‘We would not invest further in our UK business’ after Brexit, says Ogilvy global exec Paul O’Donnell

Ogilvy & Mather’s European figurehead has said that the agency would not invest further in the UK if the Leave campaign wins the EU referendum.

Paul O’Donnell, Ogilvy’s worldwide executive director and EMEA chairman, argued that a Brexit would result in a “huge decline” in business, damage London’s status as a creative powerhouse and cause talent to leave for other cities.

Speaking as part of a marketing industry referendum debate on The Drum’s Advertising Week Europe bus, O’Donnell said: “We’re sitting in the creative centre of the world. The talent that has been drawn to the EU and the flexibility we have within the confines of the EU structure means that this is the most flexible and creative powerhouse in Europe. I do believe, if we were to leave, that there are plenty of other places in Europe that would be net beneficiaries. There’s not one place talent would move to… but Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris would over time pick up business based on client needs and London as a centre would decline."

He went on to predict how a British exit from the EU might impact Ogilvy from an agency perspective, saying: “Certainly we would not invest further in our UK business in a non-EU environment. We would have to make investments elsewhere to serve our clients. Not one of our clients has increased their budgets this year which is in part due to the uncertainty in markets. But the rest of it is down to huge global uncertainties, number one of which for us is the EU position. Should we vote to leave I see huge decline in our business this year as a shop, and I think we will have seen the high point of the creative services industry in London. From [then on] it will be a slow and maybe more dramatic decline.”

O'Donnell was joined on the panel by Havas European and UK chief executive Chris Hirst and The Drum's managing director Diane Young, who both offered a more circumspect view on what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Asked if his agency would lose business because of it, Hirst said: “I’m certainly not in the ‘it’s definitely apocalyptic if we leave’ camp. On balance I find it difficult to see how it becomes significantly better if we leave. And therefore I feel very much that the downside risks outweigh the upside. No I don’t think my clients are going to ring up and fire us. But I don’t think it’s going to make life any easier, frankly, if we vote to leave, and life in business is already difficult enough."

Young argued that leaving Europe could actually be empowering for UK agencies, saying: "I think it’s quite a negative view that London with all its creativity, all its skill, all its talent, could have such a spectacular fall. There are other markets in the world that London and UK based agencies are selling to. There are lots of other opportunities out there for people who are so skilled, and so creative and so admired around the world as the people here in the UK in this industry are.

"I think it will be as the same as any other thing that affects loss of business – our job as leaders of our business is to find new business in other places and I believe what we’ve got is really sellable and really admired across the world."

The Brexit debate was the first in a series of events The Drum will be hosting on its Advertising Week Europe bus. You can follow all our coverage from Advertising Week Europe on our dedicated hub.

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Cameron Clarke

Cameron Clarke is The Drum's Deputy Editor, and has covered the marketing industry for the title for a decade. Based in the UK, he is now primarily responsible for commissioning and editing The Drum's opinion coverage. He also writes features about brands with unorthodox approaches to media and marketing, such as Brewdog, Patagonia and De Correspondent.

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