"Life is going to be different" – so said Theresa May in her Brexit speech last month, which was her strongest recognition to date that leaving the EU will create change. But what will that change be?
While the full impact of Brexit remains uncertain, there is growing awareness that it could put UK advertising in jeopardy by limiting access to probably its most vital resource: talent. After all, people drive industry success; their creativity has won hundreds of Cannes Lions, established the UK as a global innovation leader, and built an advertising market worth more than £21bn.
So, what effect is Brexit likely to have on UK advertising — and how can we safeguard talent?
A potentially sizeable impact
The UK is an ideal gateway for international business; situated at a unique geographical pivot point for greater Europe, the Americas, and the wider globe. Consequently, it’s home to a booming economy and diverse talent. According to LinkedIn research, London alone received three times more migrant marketing and advertising professionals between 2016 and 2017 than New York, Paris or Amsterdam — more than a third of whom came from EU countries.
This mixed workforce has both fuelled and distinguished UK advertising. By blending creative approaches, perspectives, and expertise — 60% of migrant professionals also have a masters or doctoral degree — the industry has earned a reputation for producing extraordinary and exceptional ads. Plus, the range of viewpoints provided by team members from different nations has also helped ensure global campaigns are perfectly aligned with regional nuances, while being executed from one central location.
And this is where Brexit comes in. If limitations on freedom of movement come to pass, the ability of European Union citizens to live and work in the UK may be significantly hampered. As a result, there could be a negative domino effect. Britain might lose some appeal for skilled migrants, leading professionals to increasingly gravitate towards less restricted European locations.
As noted by James Murphy, co-founder and chief executive of Adam & Eve/DDB, at a recent Brexit debate hosted by the IAA at the House of Commons: "talent attracts talent". In turn, it’s possible the UK’s competitive standing may also be diminished if brands – worried by potential depletion of talent – take their business elsewhere. Indeed, the shift of briefs is something Murphy has also highlighted as cause for concern in comments made about cancelled contracts following the referendum.
What can the industry do?
Although ambiguity about Brexit makes it hard to build action plans — and gauge the precise effect on employment — the strong probability of interruption (big or small) to talent flow is an issue the industry must address to preserve its global position and future longevity. And the sooner it begins, the better.
First on the agenda should be keeping all nationalities interested in joining UK advertising firms. This means the industry must leverage its extensive story-telling abilities and use them to create promotional communications that highlight its world-class status, successes, and capacity to help professionals achieve their goals. Furthermore, there is also a call to adopt Murphy’s maxim of talent begetting talent and build awareness of advertising as a career among young generations by sharing examples of inspiring figures at worldwide academic institutions.
Secondly, it will of course be important to nurture home grown talent. As well as providing opportunities for the next generation of advertising leaders to hone their skills — through in-school training programmes and apprenticeships — it is also key for the industry to support its current employees. Whether they offer internal mentoring or external skills development, advertising firms must provide a working environment and prospects that are enticing, and always a cut above sectors competing for the same core talent pool.
Brexit may be out of our hands, but we can control how the industry responds to it. So, whatever the terms of the final deal, it’s crucial that UK advertising remains committed to safeguarding its diverse array of talent and upholding a prestigious reputation for world-class advertising. And to do that, it will need to ensure that cultivating the local talent landscape doesn’t distract from the vital task of drawing in the best advertising professionals from every corner of the globe.
Fredrik Borestrom is president, International Advertising Association UK chapter