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Happening: Clubbing in Soho

FEED visits a new media industry networking event in London

Two years ago, at the NAB convention in Las Vegas, Jaisica Lapsiwala and Tomasz Witkowski decided they’d had enough. 

The two had been seeing missed opportunities in media industry conferences and networking events for some time, with the same speakers giving the same PowerPoint presentations to the same audiences, over and over (you know the drill). 

Out of their conversations came a vision for a new type of meetup, one based on openness, a willingness to share and an embracing of diversity – Soho Media Club was born.

“Tom and I both are personally passionate about collaboration, inclusion and everyone having a voice,” says Lapsiwala. “From the beginning we both talked about a ‘club’ which was very inclusive and accessible. We wanted to bring back the community feel which seems to have been slightly lost within media, particularly behind the camera. So we saw an opportunity to create a club for media professionals who share our beliefs and who want to make the industry a whole lot better in a very democratic way.”

Last Wednesday of the month

Launched in July 2019, Soho Media Club takes place in London on the last Wednesday of each month at a mystery venue not revealed until a week before the event. Generally, the hosts are notable participants in the London media scene. Past hosts have been Dropbox, Halo Post Production, Warner Bros. and Dolby Laboratories. Soho Media Club events consist of networking drinks, followed by a panel discussion, followed by more networking drinks. 

The panels are intentionally diverse, both demographically and professionally. The most recent event, hosted at Dolby Laboratories, featured a sound engineer, a writer/director, the head of COPA90’s programme for developing women’s football (Bex Smith – read our interview with her in this issue), and Dolby’s senior business development manager. The host of each month’s event is invited to put forth its panelist, but these are quite emphatically not events for brand-building or corporate promotion.

PowerPoint presentations are strictly forbidden at the events. Instead panelists are encouraged to draw on their own experience – their own personal stories – and audience members are encouraged
to respond in kind.

The fundament of the Soho Media Club is made up of three simple rules:

  1. You are willing to share ideas
  2. You are open to collaboration
  3. Everyone has a voice.

Rather than putting ROI as the promise to members, the Club instead sets a stage for openness and knowledge sharing – and the possibility for something new and unexpected to come out of it. The events are a kind of deconstructed conference, where participants are encouraged to offer something, rather than only looking to see what they can get. This tenet of collaboration is underlined by the Club’s stated goal: “Our aim is to create a community where your ideas become reality through the people you meet”.

Lapsiwala says: “Part of our DNA at Soho Media Club is that we exist to create diversity of thought, drive horizontal thinking and encourage people to take a collaborative approach to tackling problems in our industry through the connections they make.”

Though the events themselves are open to members only, the content that comes out of them, in keeping with the Soho Media Club ethos, is widely shared, with still photos, video, a podcast and a blog summary made available to all. The summary of each month’s event is also made available in a (well-designed) PDF which is essentially a white paper outlining the evening’s main points.   

Lapsiwala has a long history working in events, primarily as the conference manager and head of content for broadcast industry mega-tradeshow IBC. Witkowski comes from the technology side of the business as a senior workflow engineer at media processing platform Sundog Media Toolkit (Sundog’s CEO Richard Welsh is also a frequent participant at media industry events – perhaps it’s in the company DNA). Digital communications tools will always be indispensable for networking – especially as the climate emergency forces everyone to ramp down our air miles. But Soho Media Club is built on the principle that there is nothing like face-to-face communication and that unexpected opportunities can pop up when people are occupying the same room.

“Physically talking to people and making connections was always a key ingredient of Soho Media Club and we agreed that rather than one big event, regular, informal meetups would help build a community.”      

Power without powerpoint Soho Media Club events involve panel discussions, as well as the all-important networking drinks before and after

Not a conference

“It’s definitely not a conference!” says Lapsiwala when asked about Soho Media Club’s upcoming big event. “We don’t use that word.” The group has just announced a festival (not a conference) for the end of July. The event will feature conference strands for pre-production, production and post, and interwoven between these will be discussion about deeper industry issues around culture, inclusion and purpose.

The festival will, of course, include lots of opportunity for networking, and will conclude – like a good 1980s movie – with a big dance party. A great big, collaborative, inclusive dance party. FEED will be there.

This article first appeared in the April 2020 issue of FEED magazine.