Will we or won’t we? The debate over whether the UK will exit the EU rages on and politicians, economists and commentators have already discussed the issue at length. But how would a UK exit affect our creative industries? I don’t have a crystal ball, but here are a few possibilities.
The UK is often known as the first step to Europe, attracting a lot of inward investment from countries such as the USA and Japan. Numerous companies have headquartered in the UK as a convenient base from which to operate within Europe.
However, should the UK exit the EU, it’s likely we would see a stream of these businesses leave the UK for a base within the EU. And it would be logical for them to shift their marketing and communication function to other European cities too. Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm all have strong creative agencies that can easily pick up business, and they are a polyglottal bunch too.
This means many UK creative agencies might miss out on being the European stronghold on large corporate work. Similarly, whereas cool agencies in Berlin and Amsterdam would be competing head on, London agencies might not be put on the pitch list because they are "outside".
No longer frontier free
For the moment, one sector in the UK which is doing well is manufacturing. Our automotive clients have long order books, and sales are up. Many of their products use parts from other European countries – and this is not a trend restricted to the automotive industry.
With the UK outside of the EU, British companies would have to "import" parts from the continent. Without free movement of goods, this would become a costly process, incurring added bureaucracy and handling charges. And as production costs are squeezed, these clients would have to cut back on other expenditures, with marketing being a prime potential target.
What’s more, many businesses that serve the UK market, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, are actually based in Ireland. The tax issues surrounding them are already the subject of scrutiny, and Britain's exit from the EU would make these cross-border transactions more complicated
The creative industries thrive on a cosmopolitan talent-base.
Walk into most agencies and you will come across people from all over Europe. This cultural melting pot fosters creativity. However, new immigration control for a UK outside of the EU would mean less talent crossing the channel in our direction, and fewer youngsters from Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland and the rest of Europe bringing their disruptive ideas to Adland.
It would also mean a loss of existing talent, with overseas talent leaving due to immigration restrictions and people drifting to the EU as bigger European agencies win more work and entice talent across the channel.
Long term, the talent in UK agencies would undoubtedly become more homogeneous. Agencies would find it harder to find people with appropriate cultural references and as a result the work would suffer, becoming more mundane.
Short-term, creative firms would have no choice but to "carry on" after a UK exit. In fact, it’s probable there would be a short upturn of business, as many companies adjusted their communications to reinforce the message that the UK outside the EU is "business as usual".
In the medium term, however, it’s likely there would be considerable uncertainty about what might happen, as this would be a move without precedent. It could well result in clients becoming more risk averse, preferring to "wait and see" what happens, and putting marketing projects on hold in the meantime. Agencies would have to work harder to retain accounts and the competition would be intense, with costs driven downwards.
Long-term? We would be OK – the industry would ultimately adjust to an ex-EU world as we’d have no choice. Companies still need to run campaigns and have new content created. But it’s likely agencies would set up more offshoots in the EU and other parts of the world.
Of course, a European Union without the United Kingdom may still treat the UK cordially. But, in terms of the effects on the creative industries, I tend to agree with Goldman Sachs’ Kevin Daley, who said: "We believe that a UK exit from the EU would represent a 'loss/loss’ scenario for both the UK and the EU. However, it is likely that the loss would be greater for the UK than for the EU."