With the right brand-led thinking, Britain's tech scene can have a vibrant future

Photo credit: David Guerra Terol (Flickr)
Photo credit: David Guerra Terol (Flickr)

The sale of Arm Holdings to Japan's SoftBank Group isn't the end of the UK's tech ambitions: there can be more where that came from, writes Cheil's Caitlin Ryan.

The founder of Arm Holdings, Hermann Hauser, has called the sale of the valuable tech company into Japanese ownership a "sad day for technology in Britain".

The takeover is worth $32bn (£24bn), and will see a flagship UK tech company that employs over 3,000 people and creates the microchips used in most people's Apple and Samsung smartphones stopped from becoming one of Britain's own global tech players.

But putting the sentimentality about this sale aside for a moment – is this really signaling the death knell for the UK's ability to lead the tech industry?

It's easy to think of the brand that is the UK's tech scene as a wallflower, with our little Silicon Roundabout and its Cambridge friends standing on the edge of the dance floor watching our flashy American cousins in Silicon Valley get all the attention.

But there are so many reasons to be cheerful about our tech scene right now, and we still have plenty of British success stories. Only a year ago Britain was named as the place with the highest number of tech start-ups with a $1bn plus valuation in Europe.

Just because these unicorns aren't as big and as influential as Arm right now doesn't mean they won't be in the future.

Bring tech and adland together

Much great work has been done to promote the industry with initiatives ranging from investor tax schemes to incubator and angel support provided for companies. Many start-ups agree the UK is a brilliant and supportive incubator space.

And while referring to UK tech usually means London-based tech, there are a number of areas outside of the capital – and Cambridge – that are also successfully attracting start-ups, with IT job growth seen in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol.

That said, even with known UK tech hubs such as Silicon Roundabout, Tech City and Tech North on people's radars, until there are "household giants" like the Googles and Facebooks of the world calling the UK their birthplace, there is still work to be done.

My biased view is that if we want our tech scene and the companies within it to be branded more effectively, and to build on the sense of vibrancy around what we're creating here, the industry needs to continue to bring the ad industry closer.

My sense is that in other countries the tech and ad industries are fairly close bedfellows, but we haven't seen homegrown tech agencies become more generalist in the way our Stateside friends like R/GA and The Barbarian Group have.

Shifting the centre of gravity

The fact that we all have to haul ass over to SXSW every year shows where the centre of gravity is in terms of understanding and harnessing branded comms within our tech sector.

The more that we manage to create commercial work in the UK that is at the forefront of what our tech can achieve – and shout about it enough to get it the kind of global attention it deserves – the better the chances that the next Instagram will come from our own turf.

But there are a few other crucial factors we need to consider when it comes to the branding for the UK's tech scene. We can brand a place Silicon Roundabout  – but we need to keep ensuring simple things like rents in the area don’t skyrocket, our education system keeps up with STEM subjects, and talent is encouraged to come here rather than head abroad.

Finally, we should take a leaf out of the British film industry's book and stop comparing ourselves to our American cousins, trying to get our own bit of attention by mimicking their moves on the dance floor.

Instead we need to get out there too, and simply strut our stuff in our own uniquely British way.

Caitlin Ryan is executive creative director at Cheil London.

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free