Recover, regroup, reset: on 28 January the Advertising Association, the IPA and ISBA joined forces for the first time in their collective histories to put on a very special industry event – RESET 2021. Opening the conference, the Advertising Association’s chair Philippa Brown welcomed IPA director general Paul Bainsfair and ISBA director general Phil Smith at the beginning of a critical year for UK advertising.
Throughout the virtual conference, more than 700 delegates were treated to evidence that time spent in splendid isolation has not been wasted as the industry has been working hard on how to reset and build back better.
Secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden CBE, reminded everyone of the importance of communication in this time like no other, thanking adland for its help in donating advertising space to carry public health messages at a time when the industry was itself hurting. “People have never been more interested in the power of messaging to change behaviour than in the past year. Advertising’s role in bringing the economy out of the pandemic downturn will be crucial,” he said.
Food for thought
The examination of the impact the proposed ban on advertising of HFSS foods will have was discussed in detail. Speaking with Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UKHospitality, said the proposals came at a devastating time for an industry already in a fragile state. With key staff furloughed and less time to respond to consultation, the process seemed rushed, and would have a doubtful impact on public health, she explained.
“We cannot tackle something as major as this at a time when the industry is closed,” said Nicholls, who suggested harnessing the creativity of both the hospitality industry and advertisers for an education programme that could deliver much more than the blunt hammer of legislation.
Another area where the advertising sector is keen to help government is in delivering on environmental targets. Andrew Griffith MP, the government’s Net Zero Business champion, pointed to practical deliverables from the industry such as signing up to the UK’s Race to Zero campaign, working with its supply chains, and spreading the word about success.
Getting the message right has been the challenge of the year, and even ace political communicators have struggled in the time of Covid, said Kate McCann, political correspondent, Sky News.
“Ministers were not prepared for this,” she said. “The way the government speaks hasn’t helped. Communications haven’t been the best.” But there is evidence that this is changing, she said, with a move away from over-promising to a more realistic admission that sometimes our politicians don’t have all the answers.
While traditional sectors of the advertising ecosystem have struggled, online has had a good pandemic.
Ben McOwen Wilson, managing director, YouTube UK and Ireland, said the platform’s creators had picked up the baton of informing, entertaining and educating ‘stay at home’ Britain, and he has the DIY haircut to prove it. However, he acknowledged issues around inappropriate and misleading content and revealed the company’s threefold approach of removing harmful content, downplaying content that was borderline, and uprating positive content.
In conversation with Campaign’s Maisie McCabe, he said that as a long-standing champion of online standards the company couldn’t rest on its laurels. “It’s right that we should hold a higher bar to ourselves, lead the industry and lead the debate.”
Presidents' panel session
Broadcaster, Times Radio
Keith Weed CBE
President, Advertising Association
President, IPA; Global CEO, Publicis Sapient
President, ISBA; Chief executive, Moneysupermarket
Inclusion, trust and transparency
Bringing together the three presidents of the Advertising Association, IPA and ISBA in an online panel session, Times Radio presenter Aasmah Mir quizzed them on priorities for 2021.
Advertising Association president Keith Weed accentuated the positive and said the UK had fared better than both Europe and the US, and was expected to recover more quickly.
A key to recovery will be embracing more inclusion and diversity. To address the issue, all three main UK advertising trade bodies – the Advertising Association, IPA, and ISBA – have joined forces to run an industry-wide ‘All In’ census on 10 March to provide a benchmark.
Nigel Vaz, president, IPA said that advertising had to find ways to uncover new talent, particularly in relation to non-University graduates. Peter Duffy, president, ISBA warned that as advertising comes back, with a 15.2% increase spend predicted for 2021, advertisers will be looking for transparency like never before.
A year in lockdown has given the industry time to reflect and Mel Edwards, Global CEO, Wunderman Thompson, provided five things that can change the future for good. Ranging from agencies being considered growth partners with a remit to problem solve across business, through to the use of technology to make good on the oft-quoted boast of accessing to global talent networks, agencies would come out of lockdown different.
“2020 presented reasons to be cheerful in an otherwise tough year,” she said. “At first I thought we wouldn’t even be able to function remotely. I’m glad to be proved wrong.”
From politics to business, it was also a tough year for trust. Advertisers have their own challenges here and declining public trust in advertising is an issue the Advertising Association’s Trust Working Group works on tirelessly.
Gideon Spanier, UK editor-in-chief, Campaign asked whether trust had taken a back seat during the pandemic. Absolutely not, said Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer, MediaCom. “Trust is one of the most rare commodities because you have to earn it.You can’t advertise your way into it.”
Kerry Chilvers, brand tribe lead, Direct Line Group, said the company had undertaken the ISBA Advertising MOT to shine a light on the customer experience and root out any issues, such as excess frequency of ads. Unerman said brands had to look at the KPIs they set their agencies because they were goal oriented. “As Jack Welch said, people do not do the things they are asked to do, but the things they are rewarded for.”
RESET 2021 was brought to a close by an inspiring interview with Julia Goldin, chief marketing officer, LEGO Group, who spoke of the power of diverse teams and how, as a Russian immigrant, she had adapted and thrive in various companies, countries and cultures, and how this had proved helpful during the pandemic. LEGO’s “Let’s build together” campaign, which had no direct commercial message, has captured the spirit of the times. “It inspired people to connect to what they could do, like building rainbows for frontline workers,” she said.
Build back better indeed.
The ‘All In’ census takes place on 10 March 2021. More details at: adassoc.org.uk/all-in
Building back better: Industry leaders’ learnings over the past year
Karen Blackett OBE, UK country manager, WPP
“We’ve shown an ability to work dynamically. Client satisfaction scores have increased in lockdown and ‘working from home’ no longer needs to be in quote marks.”
Steve Hatch, vice president, Northern Europe, Facebook
“We’ve helped small businesses pivot online which has been the only way to survive. We’ve provided the tools.”
Alex Mahon, CEO, Channel 4
“For us, everything was about communication. I thought I did a lot before, but now it’s tenfold.”
Trevor Johnson, head of marketing, Global Business Solutions, Europe, TikTok
“You can build a team for a growing business on Zoom. We’ve had to recruit, onboard and train people through a laptop screen.”
Andrew Garrihy, CMO, Western Europe & head of brand, Huawei
“We’ve brought together the best of East and West with more diverse teams.”
Alessandra Bellini, chief customer officer, Tesco PLC
“Wellbeing was paramount – we held daily panels for over 23,000 colleagues and customers to tell us how they felt and what was important to them.”
Johnny Hornby, founder, The&Partnership
“We need to keep reminding clients and the City of the power of what we do. During the lockdown, the economics of advertising were better than ever, particularly if your competitors had cut back.”