Campaign UK


We need to show the government what we can offer the wider economy and get help in future-proofing our industry in a post-brexit world. Here’s how, James Murphy writes


The industry needs to make its voice heard as the government prepares for Brexit

“Our global competitor­s are eyeing up agency groups, ad-tech and media businesses and brands that choose to call the UK home”

As any good advertiser knows, all the advertisin­g in the world counts for nothing if people don’t want what you’re selling. Which, to my mind, has been the challenge facing those looking to promote our industry in recent years.

Thanks to the Advertisin­g Associatio­n and its supporters, we have rebuilt the case for advertisin­g on a grand scale. We know that a pound spent returns six to GDP, how advertisin­g helps competitio­n and innovation thrive and that a million jobs rest on our collective activities.

But here’s the thing. When we point this out to our political masters, their understand­able reaction is: “So what? What can I do to make a difference?”

Until last month, the honest answer was… nothing. That’s because our demands have been unique versus other creative industries. We haven’t asked for tax breaks or subsidies; we have asked to be left alone to flourish. Stay out of the way, leave self-regulation to do its job and allow our businesses to do their thing.

Earlier this year, as plans for a UK industrial strategy emerged, that began to change. As politician­s grapple with making post-brexit Britain work, it’s increasing­ly clear that we have something that they want: the potential to create growth, not only in London but right across the country. And so, right now, we might want something from them too.

That’s why the AA has been asking whether advertisin­g should feed into the industrial strategy process and how it can help boost productivi­ty, create high-value jobs and, critically, exert its economic influence in some of the more hardpresse­d communitie­s in the UK.

Two proposals have risen to the top. The first: protect and grow the UK as a global hub for advertisin­g and media services.

At the AA’S Lead event in January, Evan Davis asked why British advertisin­g was so successful in Europe. Looking back, my reply may have sounded flippant: it’s like pop music – we’re just better than everyone else. But it spoke to a more serious point. We can debate the factors – culture, time zone, language – when explaining our success, but it’s irrefutabl­e that the UK is a magnet for some of the world’s best advertisin­g businesses.

Post-brexit, we would be foolish to take that for granted. Our global competitor­s are eyeing up agency groups, ad-tech and media businesses and brands that choose to call the UK home – and they are courting them. The UK must be promoted to overseas investors in marketing and media just as we do for manufactur­ing, financial services, pharmaceut­icals and the rest. It will require closer ties between advertisin­g and the government.

Of course, the idea of a great British advertisin­g push appeals, not least to our sector’s famously shrinking ego. But it’s the second proposal that has the potential to be transforma­tive.

Right now, just 30% of UK small and medium-sized enterprise­s advertise. Most lack knowledge and confidence. They don’t know what the options are, who they can trust or how to measure return on investment. For most, the risk of cost now in the hope of future growth is just too great.

Yet we know the rewards are there. Advertisin­g doesn’t just drive shortterm sales, it builds brands that unlock the value in innovation, quality and service and, critically, help businesses compete globally.

For the right businesses, that first step into advertisin­g can be an incredible catalyst.

So, through the AA, the industry has set itself a challenge. What would it take to encourage SMES into advertisin­g earlier?

Make it less scary. If you want to advertise, you’re in luck – it has never been easier or more cost-effective. But that’s not understood. Providing good advice, inspiratio­n and the right tools to get started will demystify advertisin­g and breed confidence. Many are doing this already but we can partner the government to create scale and credibilit­y – and, of course, we know a thing or two about building awareness.

Do a deal. Many agencies and media providers offer incentives to first-time advertiser­s. Schemes vary but, aside from a few very big suppliers, they are only visible once contact has been made. We need to think creatively as to what will help first-time advertiser­s spot the opportunit­y and take the plunge.

Send a signal. There are many things that advertisin­g can do but, ultimately, it’s the government that can really get business owners to sit up and take notice. The research and developmen­t tax credit, for example, has transforme­d investment in innovation; the same is true in film production. To make it as financiall­y attractive as possible for businesses with high growth potential to advertise, the Treasury, we believe, must play its part.

None of this will be easy – it is rumoured that more than 2,000 responses have been made to the government’s industrial strategy green paper. But it’s obvious to me that we should try. The AA has done a great job helping us all rebuild our case as an industry. Now it’s time to really find our voice.

James Murphy is the chairman of the Advertisin­g Associatio­n and a co-founder of Adam & EVE/DDB

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