Lord Puttnam warns ad industry: trust is the most urgent task ahead

Advertising must rebuild trust with consumers, warned Lord Puttnam in a speech to industry leaders last night.

Lord Puttnam: addresses the IPA
Lord Puttnam: addresses the IPA

The Labour peer and former film producer, who worked alongside Charles Saatchi and Sir Alan Parker at Collett Dickenson Pearce in its glory days in the 60s, spoke at the opening night of the IPA’s Festival of British Advertising in London.

As the IPA moves into its second century, Puttnam argued, "no more urgent task lies ahead" for the industry than the process of rebuilding trust.

He said: "There can be no evasions or excuses, we have to dig very deep, uncynically analyse what’s gone so badly wrong, and throw this sector’s undoubted muscle into finding what I’d describe as a new, and far more sustainable, ‘social settlement’."

However, Puttnam cited the recent Edelman Trust Barometer as a sign that "it’s very, very hard to find much encouraging news" when it comes to the issue of trust in advertising.

He also pointed to the wider problem of trust in institutions, including the government and the media, and warned: "Every one us has a colossal job on our hands in the process of recreating trust."

Concerns over trust have plagued the industry, particularly in the digital supply chain. This morning the News Media Association called for an investigation into Google, Facebook and the digital advertising supply chain in a bid to combat fake news.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard was repeatedly name-checked at yesterday's ISBA conference after his rallying cry in January about "murky" and "fraudulent practices.

Yesterday the IPA published a list of "adland’s game changers" of the last 100 years as part of the British Festival of Advertising, which is running this week.

Lord Puttnam’s speech in full:

Good evening.

Try to imagine yourself, a messenger just turned seventeen, racing out of the office at 5.30 three evenings of every week, to get to one or other "evening class" at a variety of locations in Central London, and then sitting there until nine before catching an empty tube home to the further reaches of North London.

And almost sixty years later, find yourself addressing this glittering gathering of adland's finest at the Centenary Celebrations of the cause of all that early pain.

If you can get your head around that you’ll begin to understand the somewhat "out of body" experience I’m having right now.

It’s been quite a journey – for the Institute and me.

Of the two of us I’d suggest the Institute is showing rather less signs of wear and tear.

If anything, in most important respects, it feels ‘younger’ than it did when I first, rather nervously, signed the register at 44 Belgrave Square.

Now, with a very welcome and newly minted Royal Charter at its back, a record breaking 1200 people sitting for its Foundation Certificate, its highly regarded ‘Effectiveness Awards’, and it’s much admired Equality and Diversity Program – this is no fuddy-duddy trade organization falling back on its laurels.

In fact it would be interesting to know exactly what the founder members of the Association of British Advertising Agents had in mind when they first met in 1917 – I think it’s fair to say that today’s attendance, and this week’s Festival, would have been well beyond their wildest dreams.

But God Bless them for the vision.

I loved my dozen "legitimate" years as an Adman; they not only forged many of the key relationships that have marked my life, but in an important sense they framed my whole ‘way’ of addressing problems – to such an extent that I’ve been an ‘unreconstructed marketing man’ in every other field of activity with which I’ve subsequently engaged.

That’s a pretty powerful legacy to take away from your first job.

For the past twenty five years both the Institute and I have been engaged in the parallel activity of establishing the economic and cultural importance of what we all now refer to as, The Creative Industries.

That’s why it was so was satisfying, when the Government, in publishing its Five Economic Pillars for Post-Brexit Growth, included our own industries among them.

And of course within those pillars, it was recognised that, by both financial and employment measures, Advertising was the stand-out contributor.

You know the figures better than I do. The industry supports 550,000 jobs, and last year adspend increased to twenty one billion pounds.

As my Mum used to say, "that is not chopped liver".

It’s also the case that, in most respects, once you remove the public sector organizations such as the BBC, much of the rest of the Creative Industries sector is effectively underpinned by advertising.   

As I see it, that’s both a source of great satisfaction, and an enormous responsibility.

A few years ago I found myself on a panel with Larry Summers, the former US Secretary of the Treasury, who articulated something that last year became frighteningly evident – he said:

"Change takes far longer than you expect, but when it does occur, it happens faster than you ever believed possible".

For me the most alarming ‘change’ to have occurred is the seeming collapse of trust – trust in institutions of all kinds, including Government, trust in the Media, and pretty well all other sources of information – most alarmingly trust in what’s referred to as "the system".

Every one of us has a colossal job on our hands in the process of recreating trust – not in the system, which in many ways has only discredited itself – but in some kind of a system which we feel comfortable to gather around and support.1

Building trust is a human activity, and is very unlikely to be achieved solely through the use of analytics and algorithms.

Simply looked at from the fairly narrow perspective of advertising – our role is all about building ‘trust’ – trust in brands, trust in our message, trust in each other.

I checked carefully, and you will never find a reference to the role of the IPA – or for that matter any of the other organizations representing Ad Agencies and their Client, that doesn’t refer to the fundamental challenge of building trust.

It’s the "sine qua non" of the whole profession.

Yet as you flip, as I did last month, through the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer it’s very, very hard to find much encouraging news.

So, as the IPA moves into its second century I’d suggest that no more urgent task lies ahead of it than this process of rebuilding trust – all of us in our different ways need to start walking the talk.

There can be no more evasions or excuses, we have to dig very deep, uncynically analyze what’s gone so badly wrong, and throw this sectors undoubted muscle into finding what I’d describe as a new, and far more sustainable, ‘social settlement’.

Let me finish on a slightly less challenging note.

Today’s budget offered a renewed and welcome emphasis on training – improvements in the training of young people, and some encouraging and way overdue initiatives, and funding, for in-work training and re-training.

They could of course have come to Belgrave Square and checked out what the Institute has been quietly and effectively doing for years in this area.

But then our industries are very strongly talent based and therefore particularly aware of the constant need to refresh our creative lifeline.

To say that Brexit hasn’t much helped in the respect is to state the obvious, but we’re going to need to be at the top of our game if we’re going to avoid being pummelled by the consequences of what, in my view has been a massive national misjudgment.

David Abraham and I, among other, were asked a few years ago to identify which weaknesses might inhibit the growth of the UK’s Creative Industries, and between us we suggested that the key problem lay not so much in creativity itself, but in the ‘the management of creativity’.

The Government agreed, and we set about designing a purpose built, fully-accredited EMBA, at Ashridge College.

The first cohort of two dozen students are now completing their first year, and I’d suggest that, if we are going to hurdle the challenges posed by Brexit, this exactly the way in which we should work together  in creating centres of excellence that address our future needs.

The creative industries have never been more mobile.

Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, myself and our generation didn’t start out with the intention of switching jobs – no more did Tom Ford start designing clothes in order to direct movies.

We must find the means to identify real talent, offer it the right management support, and then let those careers develop as they will.

If we succeed in that then we will all unquestionably benefit.

What those founders of this Institute started, they left for the rest of us to imaginatively develop.

I sincerely hope I’ll be around for the next decade at least to watch the way things turn out.

On present evidence we’re in pretty good hands.

Thank you.

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