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Advertising Beyond Brexit, by Stephen Woodford

As the Brexit future unfolds, Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, explains his organisation’s role in ensuring the UK advertising industry remains world class.

Growth beyond Brexit is a key focus for the Advertising Association this year as government continues the process of negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU and it was the central theme of LEAD 2018, where we heard from leaders including Channel 4’s Alex Mahon. Our future depends on creating the best possible environment for advertising and all of us have a role to play in ensuring our success. A success which is critical to the UK’s future outside the EU as it embarks on a new relationship with the wider world after 40 years as part of the European economic and political project.

But firstly let’s take a look at why advertising – and particularly TV advertising – matters so much to the wider UK economy and why our voice is vital in these Brexit talks. Our latest Advertising Association/WARC Expenditure Report results saw a record third quarter of 2017 with spending rising 3.5% year-on-year to reach £5.4 billion – the 17th consecutive quarter of market growth. These data underpin preliminary figures which show 2017 spending grew to £22.1 billion – representing the eighth consecutive year of market growth. Spend on advertising is showing strong resilience, at a time of real uncertainty for UK business.

Credos, advertising’s think-tank, has shown that for every £1 spent on advertising, the economy benefits by £6 as a whole. Annually, this contributes over £120 billion to total UK GDP and supports almost one million UK jobs. And investment in TV advertising plays a vital role in this economic power.

As the recent ‘Profit Ability’ study by Ebiquity and Gain Theory shows, TV remains a hugely effective force for advertising and, by extension, the wider UK economy.

I’m hugely proud to be part of an industry that matters like this but, even better, let’s remember we are world class and much of that work is showcased on TV, here in the UK and around the world. In the past 15 years, we have won over 1,500 Cannes Lions, more than any other European country and more per head than any other country worldwide.

If we want to remain world class, we need to ensure frictionless access to global markets, which will be vital for service industries, as well as for manufacturing. Yet, we must remind government at every turn that the UK’s advertising prowess is also dependent on us being open to the world’s best talent. The vital importance of freedom of movement for advertising talent in our industry lies at the heart of our recent initiative – the ‘Advertising Pays 6: World Class Talent, World Class Advertising’ report and associated ‘Great Advert for Britain’ advertising campaign. Data from our project partner, LinkedIn, showed 57% of advertising’s talent, including UK-based international colleagues, works outside of London, proving we are an industry represented across the whole of the UK. Continuing the campaign, our team recently hit the road interviewing industry creative talent from a range of media, including ITV and STV, for a new film. We wanted to bring to life just how the nations, regions and cities across the UK are developing their own specialist identities.

The film is a record of the incredible advertising talent we have across the country and which is a vital part of how we can generate economic and social growth across the UK. This talent – all of it – is fundamental to our future success.

Another strategic focus for us in 2018 is to drive the uptake of advertising services by SMEs across the UK. This drive to attract new SME advertisers followed recent analysis by advertising’s think-tank Credos, which shows SMEs only account for around 18% of total advertising spend, despite contributing nearly 40% of UK turnover.

The initiative aims to encourage more advertising among SMEs with a targeted plan to launch new industry knowledge hubs, offering advice and information about advertising to SMEs. We will be running two pilots in Scotland and the West Midlands later this year and will be talking to local authorities, LEPs and other bodies about how they can help. Television has an important role to play in this strategy and we are keen to help SMEs understand how they can grow through advertising on media including TV.

However, beyond the economic factors underpinning the importance of advertising in a post-Brexit UK, our industry also has a significant social role to play. As participants in an advertising eco-system that embraces people of all genders, races, sexualities and identities equally, we must ensure our behaviour reflects the expectations of society, and therefore preserve our right to self-regulate properly and effectively. This social responsibility extends into areas for consideration surrounding gambling advertising, as well as HFSS food & drink, where we must take account of what the public and regulators wish to see from the advertising industry. As one of the most visible forums for advertising and one with near universal penetration, we know TV will play its part in being a ready and willing corporate citizen.

Ultimately, as professionals within the industry we all have a role to play in ensuring our products – advertisements – are trusted, valued and have a real economic and social impact. For over 90 years, the Advertising Association has been the voice of the sector and we are determined to continue promoting the role, rights and responsibilities of advertising at this pivotal time for our industry and the UK as a whole.

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