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Talent EU Referendum Recruitment

Why Brexit will not stop Europe’s finest marketing talent coming to London

By Richard Robinson, managing partner

August 15, 2016 | 7 min read

I’ve recently returned from the International Advertising School in Berlin where I was one of the lecturers on a unique, week-long course for 100 final year students at top European universities plus agency staffers in their first and second years of employment. The emphasis was on participatory learning, practical mentoring and enabling a new wave of European ad stars to embrace the important stuff that will propel them to the top. Among the lecturers was the legendary Steve Henry, the highly thought-provoking Dietmar Dahmen and (er) me!


There, I found students and first jobbers with an energy level and focus that looked you in the eye and said ‘fuck you Brexit, I won’t let you take my future’. It was inspiring to be part of, but more inspiring to hear first-hand from the generation that will shortly be mining the insights, leading the strategy and delivering the campaigns that clients will buy. If this talent no longer see London as a viable destination, then it is game over as the city limits itself to UK-only hires, and loses its long-held magnetism as a melting pot of geographically diverse talent from multiple countries. As Yorick Bernard, from the Hogeschool in Gent, succinctly put it: “I’ve been thinking about coming to London ever since I got into advertising. It’s the pinnacle of any career in the industry”.

What I learnt was striking. The good news is that London will prevail and win, but it will do this because European talent sees Brexit as just another hurdle thrown down by the elders to overcome if they’re to fulfil their dreams and potential. Yorick continued: “Brexit doesn’t change things, I genuinely don’t believe it’ll be as bad as people are saying. C’mon, we’ve lived through the economic crisis and that wasn’t really a crisis at all for us”.

Relentless competition for jobs, the economic crisis, questions over the validity of their recently learnt curriculums, the need to fund and support a rapidly ageing population, rising taxes and mass immigration to Europe caused by wars and political decisions taken a decade ago by unknown politicians are challenges that this group take for granted. “People will still find a way to get to London if you ever leave the EU. That’s what we do, we find the solutions,” said Annemieke Peters from Fontys University in Eindhoven. This was backed up by Kirsten van Beuzekom from the University of Twente, who said: “London still has the best creativity in Europe. We will get there if we want to.”

Throughout the discussions three immediate themes came through:

Brexit (yet again) proves the only person youth can trust is themselves

London is still seen as one of the top creative hubs in the world despite Brexit. European talent overwhelmingly wants IN to London, but they know that if they’re going to get there they need to make it happen for themselves because they can’t trust the elders to do it for them – ie they see this as a personal challenge that they need to face and solve. Annemieke continued: “Look, I’ve got a visa for New York, nobody helped me get this apart from me. So if I can do that, London will be easy.”

We can still get to London if we want to

Angela Antoniou, until recently from Cyprus and now working for Mediavest in Dublin, said: “Brexit is just another step on top of high competition for jobs, but London isn’t going to stop being a vibrant city full of opportunities.” Fenja Wohlers from Sudler & Hennessey in Frankfurt added: “I’m afraid of the visa situation, but I expect employers to help get people there, to make sure you have the right people there. It’ll be OK.”

We don’t believe the hype

Nobody believes it’ll be as bad as the predictions. Carlotta Igqualada, originally from Spain and now working for Innocean in London, said: “London is a multicultural city, everyone’s in it together but all we’ve heard is lies and witnessed British people believing them. Soon we’ll see it’s OK.” Wouter Twybens from PXL School, Hasselt, added: “The work we want to do has got nothing to do with politics, the people will still be the same, and the work that gets done will still get done”.

However it’s not all rosy for London, as three stark warnings emerged that could topple the city’s crown.

The rise of Paris

Of all career destinations outside London, Paris emerged as the clear favourite. “The culture is really creative, and it's more socially mobile. The agencies think really differently because the staff have had to struggle to get to the top,” said Kirsten van Beuzekom. Wouter Twybens added: “Paris has already established itself and they’re ready to profit from London, to attract more people like us and to be the London of the future." Barbara van Heijst from Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool in Antwerp concluded: “Coming to London will ultimately depend on how the UK recovers socially and economically from Brexit, because the agencies may suffer from a poor economy. London was always high on my list but if you go abroad you want it to be worth it”.

Question marks over whether British people will welcome their talent

Carlotta Igqualada was frank in saying: “London is a multicultural city where everyone pulls together, I love it here but now I’m not so sure. It feels like people are pulling London apart." Angela Antoniou added: “This feels like the UK is shutting me out, they’re trying to make it harder for me to get there.” And Fenja Wohlers concluded: “I think the people who made this decision were older, and still influenced by events that happened in Europe a long time ago."

The brands will come to me

Many talked about talent moving to London because the brands are there to brief the agencies. However, as Kirsten van Beuzekom asked: "What if the brands and businesses move because of Brexit? Suddenly being Dutch gives me a big advantage, because what if the businesses come to Amsterdam? I’ll be the person in the right place to get that job.” Barbara van Heijst added: “If I’m abroad I need the experience to be positive on my CV and for my life. Will London still give me this if the briefs are no longer there?”

So where does this leave us? Wouter Twybens said it well: “The future will depend on how everything goes. Nobody knows what will happen, but we still see London as the Mecca of advertising."

I predict that there will be no shortage of talent still coming to London, and this talent is preparing to be more resourceful than ever before to achieve their dreams.

Richard Robinson is managing partner at Oystercatchers. He tweets @LondonRobinson

Talent EU Referendum Recruitment

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