The new minister for culture and the digital economy Matthew Hancock has moved to reassure the UK’s advertisers that he understands their biggest concerns following the referendum but deemed it too early into the role to share his own views on any of them.
Hancock, who replaces Ed Vaizey in prime minister Theresa May’s retooled cabinet, gave very little away in his opening address to the industry last night (20 July). In a carefully worded but forward-looking speech at the Advertising Association’s summer reception, the politician skirted around advertisers’ big concerns of regulation and the free movement of talent following the Brexit vote but did assure the industry that it “matters enormously”.
Such trepidation is to be expected from a minister just days into a post, and Hancock, who gamely replaced former minister for culture, media & sport John Whittingdale as the event’s guest speaker, was more confident outlining his agenda for a Brexit Britain ad industry. “The legal, truthful, honest and decent approach to advertising in the UK is incredibly important,” he continued.
“Entrenching these principles through behaviour rather than through statutory means is very important to me...we are the undisputed hub of advertising in Europe and possibly the world and I want to work with you to make sure that remains the same for generations to come.”
For that to happen, the minister doesn’t think it right to rock a creative sector that is worth almost £10m an hour to the economy. Rather, initial efforts should be channelled around three areas.
The first is to ensure that the industry secures a stronger relationship with Europe, with advertisers encouraged to send him their concerns so that they can inform the negotiations process. Outside of Europe, Hancock said a post Brexit Britain meant the industry should go out to the rest of the world and “strike deals that we haven’t been able to do before”. Lastly, Hancock (lightly) touched on the immigration issue that’s swelling post Brexit, arguing that advertisers to “win” the argument – “we need to argue that Brexit Britian needs to open; needs to be inclusive; we need to make sure that it works for all…and in a way it falls on each generation to win these arguments and boy have we been thrown into the deep end of the ever-moving times of events,” he added.
Question marks linger as to how quickly Hancock will get a handle on some of the big issues at play, though unlike his new boss and Whittingdale’s replacement Karen Bradley, he is well versed in advertising. As minister for the Cabinet Office, the politician was responsible for the government’s communication strategy and its overall ad budget, a point he was quick to make light of given the ill-fated campaigning for a ‘Remain’ vote.
“I have experience as a significant buyer of advertising,” assured Hancock. “We worked very hard with the government’s communication service to be a smarter buyer of advertising, especially to deconflict some of the purchasing, while also smartening up the impact of our ad buying."
Keen to show his ties to the industry go even deeper, the minister revealed that advertising – or rather direct marketing – was the reason he moved into politics. After his parents’ direct marketing firm was hit by the “harrowing moment” that was the recession in the early 90s, Hancock's interest in economics grew, which led him to work as economic adviser to the government before becoming taking on a permanent role in the Conservative party.
“Matt Hancock's message to adland was well informed, clearly reflected a keen interest in our challenges and how our small bit of the creative industries can help the UK make a success of Brexit.” Ian Twinn, who was at the event and is ISBA’s director of public affairs.
Anecdotally, those in attendance at the event seemed encouraged by Hancock’s words. Marketers and agencies had been unsure how May’s government would treat the industry, ruffled by the arrival of Bradley, who has limited knowledge of the sector. However, Hancock’s opening address is another piece of a post Brexit Britain puzzle that will take some time before the picture becomes clear.