I know much has been made of me being the first female president of the IPA. And I am as surprised as you are that it has taken so long for a woman to accept the role as the president of an industry with so many females working in it. Perhaps it speaks quietly of the perils of conservatism and conformity that we must always fight against.
But I am not here to talk of the past, but of our shared future - and how we secure and win that future.
As I have talked to people inside the industry and without, I am struck by the deep sense of unease. When people are scared they look to the warm, faint glow of the past.
We retreat to nostalgia, looking longingly at Mad Men. Documentaries are made of our past, and we rarely feature in the discussions about the changes that will define our future.
And we diagnose with ever acute analysis how we got here: whether it was the separation of media or the loss of commission.
But we appear at a loss to describe where we are to go. Despite more than 30 years of the IPA Effectiveness Awards, we are almost mute when politicians - such as our current Chancellor - assert that advertising can be switched off without any consequence to a business.
In short, we appear to be struggling under the burden of a crippling confidence deficit. If this situation continues, we will never be able to secure the prize of the future.
It's an exciting time
In my view, this burden of pessimism is unjustified. Those that know me know that I don't view the glass as half full, but brimming over. And I believe that this is, perhaps, the most exciting time to work in advertising.
However, my optimism is hard headed, pragmatic and grounded in the evidence I see before us.
Britain is a leader in the adoption of new technologies. According to Ofcom:
- We are second only to Japan in the use of the mobile internet.
- We have the fastest-growing smartphone market in the developed world.
- We have the highest take-up of digital television.
- And we are more likely to watch television through the internet than any other country in the world.
Evidently, we are a pioneering country, and we as an industry need to rediscover our pioneering spirit.
Unlike other industries, where the rise of new technologies has destroyed employment by removing repetitive tasks and enabled off-shoring, the London School of Economics has recently discovered that the rise of new technology has actually increased the employment prospects of the UK advertising, media and marketing communications industry.
And our industry - at the heart of Creative Britain - is an innovator and a world leader. Over recent decades we have led the world in terms of creativity, and in the early adoption and fast integration of new methods and channels to utilise on behalf of our clients and their brands.
Our challenge is how we ensure we maintain the strength and vibrancy of our industry when we face increasing competition from other creative centres, and the pace of change quickens constantly. And how do we make sure we are as adaptable as we need to be - to respond and reinvent our companies and our ways of working.
So we must turn our attention firmly to the future, and we can secure that future by creating a new generation of creative pioneers. We can do this together with three steps:
- First, developing better skills.
- Second, creating better connections.
- Third, re-energising the industry with fresh talent.
Previous generations had the luxury of having ten to 20-year intervals between media disruptions. This allowed the industry to adapt over time to the changes it faced. In the early 20th Century, it took 28 years before radio reached penetration of more than 50 per cent. By the time of colour TV, it took a giddy 18 years before that technology achieved mass levels.
Now it falls to our generation to wrestle with bewildering change in one of the world's most advanced media markets. It took just ten years for the internet to reach mass adoption. Within that, it took Google just four years to hit $1 billion in revenue, and it has taken Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook just three years to hit the same mark.
Our world is no longer linear and predictable, but exponential and chaotic. Slow or incremental change in such an environment is not only oxymoronic, but will be financially catastrophic for our industry unless we change, and change quickly.
What the recent past tells us is that while we can determine the general sweep of where change will take us, we cannot predict the business that will come to dominate our world from a teenage bedroom in Seattle or Shanghai. The only thing that we can prepare for is unpredictability, and that means that we must prepare our people to meet and master that change with better skills.
The first step in doing this is to be more useful to our clients by knowing more than our clients.
In the past, agencies were the long-term memory chip that stored the data about the brand and its customers, and passed on that knowledge as clients rotated through their organisation. That role, I am afraid, has eroded over time, and if we allow it to continue we will have no future. Therefore, it is vital that the IPA meets the challenge of bettering the skills of the industry. And surely this is playing to our strength. The IPA's figures show that approximately 25 per cent of all IPA member agency staff have achieved an IPA qualification.
But I want the IPA to be an innovation hub as well as an institute, and dedicated to securing our future rather than preserving our past. I want it to be a place as attractive to be involved with as a TED event, or a Facebook hackathon, or the next new thing created by the next new entrant or "disruption" to the old order.
In the next two years of my presidency, I want to create a step-change in collaborative creativity, to work with new partners, so all of the 18,000 individual IPA members fully embrace the new convergent digital environment. In doing so, we can become smarter and more valuable to our clients as we steer them through the new frontier of this emerging content, data and channel landscape.
But our training should not just aim to inform and educate, but inspire.
As we re-skill, we must push the frontiers of our business to embrace new partnerships and services.
Capitalising on our position
We are lucky to work in a country that is at the crossroads of globalisation, and have been given the gift of place on the Greenwich Meridian and a global language in English, which allows us to be a beacon of creativity.
Look at Britain's success at the Oscars, not just in acting but increasingly in the application of computer design in a film such as Inception, which comes from the narrow streets of Soho. Or in the computer game industry, where old industrial cities such as Dundee, Newcastle and Liverpool have become home to the production studios for global hits such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. So I would like to see us building strong relationships in adjacent creative industries as central to my mission as IPA president.
John le Carre once said that a desk is a dangerous place to see the world -and so is the old council chamber of the IPA.
That is why, this November, I will lead a council study tour to California to reach out to new industries, and visit creative partners in the film industry in Los Angeles and digital partners in Silicon Valley. I want the leading creative lights of the Valley and Hollywood to think of the UK first, before they think of Madison Avenue. I want to see the UK as a hotbed for innovation as we seek better connections with these industries.
And we will continue to reach out across the globe, strengthening our reputation, presence and position in places such as in China, with a new memorandum between the IPA and the China Advertising Association heralding an expanding programme of co-operation at the China International festival in September.
I met with many people before taking on this role, and there is a clear consensus that the types of skills required will change as we develop new services like mobile apps, or are drawn deeper into longform content creation. This will require new partners and partnerships in order to make that transition.
I can announce that the IPA will work with PACT, the UK's independent TV and film production association, and UKIE, representing gaming content providers, to investigate ways of enabling our respective members to collaborate more effectively, and gain royalties from our combined content creation skills and IP.
The final step in creating a new generation of creative pioneers is by winning the war for talent. There are three parts to this: attracting good graduates, attracting non-advertising talent and developing new craft skills.
Let me tackle each in turn.
As the debt burden mounts on students, we must be mindful that our industry doesn't become the preserve of those who can afford it. This industry is at its best when it has been a driver of social mobility. What other industry could have given the sons of immigrants in council houses the chance to play at the very top of their industry?
By utilising the excellent Diagonal Thinking programme, we can seek out people who might never have considered a career in advertising. Diversity of background fuels tension and creativity, and we must fight continually to ensure that the industry never becomes a place of bland conformity.
However, the answer to greater diversity does not just lie in attracting fresh graduates. That is why I would like to explore ways that we can become an attractive home for those who want a mid-career change. Some of our best, most creative, people came from outside the industry. My mentor and hero, John Bartle, was a Cadbury brand manager looking for a fresh challenge. The iconoclastic Neil French was the manager of Judas Priest. David Ogilvy was a failed cook and a moderately successful Aga salesman. We need to become a better and more welcoming home for people who want to start over again in life, and be a home for those square pegs tired of being forced through round holes
Finally, we cannot win the war for talent with a clawing fetishism about the past and the glories of long copy. Our digital future will be secured by developing skills such as interactive art direction, motion graphics development, data analysis and mobile app expertise. If we do this we will not only make our industry more vibrant and creative, we are also likely to contribute to the growth of the UK economy. That is why I will work with the Government and Skillset to explore ways in which the higher education industry can support the development of these new skills.
Better skills, better connections and fresh talent are the way we will create a new generation of creative pioneers. Skills, connections and talents represent the secret magic of our industry, and are hence not easy to replicate or commoditise. If we are to meet the challenge of the future we must concentrate on developing the magic of our industry as hard as we have applied logic and routine.
Partnership with Google
In order to make clear my commitment to deliver better skills, better connections and fresh talent, I am proud to announce an IPA partnership with Google, providing funding to invest in a Hyper Island programme for future digital champions. This will be facilitated by Skillset, which will source 100 graduates from 100 colleges and universities to provide a new talent pool for IPA member agencies.
I am also proud to announce training in multiplatform technology with the BBC Academy - a first for our industry - that will take TV production and media and creative teams across all disciplines to a new level.
Under my leadership I am also excited to announce a new collaboration with Facebook; an exclusive event to launch "Facebook Studio Live" in the UK for IPA member agencies and guests of Facebook, and a special prize within the IPA Effectiveness Awards for the entry that best evaluates the return on marketing investment from social media. We're also involving Facebook in additional training programmes for IPA members.
To me, this is just the beginning in building better skills and connections, and injecting fresh talent to our industry. It is a journey that I am passionate about taking with you as we create a new generation of creative pioneers.
Nicola Mendelsohn is the chairman and partner of Karmarama