Tom Knox: Now is the time for advertising to prove its value to UK PLC

By Tom Knox,, Thursday, 08 December 2011 08:00AM

The last Perspective of 2011 and time to take stock.

Tom Knox is the joint chief executive of DLKW Lowe

Tom Knox is the joint chief executive of DLKW Lowe

For most in our industry and the UK as a whole, 2011 has been a tough year that is ending with a blizzard of negative economic news, not least the youth unemployment stats that Charlie Rudd rightly highlighted last week.

What really got me thinking, though, was what Charlie had to say about how the industry has fallen behind in the pecking order of career options for graduates/young people and what that says about the broader perception of the value of advertising to UK PLC.

I was lucky enough to graduate in the so-called Lawson boom. Advertising and banking vied with each other as the glamorous choice for me and my contemporaries. OK, you got paid a bit more in the City, but it was nowhere near as much fun. Why was that the case in 1987 and why is it perceived to be less so today?

Back then, advertising seemed more powerful and central to the commercial and cultural life of the nation. The Thatcher government had (at least according to popular belief) been elected on the back of the Saatchi brothers' brilliant campaigning and advertising seemed to be part of the brave new world being built in our green and pleasant land.

Fast forward to 2011 and advertising is assailed on all sides.

The Coalition Government has dismantled COI; the spectre of increased regulation is more present than ever; and our industry finds itself on the defensive, trying to rebut the lazy slur that we are a key part of the problem that got us into the mess in which we currently find ourselves.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

While the politicians will argue forever about fiscal policy, one thing we can all agree on is the need for growth. And the single most important attribute of advertising is that it is an engine for growth.

If engineering cost-cutting synergies floats your boat, the marble halls of banking and management consultancy beckon.

But if you want to be at the heart of the engine that will drive real economic growth - which is the only way we are going to get out of this mess - there's no better place to be than in an advertising agency.

So here's an early New Year's resolution: let's stand up for what we do in generating growth. Let's take pride in what is still one of the most exciting, enjoyable and, yes, socially beneficial careers you can pursue.

From the evidence of our recent graduate intakes, we can still attract wonderful talent - and, besides, who wants to be a banker now?

Tom Knox is the joint chief executive of DLKW Lowe.

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