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Ed Vaizey's #Vexit interview: ‘Advertising doesn't ask a lot of government - and that’s a problem’

It’s been one week since Ed Vaizey MP took to Twitter to announce his self-proclaimed #Vexit at the hands of Theresa May. The Drum headed to Westminster to catch up with the former minister of state for culture and the digital economy on his tenure in office, and reflect on ad land’s global place in the post-Brexit world.

The outgoing minister was quick to tell The Drum that as his replacement Matthew Hancock takes the reigns, the advertising industry has to make a point of getting on his radar – and fast – revealing that one of the challenges he faced during his tenure was overseeing a sector that is happy to go it alone. And that sometimes means it’s forgotten about at the highest level.

The MP is undoubtedly optimistic about the output of the creative industries (he believes they “really have taken centre stage” since 2010), however his work with the ad industry is distinctly notable from his highlights reel. Vaizey explains this is – quite paradoxically – due to the industry’s strength; it’s a sector that’s self-serving, self-helping and to some extent, self-governing

“I don't think advertising gets the credit it deserves in government because advertising doesn't actually come with a lot of asks of government,” he explained. “Funnily enough that's a problem - ministers deal with industries when they're coming and asking for something, and advertising doesn't ask for things.”

Yet with Brexit and all its uncertainties looming, there’s no doubt the commercial creative industries will join every sector in looking to the new government for guidance. Vaizey advocated small changes, such as making sure politicians attend industry events, in order to get advertising back on the political map.

“Is sounds a bit facile but [advertisers] need ministers to recognise just how successful our advertising industry is,” he said. “[It’s one of] the few actual global industries we have - a lot of UK advertising agencies are global in scale.”

Brexit woes

The MP voted to remain on 23 June, and still holds his concerns about the ramifications of Brexit. These hold true particularly for the big networks that house their European and global headquarters in the UK, and as Vaizey puts it: “A client could have their Spanish advertising team actually based in London because they want to concentrate the creativity and the expertise. So it's really important that access to European markets isn't curtailed.”

He is also wary of how a departure from the EU will affect advertising regulations, yet a possible blockage of creative talent is his main concern. He explained: “I think that the advertising industry is entitled to call on a global talent pool and in particular, if you're a global agency, you want people from different markets to be working in your agency because the Spanish market or the French market is a different market from the UK market.”

Handing the baton

The politician who will have to deal with these problems if and when they arise is Hancock. Tellingly the job title has switched slightly to bill digital higher than culture (Hancock is minister of state for digital and culture, whereas Vaizey was minister for culture and the digital economy), a possible omen for the already underfunded arts world.

Nevertheless, Vaizey is diplomatically positive about the government’s desire to take the creative industries seriously, stating he has “never seen anything that would lead me to believe that Theresa May wouldn't be open to promoting the creative industries and seeing their success.”

He is also supportive of the new minister to the point of being self-effacing.

“Matt Hancock is very able, very talented and very well-connected in the government so he'll be a great advocate for the marketing industry and indeed for all the creative industries,” he said.

“The easiest way to erase the memory of Ed Vaizey - and I'll be very pleased if he does - is to come up with some fantastic initiatives. I’d say to Matt that the industry needs attention.

"These industries really rate people who engage with them and talk to them. You don't need to be a minister who comes armed with a policy - come armed ready to listen and ready to take them seriously.”

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