Creativity has always been at the core of British media companies, from the earliest days of the printing press to the spread of the internet.
London’s role as a centre of news, culture, finance, trading and empire, means this country has always been pushing at creative ways to communicate better, faster and smarter.
This year already feels like a landmark in the annals of British media and advertising, as industry titans Sir Martin Sorrell, Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Desmond are all exiting or stepping back in some way after a generation at the top. All rose to prominence from the 1970s to the 1990s when London began its move from national media capital to a global media hub. As media embraced scale, it fuelled commercial creativity.
The generational shift at the top of media now is significant because it comes as the pace of technological change is accelerating.
Savvy London media people recognised that their craft could make more impact as a discipline in its own right, separate from the incubation of creative ideas. That is why media agencies such as Carat, Manning Gottlieb, PHD and Mindshare took off in London – and why most continue to thrive as they seized the opportunity to globalise.
Even though virtually all the tech innovation has been in Silicon Valley, London has continued to keep up the pace – not least as a major market for Google and Amazon. Its creative and media sophistication, the time zone, its proximity to Europe, business-friendly environment for start-ups and international talent have all helped.
Two other factors have been crucial: the rapid adoption of smartphones, broadband and ecommerce; and the presence of British global leaders including Sorrell, Jerry Buhlmann at Dentsu Aegis and Steve King at Publicis Media.
However, the generational shift at the top of media now is significant because it comes as the pace of technological change is accelerating. The local challenges of Brexit feel relatively minor compared with the extraordinary, global changes being wrought by automation and AI.
London’s history as a media hub proves it is willing to embrace innovation. The march of the machines doesn’t have to mean fewer jobs in media. But businesses and roles must change.
If anything, it could unleash a new wave of energy and productivity, as people focus on higher, cognitive thinking, rather than mundane tasks. Financial services did not shrink as an industry because of the ATM and electronic banking – it grew. Marketing services can benefit in the same way in a digital world where we are able to consume more media than ever before.
London has everything in its favour to keep its creative edge as a media capital, so long as it is able to keep its borders open to talent after Brexit.
Gideon Spanier is the global head of media at Campaign.