So, there we have it. After five weeks of campaigning the dust settles on yet another national poll and there is a clear mandate for the new Conservative government. While Christmas for most of us means relaxing at home with family and friends, the coming weeks in Downing Street will be a whirlwind of activity as the prime minister appoints his new Cabinet and the wheels of Whitehall grind into gear again for what will be an unprecedentedly dramatic New Year start for parliamentary business, getting the ‘oven-ready’ Withdrawal agreement into law by the end of January.
From an advertising industry point of view, we look forward to working with (another) new secretary of state at DCMS, following Nicky Morgan’s decision to step down, which we were sorry to see, as we had high hopes for working with her, based on her few weeks in the role before the election.
But what does the result of the General Election mean for advertising and, looking forward to the years ahead, what do we need to see from the political system to enable us to thrive? Advertising’s importance to the UK economy cannot be overstated. It is a driver of economic growth and competition. Every pound spent on advertising returns £6 to GDP. Advertising spend is forecasted to reach over £24.7bn this year and this will result in over £148bn to GDP, supporting 1 million jobs across the UK.
Firstly, we look forward to hearing more about the details of the Government plans for our future trading relationship with the EU. Brexit has dominated the past three years of our national life. It seems to have taken up all available bandwidth in Parliament, across Whitehall, and in our national media, with the bulk of that debate only focused on how we are leaving. We are a global hub for the advertising industry, but this status is dependent on securing the best-possible future deal with the EU, with a regulatory environment that enables the free flow of data and services across borders and a flexible, growth-friendly migration system that allows the UK to continue to welcome the best global talent to work here. This is vital to our future success and we will be continuing to make the case for this to Government in 2020 and beyond.
Advertising is also a key driver of export growth - and it is the fastest-growing of all Britain’s services exports. Our success overseas saw exports of advertising services reach £6.9bn according to the latest available figures, an increase of 18% on the year before. This gives us the largest trade surplus in Europe for our sector. As we leave the EU, it is vital that we to further strengthen and build on the UK’s status as the world centre for advertising. To support future growth, the AA, IPA, DMA and APA are launching the UK Advertising Export Group (UKAEG) to grow exports of advertising and marketing services around the world, to support the international growth of UK advertising and marketing services companies and to build on the UK’s position as a global advertising hub. We are partnering with Government in UKAEG to accelerate profile and lead generation opportunities in key international territories including China, Japan, South Korea, North America and Europe. We also look forward to building on this relationship with Government as part of the UK presence at Cannes Lions this summer.
But, as unlikely as it might sometimes seem these days, there is life beyond the Brexit debate. We’re also looking forward to hearing how economic growth and prosperity can be shared more widely across the country. The stark regional variations in the results we saw at this election demonstrate the importance of making sure the potential of all parts of the country and all communities are realised. Advertising has a unique ability to foster growth among businesses of all shapes and sizes and drives economic progress across the nations and regions. We need to encourage more SMEs and start-ups to advertise so that they can reach their potential and contribute to the economic resurgence and growth of all parts of the UK.
At community level, advertising has an often-unsung role in contributing to a sense of place and local wellbeing. There are examples up and down the country of where advertising helps communities, from the ITV’s support for The Daily Mile, encouraging schoolchildren to exercise more, to helping to promote diversity and inclusion through agency and media owner support for projects like 56 Black Men, to the inventory that industry donates to local projects throughout the UK. The issue of trust was a topic of much discussion in the election campaign and in an era of declining public trust in industry and politics, it is up to us in advertising to reach out to the public and rebuild consumer faith in our message and the way we work.
As well as our own efforts to rebuild trust, we should recognise and celebrate the fact that the industry’s self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority, provides a model that is admired and a system adopted around the world. While we recognise that statutory regulation is sometimes necessary, regulation should always be evidence-based, whether that be in HFSS advertising or any other area of our industry and we look forward to presenting our case to Government in this area as in many others.
Whatever the coming months and years bring, it is no exaggeration to say that the UK leads the world for advertising and marketing services. We will be working hard with our new Government to ensure we have the best possible circumstances to build on these successful foundations.
Stephen Woodford is the chief executive of the Advertising Association