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Confidence or Caution? UK Advertising in 2020

Associations, Award Shows and Festivals
London, UK
Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford considers the priorities and challenges ahead for the industry

After three years of national debate and political trench warfare, the fact of Brexit is settled and the UK will leave the EU at the end of January. But the future relationship, which has a big bearing on the leading international role the UK plays in the advertising industry, has yet to be settled. Coupled with this is the herculean challenge of getting that next deal done by the end of 2020.

Will the uncertainty about the future deal mean companies remain ultra-cautious about investing in increased advertising? Or will there be a ‘Boris bounce’, where firms take confidence from Brexit clarity and a business-friendly Government with a large majority? We may learn more of possible positive revisions to marketing budgets in tomorrow’s IPA Bellwether Report in light of the General Election result bringing more certainty to the economic and political landscape.

Confidence really matters in our industry, even for UK-only businesses, as their success will be influenced by overall business and public sentiment. For those advertising businesses that trade internationally, the future deal is hugely important, with just under half of British advertising’s international business coming from the EU. Where trade goes, the talent flows, and the UK has benefited enormously from the world’s brightest and best choosing to live and work here. Around 40% of industry colleagues who came from overseas in the 12 months prior to July 2017 came from the EU, according to data from advertising’s think tank Credos and LinkedIn. So as well as the EU deal, we will be closely watching how the new Government’s Australian-style immigration system will work in practice and whether this will be business-friendly and continue to underpin the international growth that has so benefitted our industry and many others.

At the AA, we have had deep engagement with the Government on these trade and talent issues, but also on promoting export growth in partnership with the Department for International Trade. In 2020 we will be working with industry partners and DIT in launching the UK Advertising Exports Group, a cross-industry alliance to increase our industry’s growth in global markets. 

Trust in advertising and arresting its long-term decline with the public is our top priority for 2020. Our Trust action plan will develop through the year and new initiatives will build into this. The images from Australia in recent days have also only intensified debate around climate change and our industry needs to assess our responsibilities. How can we promote a sustainable, environmentally conscious future for our planet through advertising? How can we change to create change around us?

Another issue brought into sharp focus by the General Election is how we promote economic development across the nations and regions of the UK. Advertising has a unique ability to promote economic growth and scale-up business - it’s up to us as an industry to play our part in ensuring ‘left-behind’ Britain roars into the 20s. And, while there’s not room in this comment to address them in detail, 2020 will also see renewed focus on the regulatory issues that are on industry’s agenda around digital media and data privacy.

One thing’s for sure, our dynamic industry and all of the companies and people who work within it will play a major role in how the UK develops economically and socially this year.

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