How advertising can power growth beyond Brexit

How advertising can power growth beyond Brexit

We are in the middle of vital and seismic changes for our industry and behaviour in advertising is paramount, writes the Advertising Association's chief executive.

The first stage of the negotiations has concluded, clearing the way for the all-important trade talks. But the job of making advertising’s case to government has only just begun.

Our future depends on creating the best possible environment for our industry and all of us in advertising have a role to play in ensuring our success. A success which is critical to the UK’s future beyond Brexit. 

Let’s take a look at why advertising matters so much to the wider UK economy.

Credos, advertising’s think-tank, has shown that for every £1 spent on advertising, the economy benefits by £6 as a whole. Our latest Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report results saw a record first half of the year as UK advertising expenditure grew 3.7% to £10.8bn, the largest H1 total since monitoring began in 1982.

The 3.7% rise in adspend during the first half of 2017 means we are 2.1 points ahead of forecast. Spend on advertising is showing strong resilience, at a time of real uncertainty for UK business.

So, here’s the elevator pitch if you’re asked why anyone should care about advertising… 

The £22bn spent on advertising this year will contribute £126bn to total UK GDP and support almost one million UK jobs. What happens to advertising matters to all of us. 

I’m hugely proud to be part of an industry that matters like this but, even better, let’s remember we are world-class. In the past 15 years, we have won over 1,500 Cannes Lions, more than any other European country and we win more per head than any other country worldwide. That’s impressive stuff and something of which we should be very proud.

Yet, as we work through Brexit, we must remind government at every turn that this world-class status is dependent upon on us being open to the world’s best talent. The vital importance of freedom of movement for advertising talent in our industry lies at the heart of our biggest initiative – the Advertising Pays 6: World Class Talent, World Class Advertising report and associated "Great advert for Britain" advertising campaign. Data from our project partner, LinkedIn, showed 57% of advertising’s talent, including UK-based international colleagues, works outside of London, proving we are an industry represented across the whole of the UK. This talent, all of it, is fundamental to our future success.

It’s our ability to attract and retain the best global talent that makes the UK the global powerhouse for advertising and marketing. And as we await the Home Office’s forthcoming paper on a new migration system, we’ve been calling on the government to make sure any future system doesn’t stop the flow of great talent coming to work in the UK’s advertising and marketing industries. A further vital aspect of Brexit negotiations will be access to markets and future trade agreements, which will be vital for services industries, as well as for manufacturing.

The Christmas advertising season is a brilliant example of our vibrant, creative industry’s capabilities. Advertisers have invested close to £6bn, an increase in spend of 37% since 2010 and, in the process, have created our own Super Bowl moment. We are unique in the world when you can point to advertising premieres which feature on-screen talent like Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Ricky Tomlinson, Elbow, Paddington Bear and even Kermit the Frog. Equally, the quality of talent behind the screen in creative and production is truly world-class. 

Yet, we would be wrong to make the case to government purely on an economic level because our industry has a significant social role to play. With this in mind, it is a good time to ask what does it means to be a good citizen in advertising? We are in the middle of vital and seismic changes for our industry and behaviour in advertising is paramount. 

As participants in an advertising ecosystem that embraces people of all genders, races, sexualities and identities equally, we must ensure our behaviour reflects the expectations of society, and therefore preserve our right to self-regulate properly and effectively.

I was reminded of this point by five-times Olympic Gold medal winning Paralympian Hannah Cockroft. She spoke brilliantly at our Parliamentary Reception in late November about how Channel 4's "We're the superhumans" advertising campaign has helped change perceptions of the Paralympics and more widely of people with disabilities in society. Channel 4’s chief marketing and communications officer Dan Brooke was also vocal in his belief that greater diversity in advertising has a positive impact on wider society and that the advertising industry is perfectly positioned to continue to champion this change.

This social responsibility extends into areas for consideration surrounding the Gambling Commission, as well as HFSS food and drink, where we must take account of what the public and regulators wish to see from the advertising industry.

When I think of behaviour though, I also mean the way we behave within our industry. This is about how we work together as an industry, as commercial partners, but also as people. How we value people from all backgrounds, and abilities. The #MeToo movement has demonstrated the rightful willingness of people to speak out against unacceptable behaviour in any workplace or social situation. We will do all we can to support Wacl's recent call to combat sexual harassment and ensure better workplace environments for everyone.

Ultimately, as professionals within the industry, we all have a role to play in ensuring our products – ads – are trusted, valued and have a real economic and social impact. For over 90 years, the Advertising Association has been the voice of the sector and we are determined to continue promoting the role, rights and responsibilities of advertising at this pivotal time for the industry and the UK as a whole. 

We will campaign for all of this and more during 2018, starting at our own annual summit, "Lead 2018: Growth Beyond Brexit" in January. We welcome everyone who wants to help shape our industry to join us as we work for meaningful growth beyond Brexit.

Stephen Woodford is chief executive of the Advertising Association

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