Cilla Snowball: legacy of the AA's first female chair

Reflections on Dame Cilla Snowball's impact on the advertising industry.

The annual flurry of festive celebrations was particularly momentous for Cilla Snowball, group chairman and chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, who will leave the agency at the end of 2018 after 26 years.

There can be little that hasn’t already been said about her remarkable leadership, but as the first female chair of the Advertising Association’s 90-year history (from May 2012 to May 2015), her contribution to the industry is particularly notable.

I’d like to pay tribute to her on behalf of the AA, and the industry we represent, not just because Cilla has made an unmatched contribution to the business, but she has also driven a new approach to the way we do business.

Advertising’s first dame

Cilla was acutely sensitive to the need for change in our industry. She has long been a champion of diversity, inclusivity and challenging stereotypes – and was awarded a damehood in recognition of all her years of work to encourage people coming up in our business, particularly women.

She has been a modernising and galvanising force for good that leaves advertising in better shape. They say that if you want something done, "ask a busy woman". There could be no woman busier than Cilla, but she approached her chairmanship of the AA with as much energy and verve as she does all her other roles, and she made sure we got results.

Making the case for advertising

As someone who appreciates clarity and brevity, during her time at the AA, she encouraged us to make the case for advertising clearly and with confidence. Ours is an industry that makes a huge contribution, not only to the economy of the UK but also to our international exports.

Figures from the AA/Warc Expenditure Report show that advertising expenditure has grown from £17bn in 2012 to more than £22bn in 2017 – the last full year we have figures for – and it is predicted to grow even further as UK advertising’s standing in the world increases. Exports of advertising services are up to £5.4bn and the UK continues to punch well above its weight at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Always one to make the business case, Cilla was instrumental in the development of the AA’s series of reports called Advertising Pays. She advised on the first report right up to the wire at Christmas – something she’ll never let me forget. This series of reports has shone a light on the economic, social and cultural value of advertising to the UK economy. Our first one found that our industry contributed £100bn to GDP in 2013. This has grown since to £132bn.

UK advertising contributes to culture and sporting activities to the tune of £10bn a year and we support the jobs of one million of our fellow citizens. Our latest edition of Advertising Pays looked at foreign talent working in UK advertising, especially in the context of the UK’s departure from the European Union and the important role our colleagues from EU member states play in our businesses and operation. In Advertising Pays, Cilla has left a legacy of shining a light on our industry that keeps pace with the changing dynamics of our industry.  

Cilla has improved our industry’s reputation across the business world and among parliamentarians. The AA has a crucial role as the voice of industry to government and Cilla’s legendary personal skills and relationship-building have helped to improve MP sentiments. Over the course of her chairmanship, the advertising industry’s reputation among parliamentarians increased by 50%, thanks to the AA’s Front Foot campaign.

A lasting legacy

During her time at the AA, Cilla was also dedicated to developing female talent. One of her favourite quotes is from Madeleine Albright: "There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women." Although it’s well beyond my jurisdiction to guarantee Cilla’s place in heaven, her place in the AA’s Hall of Fame is most definitely assured.

On behalf of the AA and the industry we represent, thank you, Cilla, for all you’ve done and we look forward to seeing where your next steps take you.

Karen Fraser is director of Credos and head of strategy at the Advertising Association

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