who crave experiences over just pay-packets.”
What makes Manchester a great place to live and work?
There’s no escaping Manchester is sticking two fingers up at the slowing UK economy and cracking on with just being f*cking brilliant. Just look up to see it for yourself, a record 64 cranes were recorded in the city this year – that’s more than the 2005 pre-recession boom – it means growth, change and opportunity.
This city isn’t afraid to do things differently and is a great self-promoter – if Manchester had a job I’m pretty sure it would be in PR. Anyone that says there’s nothing new to do and see here is clearly nuts. Yes, there’s a constantly evolving music and nightlife scene, but dig a little deeper and there’s so much more – arts, fashion, food. The relocation of ITV, BBC and Creative England has also cemented the city’s role in creativity and entertainment.
There are exciting new neighbourhoods being developed with their own distinctive personalities and more established areas are re-inventing themselves to stay current. Businesses are growing and thriving in all sectors and unlike other towns and cities, there is a genuine feeling of companies supporting each other, sharing knowledge and civic pride, a real sense of community.
Why do you think so many businesses have chosen Manchester as their central hub?
There’s a combination of reasons businesses choose Manchester for their base. History for one is on our side – great stuff starts here, the first computer, the first passenger rail service, Rolls-Royce, the list goes on – excellence breeds excellence and businesses want to be a part of it. Google and most recently Amazon have opened offices here attracted by the ever-growing talent pool and tech hub.
There’s a genuine entrepreneurial spirit in Manchester and a forward-thinking council that encourage it. Improving infrastructure and connectivity is drawing more and more businesses to the city and when HS2 arrives in 2026, the journey time to London will be just 67 minutes.
New top-grade office space and business parks not just in town but cropping up all around the centre offer great locations for developing businesses and, let’s face it it’s a pretty great place to live which makes for a happy workforce.
What do you think Manchester needs to raise its profile on the international scene?
I’m not sure if this is a trick question? I think we do pretty well at keeping our profile front and centre. We’re incredibly lucky to have such huge international brands in United and City, we make world class entertainment here and the airport acts as an important hub bringing in visitors as they push for more and more direct flights.
What does Manchester need in terms of new talent coming through?
Even more students! Love them or just tolerate them, new talent can come from bright minds that arrive to study here then decide to stay and make it home. Businesses need to adapt to cater for the needs of a whole new generation of workforce who crave experiences over just pay-packets. If you’re going to attract the best talent you have to offer amazing environments to work in, soft benefits and dynamic spaces that help tease out creativity.
We should also celebrate and appreciate the talent that’s already here to stop it from ever leaving. Talent acts like a magnet to other people eager to emulate/ learn from successes. We’ve recently been involved in the ‘This is Manchester Awards’ – a multi-sector awards celebrating talent in all areas including fashion, tech, sport, entertainment and community. It’s initiatives like this that act as a reminder of how great the city is and who some of the unsung heroes are making it all happen.
What are the essential qualities that people must have to be a part of your business?
Drive, ambition, creativity, common sense and 10% bonkers! I’m so proud of our talented team, we nurture and develop great people at Brazen, some stay for years and years, some go on to do amazing things outside of the business it’s all reflective of our business drive.
One of the biggest requirements for agency life though is stamina. I always liken the PR agency relationship with a client as helping them run the last leg of a long race (lots of planning and research first). And, that’s what it’s like every week with a different client – maybe more than one! It can be exhausting at times but so incredibly rewarding and varied.
How has the working world changed from when you started your career compared to now and how have these changes affected your industry?
This is easy. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, the way we communicate with people has changed at lightning speed. The growth of social media and the connectedness of people means things can happen and change so incredibly quickly. We went from one-way dialogue with journalists and publishers to multiple conversations with different types of media to today’s reality where everyone is an influencer.
In addition, people have changed. Our new team of ‘Millennials’, ‘Gen Z’ even, have different attitudes to work from the likes of when I started. The party hard, play hard, JFDI (Just F*cking Do It) attitude from when I started out in the industry has changed – this new generation is worldlier and it’s important to inspire them to because many believe finding a new challenge is as easy as swiping left (it isn’t BTW).
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
After 17 years at Brazen, my biggest challenge has always been convincing people that you don’t need to set up your own agency to be successful in this business. You can still achieve great things and have an entrepreneurial mindset (and reap the rewards) without venturing out on your own.
Entrepreneurship is about having total personal accountability, in my case, award-winning creative solutions for clients that I own from start to finish. Constant innovation, the permission to question the norm and the ability to simply help grow our agency by doing great stuff! All without the shackles of day to day business administration – VAT bills, worrying about keeping the lights on etc… I’m grateful to have been given these opportunities by Brazen’s owner Nina Webb and, it works for me.
What would you say to people who feel they haven’t ‘made it’ yet?
The immediate answer to that question is always ‘keep going’. But, I’d also ask them to make sure they know what ‘it’ is. Set yourself a goal and then work BACKwards to see how you get there. I’d advise setting short-term achievable goals to ensure motivation. Start by getting clear on what’s important to you. What do you value? How do you want to be perceived? How hard do you want to succeed? What will you sacrifice to get there? Be consistent in how you present yourself and how you act and, work hard to develop your own personal brand.
All too often people covet what others have – I hate this lazy attitude. My number one mantra has always been ‘Your success is not my failure’ – it allows me to celebrate and enjoy others’ successes, to learn from and surround myself with successful people and not be phased by it. Believe me, this can be particularly useful when you need to call in a favour!
In what ways would you like to see Manchester businesses giving back to their city and community?
I actually think a great number of our businesses in Manchester already do this very well via various different initiatives but of course there is always more that can be done. I’ve always been so impressed at how Manchester can pick itself up, come together and dust itself down when dealing with adversity – all goes BACK to what makes this such a great place to live.
Getting staff involved rather than just donating funds is critical to helping employees feel connected to their communities. I’d like to see more opportunities to get businesses and their workers involved with grass-roots initiatives donating time as well as cash to make a difference.
What industries do you think will be booming in Manchester over the next 5 years?
Well, it’s comforting for me to know that Manchester has the fastest growing creative industry outside London because I think I’m too old to start from scratch! Other areas for growth will be the tech industry buoyed by the number of private equity firms opening in the city.
Undeniably, the future is looking strong for Manchester although of course it will not be without its challenges. We have no idea how damaging Brexit will be although I think it’ll take a little more than European uncertainly to keep this city down.
‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’ sees some of Manchesters most inspiring professionls talk about the future of our city and share their career journeys. If you’d like to get involved with our next ’s ‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.