Shine on, you creative diamond
A view from Stephen Woodford

Shine on, you creative diamond

Advertising's contribution to the economy is immense and needs protecting.

On Wednesday, Confederation of British Industry director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn published the organisation’s latest report, Centre Stage, focusing on the creative industries and including recommendations on how it might thrive post-Brexit. The launch took place at ITV in London, where Fairbairn was joined by digital, culture, media and sport secretary Nicky Morgan and Sir Peter Bazalgette.  

This report – which I’m delighted to say we contributed to – highlights the strength of our creative industries. Did you know businesses in our sector contribute more to the economy than the oil and gas, automotive and aerospace sectors combined? It also notes that our sector is one of the industries more resilient to automation, with the most potential to boost productivity. I was especially pleased to see advertising name-checked 10 times in the report – evidence of the central role of advertising within the UK creative industries. 

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the value of the creative industries to the UK has risen from £94.8bn in 2016 to £101.5bn in 2018. Since 2010, the growth of our creative industries has been nearly twice the rate of the wider UK economy. This was recognised by the government in March 2018, when the creative industries sector deal was launched that will see more than £150m invested in creative businesses across the deal’s life cycle up to 2023. This means 600,000 more jobs in the sector – a vital increase at any time, but even more so with any Brexit-related headwinds and a slowdown in global growth already happening.

Beyond the economic returns it generates for our country, Fairbairn also recognised that our creative sector is a force for good, noting that it has the "ability to unite people right across the planet in an increasingly polarised world". To me, this is true not only of the wider world but also here at home. Our national creative and cultural life is one of perhaps an increasingly few things we can all enjoy and experience together. 

Returning to Brexit, the CBI report recommends that the government should: "Ensure its immigration and skills policies are crafted with the creative industries in mind; increase efforts to profile smaller creative businesses on international trade missions; and ensure economic harms such as copyright infringement and piracy are included in its approach to internet regulation." As we revealed in Advertising Pays 6, the UK is a magnet for the brightest and best talent from around the world and it is those people, working alongside their British colleagues, who drive our export success.

These recommendations reflect many of the areas we believe are crucial for advertising post-Brexit and the advice that we have shared with industry via our information campaign in partnership with Campaign over recent weeks. Our focus, in particular, is on continued access to talent, ease of trade and the importance of free flows of data. 

But we must also recognise that, as an industry, we need to look to and make the most of our exciting future. That’s where the reference to trade missions in the CBI report is spot on, with our strategy to help grow the UK advertising industry. We are launching the UK Advertising Export Group to grow exports of advertising and marketing services around the world, support the international growth of companies in our industry and strengthen our position as a global advertising hub. 

The group’s launch follows a successful first 18 months for the UK advertising industry’s Promote UK group, which has supported more than 100 companies at major industry events around the world, including this summer’s "Creativity is GREAT" campaign with the Department for International Trade at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It also harnesses the brilliant work of organisations such as the IPA and the Advertising Producers Association in showcasing the UK’s advertising and marketing services credentials to a worldwide audience of buyers. 

Advertising exports were the fastest-growing of any of Britain’s service industries, up 18% in 2017, compared with overall services growth of 7%. We have the biggest export surplus in advertising of any European country, second only to the US in the world. This outstanding performance can’t be taken for granted, so the time has come to scale these efforts into a truly global marketing and business development drive for UK advertising.

The UK’s creative industries are our greatest cultural export; they are what keeps the world tuned into the UK and what we’re about – our ingenuity, creativity, diversity and irreverence – and, most importantly, what keeps the world buying from us. Advertising is that creative diamond in the crown and we are determined that it shines on.

Stephen Woodford is chief executive of the Advertising Association

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