Brexit: UK can rise to the challenge and position Britain as global centre of excellence

The UK ad industry can succeed outside the European Union and even help shape the country's new position on the world stage, agency bosses have said.

Colin Gottlieb: the EMEA chief executive at Omnicom Media Group
Colin Gottlieb: the EMEA chief executive at Omnicom Media Group

After responding with palpable shock last week following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, industry leaders have told Campaign how a post-Brexit Britain can win in the years ahead. 

Moray MacLennan, the worldwide chief executive at M&C Saatchi, said: "Our view is that we need to make this look like it was the right decision when we look back in ten or twenty years time; there's no other way to look at it.

"So we need to adjust and adapt, and we're the sort of industry that will do that quickly. We need more energy and entrepreneurialism and we need to think of ourselves as a new, dynamic economy.

"We need to look at how we get on the front foot and get across the message that we're an open and inviting country and we also need to move quickly to reassure young people who should have voted and didn't that this isn't the end, that there is a positive future for them and that they need to engage and work towards finding new opportunities."

The UK's reputation for having some of the world's best creative talent should be reinforced and built on, according to Adam & Eve/DDB's chief executive, James Murphy.

Murphy said: "The impetus now is to redouble our efforts to be strategically and creatively the best in the world. The Swiss are universally considered to make the best watches in the world, without being part of the European Union. We can achieve the same reputation for creativity. 

"Our industry could certainly decide to help position the country as more determined than ever to be brilliant on the world stage, because we have to be now."

Time for UK to 'change its horizons'

Murphy’s counterpart at CHI & Partners, Sarah Golding, compared Brexit to the UK ad industry losing a big pitch, as most people in advertising wanted to remain in the EU.

But going forward, Golding said: "We have to all use our incredible creative minds to make the future of our industry and our country an exciting one. Cannes shows our industry is genuinely globally respected, so let's change our horizons and become a global centre of excellence not just a gateway to Europe."

The prospect of Brexit has dominated conversation across the industry after the result came in on Friday morning, while most bosses were in Cannes.

Sir Martin Sorrell used his acceptance speech for WPP’s holding company of the year prize to proclaim: "Although the UK has voted to leave the EU, WPP has not. We are as European as ever, and will become even more so."

On the morning of the Brexit result, Sorrell told Campaign that WPP’s strategy of building its presence in fast-growing economies such as BRICs and Next 11 had been underlined in importance.

Brexit means 'you will get punished faster'

Meanwhile Colin Gottlieb, the EMEA chief executive at Omnicom Media Group, said that agency networks in particular had an opportunity to win out if they delivered consistency and competiveness across markets.

Gottlieb told Campaign: "Brexit makes the whole idea of a network even more important because it adds an additional variable to what we do already. It is just another, albeit massive, challenge in the same way that the financial crisis in 2008 was a challenge.

"The networks that will win will deliver consistency and competence – if you have neither you will get punished faster with Brexit. 

"I am hopeful personally that the time between now and the serving of Article 50 that the EU Commission with the UK government can come to some form of arrangement that will result in a second referendum. I think there will be lots of twists and turns."

According to Chris Hirst, the UK and Europe CEO of Havas, the industry must send "two clear messages to the UK and the world".

Hirst said: "Firstly, we remain 100% committed to our UK business. In addition we believe that the fundamentals of our strategy and London's position as an unrivalled creative hub, remain unchanged.

"Secondly, to every global citizen we employ, that you are as important (if not more) to us today as you were yesterday. We remain grateful for the enormous contribution you make to our business, our culture and our shared city. I profoundly believe that our strength lies in our diversity and that will not change as a result of this referendum. In fact, I believe we are nowhere near diverse enough."

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