Keep an eye out for those grey swans
A view from Maisie McCabe

Keep an eye out for those grey swans

Whatever challenges are thrown adland's way when the ramifications of Brexit become known, it is up to the industry to be ready for them.

What a 12 months we’ve had. What were your predictions for the year? If you anticipated the celebrity serial killer, Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory, then well done you. Hopefully you put your lunch money on an accumulator and are now able to retire/put everything behind that new household product idea/launch the agency you’ve always dreamed of.

Your personal pleasure in the unfolding drama – as enough major world events for a decade occurred in a single year – is likely to have been dependent on your political allegiance. Oh, and how much you hated stars who rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s. But professionally, surely no-one can have found the uncertainty a positive experience.

According to Zenith, the UK was the "standout market" in western and central Europe over the four years from 2012. In December 2015, Zenith described the UK’s predicted 9.7% ad growth in 2016 as "stellar". That time is over. Yes, it’s settled at 5%, putting it ahead of much of the region, but a 50% decline is a high price to pay for sovereignty. And you’d hardly have cashed your chips in for half the forecast growth this time last year.

Last weekend, it emerged that Theresa May is aping Sir Martin Sorrell’s approach to financial language. Just as he publicised grey swans (threats we know about but don’t know the impact of) – distinct from black (events that come as a surprise) and white (happenings we can reliably predict the effect of) – we now have the idea of a "grey Brexit". The Sunday Times reported that this new third way would plot a route between the "black-and-white demands" of the extreme Brexiters and remainers.

It is hugely important that advertising is represented in these discussions and not drowned out by the rest of the creative industries. 

The lobbying has begun. Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford has met with Brexit secretary David Davis, and digital minister Matt Hancock attended an AA meeting last month. Are you most worried about trade, access to talent or the legal and regulatory framework? Make sure the AA knows what you want from the negotiations.

As Martin Niemöller wrote so powerfully, it is important to take a stand. Just because you didn’t agree with the choice of path doesn’t mean you can’t have a say in the final journey. In addition to any formal role, have a think about the other ways you can make a difference. Creature of London gave its staff an hour off to do something nice the day Trump was elected. I hear Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive Robert Senior has offered David Miliband’s International Rescue Committee some office space in Charlotte Street.

Miliband returning to UK politics may be worth a wager when you fill in your betting slip for 2017. But – as this year has shown – even though you might not get as big a return on them, it’s the grey swans you should be most worried about.

maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com 
@maisiemccabe

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