As Brexit Looms the Outlook Remains Uncertain For UK Advertisers

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From King’s Cross, London, in a conference hall beneath the offices of The Guardian earlier this week, the best and the brightest in the industry took to the stage at the Advertising Association’s LEAD 2018 conference.

There was, as expected a stark focus on Brexit, with Stephen Woodford, CEO of the AA, taking to the stage to open proceedings by saying that “When times are tough, everyone in advertising has a habit of pulling together.”

Keynotes unraveling the politics and economics of the current situation came from esteemed speakers like Vicky Pryce, and Chukka Umunna MP. Their messages, for the most part, was that the effects of Brexit on the UK’s advertising industry are mostly unknown. They’ll remain that way until March 2019.

“We can’t have our cake, and eat it,”

Chukka Umunna dispelled a message of concern with his counterparts handling of negotiations, suggesting Brexit was undeliverable because of Theresa May’s flat-out refusals of various offers on the table.

“We can’t have our cake, and eat it,” he said were the words of the EU negotiators.

James Murphy, Founding Partner of Adam & Eve, and Chairman of the AA said “No one has bailed out like we’re about to before,” he said. “We don’t know what the impact will be because the government is yet to even share their impact statements.”

Recently appointed CEO of Channel 4, Alex Mahon, also spoke succinctly about uncertainty. On how the broadcaster was preparing, she said: “The Brexit vote exposed huge rifts between Britain.” From regions, social classes and ethnicity, this was the case.

“Channel 4’s role is now even more important in how we help our viewers understand the issue and talk to them about it too.”

Society is quite clearly polarised, she went on, and it is up to media owners to really think about the editorial responsibility that comes with that.

Mahon also mentioned Netflix, and how they are spending $6bn or so on content creation in 2018. “Their mission is entirely different to ours,” she said. “It’s global, to appeal to as many people as possible.” Netflix would never produce a show like Educating Greater Manchester, she said, because of the difficulty of making it appeal to audiences in other parts of the world. Reflecting Britain in all of its gloriousness is of importance to Channel 4 – “through the display of gritty local content,” to complement bigger projects, like those from their film production arm Film4.

Lindsay Pattinson, Chief Transformation Officer of WPP focussed her message on talent. Echoing the work by the AA in a campaign released earlier this year. Outside Heathrow’s terminal five was an enormous billboard, one of many print and outdoor executions in space donated by media owners with the tagline “We’re a great advert for Britain.” It featured senior industry figures who work in the UK but were foreign-born.

She said “We all know diversity is good for business – specifically its very good for our business. We need that innovation, creativity, and speed more than ever. And at a more prosaic level, we work with global companies, and need people who speak different languages.”

Pattinson’s slides highlighted that some 15% of WPP’s 17,000 UK staff were foreign-born. In some cases, particularly some of its more technically focused agencies, that this figure could reach as high as 30%.

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