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

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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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