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By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

October 17, 2017 | 5 min read

The Advertising Association is leading an industry-wide campaign to ensure the UK government maintains sensible immigration controls after Brexit. Interviews with prominent ad figures shared the benefits of overseas talent in the "a Great Advert for Britain" drive which launched earlier today (Tuesday 17 October).

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, boasted of the "industry-first" campaign, informed by a partnership with Microsoft’s professional social network LinkedIn. 'A Great Advert for Britain' was created to show how an open immigration system has helped attract global talent to British shores, in London, and beyond (57% of the UK advertising workforce works in the regions).


Woodford told The Drum that he wants agencies and advertisers to lobby the government for sensible immigration controls in the knowledge that we "have to be open to the brightest and best from around the world and make it as easy as possible for them to comer and live and work here".

Rather than cajoling members into a Leave/Remain dynamic, Woodford assured: “We are not talking a stance on Brexit, but we are taking a stance on what would make Brexit fail.”

It comes after the industry body held an event with the former chancellor of the exchequer – and now editor of the Evening Standard - George Osborne warned that the industry "shouldn’t be shy about making your voice heard."

The ad industry sees a turnover of £120bn annually and contributes £10bn to the creative industries as a whole. More importantly, there are one million jobs on the line in the UK, any change in how networks and agencies attract talent puts this dynamic at risk.

Open source campaign

Woodford hopes to catalyse the industry around the campaign. “We want all of our brand owners, media companies, production companies, agencies, and everybody whose business depends on international talent, to take it on. We hope for a big industry push to make sure that our voice is heard when it comes to shaping what the immigration policy is post-Brexit.”

As part of an “open source” campaign, Woodford also outwardly urged those in the health, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing or services trades to pitch in and alert the government that “we need to keep attracting the best to work here, we will need that even more so when leave the EU”.

If the campaign fails and an unappealing immigration stance is implemented, there will be a “gradual long-term erosion, we will lose jobs and influence,” said Woodford.

“If we have a restrictive, bureaucratic or off-putting immigration system in place, there won’t be a change overnight, the talent will drift away, they will go to other places, other places that would love to see us put tougher immigration policies in place.”

James Murphy, group chief executive and chairman of the Advertising Association and chief executive of Adam&EveDDB, which helped deliver the campaign, said: "British advertising leads the world by being open to the world. Foreign talent plays a vital part in this success and any admin, time or cost barriers to sourcing that talent will affect our ability to compete globally.”

Industry response

Chris Hirst, chairman of Havas UK and chief executive of Europe, contributed to the debate, Brexit and the threat to creative culture and talent cannot be over-stated.

"The issue is particularly acute for younger people - the established stars will always be able to come. The issue is, in the creative community the real energy comes when people make the leap from unknown to established. We want that energy here and Brexit will undoubtedly make that harder," he said.

Matt Charlton, chief executive of Brothers and Sisters pitched in too: "My view on this is simple. There is no question that the overarching message is right. Making it much more difficult for international talent to come is a huge problem. And its not just the actual process it is the emotional feeling of not being welcome or wanted.

"UK advertising is a key global hub now adopting a parochial attitude to talent. Whatever the process ends up being, we all have to make sure that if nothing else we extend a huge warm welcome and provide greater hospitality than ever before to those people thinking of living here."

Sue Eustace, director public affairs at the Advertising Association, unearthed the fact that the campaign will be the first time the trade body has itself advertised since 1938, adding some weight to the drive.

Accompanying the drive is the Advertising Association's sixth annual Advertising Pays report. It found that there are 328,000 UK advertising and marketing professionals on LinkedIn. A total of 43% were based in London and 57% across the regions.

LinkedIn ranks London as having a greater volume of advertising and marketing minds, roughly 556 from every 10,000 people on LinkedIn in London. This measures favourably against other hubs like New York (503), Sydney (483), Paris (427) and Amsterdam (418).

In about one month's time, the Advertising Association will release the second stage of the ‘A Great Advert for Britain’ campaign, looking at how foreign talent has strengthen the creative industries outside of London. This will result in another ad push, that may centre around Manchester, the second largest advertising hub in the UK.

Various prominent industry figures contributed to the campaign, watch their video interviews here.

Talent Advertising Association Brexit

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