Regulation Politics Marketing

Talent and trust are still the biggest challenges facing the industry


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

January 27, 2023 | 8 min read

The 2023 Lead conference took place this week, featuring insight from government, practitioners and campaigners for net zero. Here are the key takeaways from the event.

Alessandra Bellini on stage at LEAD 2023

The industry came together to discuss the biggest challenges facing it in 2023

The Advertising Association's annual conference was held for the first time since the pandemic. Among the speakers were DCMS secretary Michelle Donelan, her opposition counterpart Lucy Powell, and representatives of trade bodies the AA, ISBA and IPA.

Here's a round-up of the key priorities for the industry.

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Wage data

The prevailing theme of the sessions was the need for rapid change when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. It was noted by Lucy Powell and Tesco chief marketing officer and AA president Alessandra Bellini that internal and external factors are having a deleterious effect on the UK’s ability to attract creatives.

Bellini shared a stat demonstrating that wages within the industry have fallen relative to CPI, GDP and even salaries across other industries. Despite that, she believes that there are other considerations young people have when considering their future careers: “But we also know that people want people to feel valued, they need to feel invested in. And it’s not just a salary.

“I think we need to look at a total employable proposition. So what is this industry about? What are the career paths that you can have? And how flexible is it to move from one lane to the other? How much are you going to learn and grow and have skills that are transferable and then the excitement and the value that you contribute to society? Then you add the lens of inclusivity, do you feel represented in this industry? Do you feel you're contributing to the planet's health?”

No way in

Powell, meanwhile, noted that there are vanishingly few opportunities for young talent to find their way into the industry. She told The Drum: “I think of young people in my constituency of Manchester Central – which in many ways is very happening and trendy. It is also one of the poorest and most deprived constituencies. Young people would really aspire to work in the creative industries… but what they don’t have is the connection between that creative mind and accessing jobs.”

To that end, she said that a Labour government would reform the apprenticeship levy, to make it easier for young people to gain entrance to the industry.

The call to open the funnel was echoed across the day, with Natalie Trye, BRiM lead at Meta, noting that while the industry is making steps in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to be done around inclusion. Stephen Woodford, the AA's chief executive, said: “Working with our members on a new three-year plan to make our industry more trusted, more inclusive and more sustainable will be key to attracting and retaining the very best talent. People want to be proud of the industry in which they work and to be confident that they can learn and grow throughout their career.”

Evidence-based policy

From the very first session, a pre-recorded video from DCMS secretary Michelle Donelan, the panels focused on the importance of evidence-led government policies. It was a tacit admission that some moves made by her predecessor Nadine Dorries were led by ideology rather than evidence, including the mooted privatization of Channel 4.

Donelan also stated that the industry “has a real ally in me” due to her previous work in the media and marketing world, and said she would be pursuing a ‘common sense’ approach to regulation in and around the marketing industry. She said, of online safety, that her priority is “to make sure regulation is fit for purpose in a digital age”.

It was an approach welcomed by Margaret Jobling, CMO of Natwest and ISBA president, who stated that the industry would welcome a long-term strategy rather than the piecemeal approach pursued over the past few years. Powell also stated that Labour would be working on an evidence-based proposition, noting that it was extremely disappointing to her personally that aspects of the Online Safety Bill appeared to have been watered down without heed of the evidence.

Solving and salvaging trust

Trust in advertising remained a core topic of the conference, returning from previous years as a dominant issue facing the industry. Panelists shared their thoughts on the causes of low public trust in advertising - with bombardment and retargeting still considered some of the worst offenders.

Bellini told The Drum: “I think the logic of understanding what makes people feel less trustworthy towards the industry has been diagnosed, and we need to continue to focus on that. We can’t lose track of why people feel like that."

However, she noted that it is too large an issue for industry bodies to tackle alone, stating that brands have a role to play: “We’ve also seen using something like the ASA campaign, in terms of third-party endorsements, how big advertisers and advertising brands can contribute to, you know, being very serious and responsible.”

Julian Douglas, CEO and vice-chairman of VCCP, said that despite those issues around bombardment, he was confident that smart deployment of technology in the industry would alleviate some of the concerns around effectiveness. He also stated, however, that the headwinds facing the industry from the cost of living crisis are “plain to see”.

It’s clear that, despite optimism around some of the topics discussed, marketing professions are still grappling with the twin challenges of talent and trust.

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