Culture secretary Karen Bradley: ‘The government has never seen the ad industry as peripheral’

AA LEad conference 2017

Secretary of State for culture, media and sport Karen Bradley urged the advertising industry today (26 January) to make its voice heard ahead of the first wave of Brexit negotiations later this year.

It was Bradley’s first address to the advertising industry since she was appointed as part of PM Theresa May’s new government and her pun-filled speech which borrowed one-liners from some of the most famous ads didn’t hold back in its flattery of the sector in recognition of its contribution to the British economy.

Describing it as one of the nation’s “major success stories”, she said advertising was “vital for the success of the UK” and as such had the full weight of the government behind it.

“I want to be clear that the government has never seen you as peripheral,” she told the room of delegates at the Advertising Association’s annual LEAD conference.

“Our aim is to forge new relationships while remaining open to international talent. But I’m conscious that UK advertising feels that certain aspects of EU wide co-operation have been helpful but also that certain legislation is harmful. I want to hear from you on the opportunities and limitations of success as we approach our negotiations. And as we engage in negotiations with the EU, the advertising industry can help us make the case by providing us with data and knowledge.”

She urged agencies and brands alike to feed into the conversation through her department with examples of what works and doesn’t, particularly around issues such as hiring foreign talent.

One contentious point that she raised outside of Brexit was the current gambling review. Bradley said it was a “concern” among her constituents and so “impossible not to explore”. The findings of that review are due in the Spring.

However, her fleeting appearance at the event (13 minutes in all) didn’t appease everyone as she failed to fully address worries around immigration and whether the industry would be able to push forward plans for "special visas."

Her words may also have fallen flat given data from advertising think-tank Credos and Deloitte - revealed today - that found that one fifth (22%) of the 200 businesses it surveyed had reported lost business or contracts since the vote, while six out of ten respondents (62%) felt the decision had negatively affected the outlook for their businesses.

Adam&Eve DDB founder James Murphy admitted that his agency lost £3m in contracts immediately after the vote and following May's speech at Davos earlier this month - where she promised a firm exit from the single market - he also said a global company looking to centralise its marketing in London had since changed its mind in favour of a more diffused set-up across Europe.

In a comment that might have added to cynical feels in the room, political journalist Steve Richards suggested that her “positive words” to the industry will not mean anything without Number 10 and that link will be increasingly strained as Brexit negotiations deepen.

"The positive words you heard earlier this morning are pretty close to the number 10 view, with the qualification that [May] is quite happy to be our nanny and to intervene at certain points. It’s number 10 that is the key office deciding all these things. It’s great to have the engagement you have with the department of culture but as with Gordon Brown everything, starts and ends in number 10. But they won’t be able to keep it up," he said.

"In other words, the department of culture will become autonomous quite quickly, not because Teresa May wants it to be – she doesn’t. She is not going to have the time to micro manage the culture department or the business department or anything to do with your immediate concerns. Brexit is going to suck her up."

Siobhan Kenny, chief executive at the Radiocentre, was equally sceptical. She said that it is wanting to see Bradley “put her money where her mouth is”.

“If you look at the government spending plan they’ve cut £1bn out of the communications budget over the past four years,” she said.

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