Faaez Samadi
Apr 28, 2017

3 key takeaways from the ASEAN Creative Cities forum

Conference addresses the required steps to build a creative economy.

Professor John Howkins delivering the keynote at the ASEAN Creative Cities forum in Manila
Professor John Howkins delivering the keynote at the ASEAN Creative Cities forum in Manila

Building a creative economy was the theme of the Philippines Department of Trade & Industry’s conference in Manila this week, and there were some recurring themes on how to achieve this.

Creativity is a serious business

The days of classing creativity or the creative industries as ‘soft’ are well and truly over, according to Professor John Howkins, the UK academic credited with coining the term ‘creative economy’. Understanding the role of creativity across all sectors, not just the likes of marketing, advertising and design, is central to fostering an environment in which it can thrive.

“Being a creative entrepreneur is more competitive than running a manufacturing plant,” Howkins said. “Your consumers are always searching for novelty, and as such your success is very subjective.”

From a business standpoint, creativity has never been more important, Howkins added, because consumers “are much more willing to pay for creativity” than before.

Creativity needs freedom and infrastructure

It’s all well and good to have a burgeoning creative community, but for it to grow, it needs freedom, in the form of open markets, and support, in terms of government infrastructure. That's the assessment of Ramon Lopez, Philippines secretary of trade and industry, who said the creative economy offers “bullish opportunities” and that there “needs to be space for creative talents and assets to grow without barriers”.

Many panellists throughout the day pointed to the example of Singapore, where the government has spent several years investing in an infrastructure to support the creative economy, which is starting to bear fruit. "It needs a sustained effort at a high level," said Howkins. 

However, some cautioned against too much intervention, as freedom for people and businesses to grow organically is also central to promoting creativity.

Creativity starts at home

Focusing on advertising, David Guerrero, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO Guerrero, said the industry needed more support in ensuring the Philippines’ ample of creative talent is encouraged to remain the country rather than pursue careers elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

While extolling the virtues of gaining experience in different markets, Guerrero, together with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, said the fact that so many creative Filipinos leave the country means it is exporting one of the country’s biggest assets in today’s digital economy.

That more Filipino agencies and individuals are winning creative awards shows the depth of talent in the country. Paolo Mercado, SVP marketing at Nestle Philippines, said with the closer ties being forged within the ASEAN economy, now is perhaps the time for the member states to come together and present an ASEAN creative economy, taking the best facets from all its diverse nations, which would allow people and businesses in the region to compete on the world stage.

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