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Conservative Party Agency Digital Industry

General Election: WPP, Havas, VCCP, MediaCom, SMG, Publicis & more agency chiefs on what Tory win means for creative sectors & digital economy


By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

May 8, 2015 | 14 min read

It was a "difficult and disappointing" result for Labour, a "cruel and punishing night" for the Liberal Democrats and an "exciting" win for the Conservatives in the General Election.

At the time of writing, with 643 of the 650 seats declared, the Tories had secured 326 seats in Westminster to return David Cameron to Number 10. Both Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband have resigned, while Ukip leader Nigel Farage also stood down as the party managed to hang on to one seat after winning an estimated 13 per cent of votes.

In early trading, the City welcomed the result as the FTSE 100 index surged by two per cent.

But what does the Conservative victory mean for the creative and digital sectors? The Drum caught up with agency chiefs including WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell, MediaCom UK chief Karen Blackett, The&Partnership's Johnny Hornby, Dare CEO Leigh Thomas, Havas Media boss Paul Frampton and more to find out what the result means for business.

Karen Buchanan, chief executive, Publicis London

Today I had hoped we would be embarking on a new era supporting both the creative industries at a grass roots level. However, let’s hope the Conservatives up the ante in their pledge to both the creative industries via its technology policies in areas such as start-ups, broadband and digital public services.

In balance, the coalition government has overseen the rise in UK tech start-ups, and the Conservatives aim to continue that growth, especially in financial services. The manifesto claimed that if elected, the party would help new and existing challenger banks to inject fresh competition into the market for personal current accounts, mortgages and business loans, including through the British Business Bank, while backing the financial technology revolution, which is great for the tech industry and burgeoning businesses

However, its commitment to developing a body devoted to the creative industries and to introducing more apprenticeships into the sector is vital, as we need talent from all kinds of economic backgrounds contributing to our growth and helping to transform our businesses and our work with our clients.

Consequently I would like them to make a pledge to encourage school-level teenagers to explore the possibility a career in the creative industries, as they will soon be the next generation of CEOs, and will soon understand our commercial strength and how much we contribute to the UK's economy.

Where this government has not yet been clear is their understanding of the strength of the UK's digital economy, though they appear committed to investing in this area. If the Conservatives stick to their word, they will reap the commercial rewards and keep the UK's digital economy as a leader in Europe.

Paul Frampton, chief executive, Havas Media

Britain has voted for stability and to protect the economy. A Conservative victory is, in my humble opinion, the best thing for the creative and digital industries. Not only do they have the best track record and manifesto around investment in Digital Britain, the reality is that any change of government and disruption would have adversely affected our industry. Why? Because in reality, in the grand scheme of policy priorities, the creative industries are tertiary at best.

Stability is however good for the economy and the ad industry and a strong economy will mean greater confidence in the business sector and thus protect and hopefully grow advertising budgets. The ad industry already contributes £100bn in GDP and the early FTSE100 reaction (up two per cent) strongly suggests this is the result the economy wanted and needed.

The Tories have backed the start-up community and have pleasingly voiced a desire to invest in fintech, the sector that London really should lead in giving its strong financial and technology credentials. A Labour narrative and a commitment to investment in a digital economy and broadband infrastructure was noticeably absent.

The to-watch areas are how tough the Tories decide to be regarding privacy on the web and how they stand in terms of the planned EU legislation around cookies that could handicap growth in digital advertising. Overall, business as usual is the best outcome.

Lucy Jameson, chief executive, Grey London

From the conversations I have had, most of our clients will be happy with the result, on two counts. They favoured the Conservatives and were also worried by the prospect of an unclear result with protracted wrangling and uncertainty in the financial markets. When the exit poll came out the pound surged, so clients will welcome this promise of security.

But what about those of us in advertising agencies, who are traditionally far more left-leaning than our clients? Setting aside personal beliefs, promises to retain tax security for the creative industries are welcome. Tory pledges around increasing access to fast broadband and improving mobile coverage should accelerate the shift to digital media which has been slow in rural areas and outside London. That's exciting.

But question marks hang over how they plan to boost productivity, and whether the party has control of its somewhat destructive tendencies relating to Euroscepticism and opposing immigration. Creative industries thrive in Britain not just because of a generous tax system, but because of our openness to new ideas and people.

Finally, although this looks like a more decisive victory for Tories than expected, the biggest issue remains their ability to govern long term. At this stage, they look like having a small majority with few allies, after the Liberal Democrat wipeout and the SNP landslide. Robin Lustig suggests people may soon look back with fondness on the relative stability of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Uncertainty is not good for any of us.

Matt Charlton, chief executive, Brothers and Sisters

I think the Conservative win is actually good for businesses as a whole. But not by much. It means the markets won’t crash and the relationship between market confidence and politics has never been greater. The one thing the Conservatives understood better than any other party is that this is a core metric of any successful government now in 2015. Blair and Brown understood it, Milliband did not. On specific policies I still think the government are very unimaginative on ways to stimulate growth. Culturally I sense that they are happier to reward effort, risk and frankly aspiration vs the other parties. Which I do think is the stating point in the modern world we live in and the core of a true recovery.

Overall quite frankly it’s been a poor election and the leadership of politics lack people who are self made and have actually run businesses. The UK is still lacking in creating a true entrepreneurial culture. Having worked in the US I've seen how electric a truly entrepreneurial culture is, and with easy access to funds it’s incredible how fast growth can be stimulated and people mobilised. It’s a real energy source and it’s infectious and is devoid of cynism. And if you look at China we see that in buckets. I’d love us to start learning properly the lessons from places like China and of course the US, steal bits that will help us rather than having a small island mentality and bathing in cynicism.

In our industry we understand the huge implications the fast arriving internet of things is going to have on our lives and none of the parties seem to have much of a sense of how do utilise this revolution to be to all our advantage. There will be more new economies booming and more old economies dying fast. Be that Uber and taxis or Airbnb and hotels. It’s a time of true revolution. It seems like the big political tech policy is speeding up broadband, which feels like a must have but not much of an idea.

Johnny Hornby, chairman and chief executive, The&Partnership

It might be slightly unfortunate that David Cameron is not going to have the Liberal Democrats or any other force. Because of this slender majority – becuase of the people that were close to voting Ukip the far right is in an important position now – he cannot ignore those forces in his party with whom he disagrees in the way he could in the coalition. He didn’t want to be dragged to the right, but now he’s going to have to listen to them. And that’s a danger.

A lot of people have found this a difficult election. Because a lot of what Cameron had been doing has been good for business.

I don’t think he meant to promise a referendum on Europe. He promised it at the end of a week where George Osborne delivered a budget described as an omnishambles, when Miliband had gone to more than 40 points on the polls, and when rumours circulated that the Conservatives were going to defect to Ukip. He had to throw a bone and agree to a referendum.

With my business hat on that’s a worry. As a group of agencies that has international business, I haven’t found one international client who thinks a referendum is a good idea.

From a technology point of view and for entrepreneurs the Conservatives have been good and will continue to be good. They could be better for small businesses.

A decision is a good thing. Had we had three weeks of wrangling we could have seen a proper knock on the stock market. For the business environment, the result creates stability.

Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and chief executive, WPP

An extraordinary triumph for The Prime Minister and Lynton Crosby and the Scottish National Party. Now attention turns to the EU referendum, to the Union and the deficit. Not a good night for Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the pollsters.

Michael Sugden chief executive, VCCP

A Conservative government is the best result for our industry. For the creative sector to thrive we need two things. Firstly, a culture that rewards, not penalizes, success. Secondly we need regulation that encourages, not strangles, young and fragile entrepreneurial businesses. In my opinion, regardless of my personal political persuasion, only a Conservative government can effectively deliver these two things.

Three of the UK’s top ten creative agencies didn’t exist 15 years ago - VCCP, Adam & Eve and CHI (source: Nielsen 27.03.15). These entrepreneurial firecrackers keep our industry competitive. I believe this ultra-competitive landscape is what makes the UK’s creative sector world leaders.

This is something we should be immensely proud of but it relies on an environment where creative excellence is rewarded and young emerging competitors can flourish. We now have this for another five years, so it’s time to get busy!

Karen Blackett OBE, chief executive, MediaCom UK

Those of us in the ad industry know what a credible and significant sector we work in. Our £16bn of advertising spend contributes over £100bn to the UK economy. I hope the new government remembers this and acknowledges our contribution.

Our industry operates within a strict code of ethics which is self governing and effectively self policed. This is how good and successful businesses succeed, provide opportunities and contribute to the UK economy.‎ We need the new government to recognise this and allow this to continue. This will ensure the UK remains one of the leading and most admired markets for creativity around the world.

We have seen how the growth and changes in the digital landscape has created new opportunities. I hope this growth can continue to flourish and freedom of creativity remains unhindered by centralised command and control of the government.

Finally, I'm hoping that the new government will ensure that funding for apprenticeships in the creative industries increases, so that more businesses like mine can benefit from diverse and upcoming talent. The UK is a wonderful fruit salad of people (not that you'd know this watching both BBC and ITV election coverage last night!).

Apprenticeship schemes can ensure that businesses in the UK create opportunities for their workforce to reflect the UK population and the target audiences they are trying to reach and talk to, and by doing so creating opportunities to grow their businesses.

Steven Parker, co-chief executive, Starcom MediaVest Group

Despite all the polls and debates suggesting otherwise it looks increasingly likely that the Conservatives will have an outright majority, albeit a small one. The City has already reacted with the pound rising by 1.5-2 per cent. The message is clear: strong and clear leadership is good for business.

As an industry we have a collective responsibility to work hard with any party that governs. Over the last five years the coalition has certainly made progress across key areas such as broadband access, digital public services and start-ups - an area of particular interest to us at SMG. As the economy improves we would also expect more investment and support for the creative industries right across the board.

Discussions will now turn to the referendum on Europe and how the Conservatives will attempt to work with the SNP and other parties to reunite the UK whilst finding a balance on what "progressive politics" really means. All of which have implications for our business, our clients and our media partners.

Leigh Thomas, chief executive, Dare

The lazy analysis says that the Conservatives are the party of business, so adland should want Cameron as PM. But the new parliament will be fragile, and any decisive or bold investment in the digital and creative industry will be difficult to pull off.

The question for me is - do the Tories (or any other party of influence) understand that the creative application of digital technology could deliver better public services more efficiently, rather that the more blunt solution of expenditure cuts with which they are so obsessed?

This was articulated brilliantly by Martha Lane Fox at the Dimbleby Lecture recently.

In her words : ‘What digital is about, what the internet allows, is a radical redesign of services. Cheaper, better, faster..... A world where the internet is a tool for transforming the relationship between the state and the citizen, is not something driven by the need for economic efficiency alone.’

I haven’t heard that from our politicians, sadly.

Debbie Klein, chief executive, Engine Group

In the short term, the stability of another Cameron-led government will provide a temporary boost to business confidence. This may lead to increased investment and bigger budgets for creative and communications work.

However, we need to make sure that the inevitable referendum on Britain’s EU membership doesn’t undermine this secure investment environment. Either way, the looming referendum may well cause unavoidable headaches for businesses which operate across European markets.

It’s good to see that the impressive number of tech start-ups we’ve witnessed under the previous coalition government looks set to grow further, as the Conservative manifesto promises to continue investing in technology, particularly in financial services.

Alongside this, commitments to growing Broadband networks and digital public services are likely to support the continued growth of the digital economy. During this election campaign, social and digital work has proved itself in the toughest of climates – this can only be good news for the industry.

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