To be the best, agencies might need to quit London
A view from Sarah Golding

To be the best, agencies might need to quit London

One of those questions we all get asked at the moment is: "What's the biggest change going on in the industry right now?"

And we all trot out the same answers – mobile, social, content… blah blah. Important as these are, surely one of the biggest changes we will all face soon is that the creative industries simply cannot afford to stay in the capital. So, while Ogilvy & Mather is shipping back to Sea Containers House and Omnicom is buying a shiny new building in Bankside, these could quickly become follies because the talent needed to fill them can’t afford to live anywhere near them.

Andy Haldane, the chief economist of the Bank of England, two weeks ago talked about the UK economy being in "agony and ecstasy" right now. We should be in ecstasy as inflation is low, employment is high and growth is strong. But we’re not, because wages remain below 2007 levels. He sums it up very simply – this has been a "jobs-rich but pay-poor" recovery. And the creative industries are no exception.

Last week, the Government published its latest social mobility report. It concluded that the under-30s are being priced out of owning their own homes, paid lower wages and left with diminishing job prospects, despite a strong economic recovery.

Surely those young and eager minds we rely on will be blunted by forever living in their childhood bedrooms

And, of course, it’s the under-30s that we rely on. They are the young and eager minds that break creative boundaries. But surely those minds will be blunted by forever living in their childhood bedrooms and enduring long commutes. And how do we motivate them to work the necessary long hours and weekends to really flourish in our super-competitive industry? It used to be with the promise that they will progress and earn enough to buy a home, cycle to the office, support a family and have a good standard of living. But that carrot is looking increasingly mouldy. According to an article in The Times, it now takes a salary of £100,000 to afford a family home in or around the capital. How many people in your agency earn that?

So, we have big structural challenges if we want to stay as London agencies. How do we pay enough to give the talent we need ?the wages they need to live and perform as creative people, family people and fulfilled people? Or do we have to stop being London agencies? Do we not have to accept that we might be able to invest better in the only thing that matters to our industry – the talent – if we went up north?

So how long might it be before TBWA\Manchester just becomes TBWA? Or McCann Manchester just becomes McCann? Or how about one of the new start-ups does something genuinely different and moves up north? I for one would welcome the open air, refreshing honesty and parkin. Hi, Mum… I’m home.

Sarah Golding is the chief executive of CHI & Partners