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Steve Davies on Ad Week, Brexit and Creativity


APA Chief Executive talks to the Creative Circle ahead of this week's Creative Circle Awards

Steve Davies on Ad Week, Brexit and Creativity
Ahead of the 2016 Creative Circle Awards, APA Chief Executive Steve Davies speaks to the Creative Circle about Advertising Week, the importance of a diverse industry, and why UK production/creativity is still leading the way. 

Q > At Advertising Week Ogilvy global exec Paul O’Donnell has said that Ogilvy “would not invest further in our UK business” after Brexit. Do you have an opinion on this and how the referendum could have an impact on the UK production/creative industry?

SD> I think we’re strong enough to survive. I also think the way the leave campaign has been run is through scaremongering. Either way we’ll adapt and survive and probably prosper. I think there may be an issue about the UK being a launchpad into Europe for overseas brands, but we’re part of the Advertising Association now which is aimed at looking after the industry and protecting it.

We had a board meeting recently with all sorts of people and within about 10 seconds it was obvious that it was impossible that we were going to have an advertising industry view on whether it was good or bad.

Q > What does Advertising Week Europe being hosted in London again say about UK production/creative industries and how we compare with the rest of Europe?

SD> I think Ad Week is a great event, and I’ve been encouraging the production world to get involved as it really draws the whole industry together. It’s fantastically vibrant with all sorts of exciting presentations – it’s called AW Europe, but really it’s very much AW London, there isn’t too much European connection. 

London constantly exceeds expectations and does brilliantly well on the international stage. One of the things that I notice is that when we go to China and India people are in awe of British creativity and production and are desperate to learn from it. When you’re here in the middle of it it’s harder to see because it’s so super competitive that no one can sit back and think ‘yes we’re doing a good job’. One of the results of that is we draw talent from around the world, fighting harder and harder on creativity and treatments and doing the best job. It really has made Britain fantastic. 

When you look at the award-winning countries in Cannes, for the last 15-20 years we’ve been told that the rest of the world is getting better and Britain’s domination is over, but it’s not and of course that’s not to say it’s just about English people. We’re drawing talents from Argentina and Brazil and all sorts of countries to ensure that London stays at the top.

Q > Do you think that’s what makes the UK so strong? The fact that there’s such a dense concentration of creatives and producers driving the bar up? 

SD> I think it is. I think they inspire each other and because there are too many of them really, they’ve got to kill each other to get the work and kill each other by creating more and more amazing things. 

Q > Mark Given, Comms Director of Sainsbury’s, recently stated that Sainsbury’s increasingly needs agencies to work more collaboratively, something agencies don’t seem to want to do.

SD> I think clients are in a buyer’s market and they use that to drive the price down and get better and better deals and push the agencies around. I think it’s gone too far really because they need to value their agencies more and the expertise they bring, and if it becomes a buyer’s market to the extent that the agencies just become lackeys then I don’t think they can do a good job. You want an agency that can be strong and stand up to you as a client. 

Q > Is data dependency inhibiting creativity? Sir Martin Sorrell said we need to marry the two concepts to redefine creativity. Do you have an opinion this on this or should we heed the words of The Beak Street Bugle editor Alex Reeves “Advertising will survive if it sticks to what has always worked: the right idea, beautifully crafted.”

SD> I suppose I agree with Alex and Sir Martin in a way. I think if you look back at that Financial Times article it was really about how targeted advertising was taking everyone down the wrong path. If you look at Coke or Pepsi for instance – appealing to their loyal consumer isn’t going to grow their market. Most people drink both Coke and Pepsi, they grow their market by appealing to light users or non users. I think the idea that you can target anyone with data is wrong and it misunderstands human nature because it puts people in a category. Most of us are incredibly brand disloyal and whatever suits us at the time will work. 

Q > Do you think that’s a good argument against in-house production? 

SD> Everything is a good argument against in-house production. What are the arguments for in-house production? Some sort of simple, one-stop buying process? You can buy so well on the open market because there are too many good directors, too many good production companies, too many good editing companies, too many good post companies and you can use that market to get absolutely the best quality and the best price. Any agency that says to the client ‘come in house we’ll do it better and cheaper’, well I think the client should really question that and look at the reality of the market.

Q > What changes do you envision in the next few years for UK industry? 

SD> On the one hand we’ve got the constantly growing need for visual content. We’ve got so many advertisers now who could never advertise on TV but can now make stuff for their websites and all sorts of other locations. TV remains incredibly strong; I think we’ve moved out of that silly idea that the internet meant the TV was dead. TV viewing figures are the same now as before the internet was invented and people are watching more ads. The hard part is the tough level of competition and the ever more difficult demands of clients seeking to save money. Clients want more content but they want to spend less on it, and of course the answer to that to some extent is improved efficiency but the industry is already incredibly efficient in the way it works and the way it saves money. 

Q > Do you feel that the APA has evolved to best represent the industry?

SD> Our new members are making content, they’re newish companies, there’s lots of them, and they’re smart enough to know there’s no point in trying to win the next script for the next Guinness ad against Dougal Wilson, it’s just not going to happen. So what they’re doing is building up their work, improving creatively and gradually moving upstream, and some have done that very well in a super competitive market. I don’t think a production company can evolve any more, it’s already the simplest organisation you can possibly have that draws in whatever talent you need for that job. What we try to do is try to help more with marketing and promoting companies both in the UK and overseas with the APA show, the website, and events. The event we did in Shanghai last year is an example- we keep companies up to date with the future of advertising and we give them an opportunity to bring them up to date in a way that’s manageable. It’s about trying to filter useful information and opportunities in bite size chunks that they can actually digest. 

Q > Diversity in the industry, or lack thereof, is an oft-discussed problem with little action or publicised action taken. Do you think the UK creative industries do enough to establish pathways into work? Is the APA taking action?  

SD> Definitely, we put on a big diversity event in Cannes last year actually, as with anything the APA does it’s critical to translate thought into action. The big issue for me is that opportunities only really arise for people who are middle class, live in London, and who have some in to the industry. So we’re denying a whole load of people opportunities who may be from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities. It’s not just bad for them either, it would be good for the industry to have a more diverse intake that’s representative of the people that we’re advertising to. 

We’ve formed a partnership with a school in Bethnal Green and with Hackney and Westminster councils to help young people from backgrounds that might find it more difficult - essentially non-middle class students who aren’t aware of the opportunities. The first thing is for them to know that this industry exists and it’s possible for them to work in it. After that it’s up to them to take it on and show some determination. To me it’s more important that we do something practical. Even though it’s not going to change the world it’ll help change the world gradually rather than just talking about it. 

Q > What advice would you give for young people keen to work in the industry? 

SD> I think once they’re at the stage of wanting to get into production they’re halfway there because they know it exists, they know it’s interesting. I suppose we’re reaching out to the people who haven’t even had the opportunity to conclude that. The best way is to review work of APA members and look at what actually interests you. Don’t just send out a cut and paste email to everyone. Write to people about their work so people can see that you’re genuinely interested. A lot of people just turn up and say, I’m ambitious and enthusiastic and keen but when you ask them why or keen on what they can’t answer. I encourage people to get work experience, but I think it should be very short, a week or two, that’s enough and I don’t think people should work for free. We have to be careful not to exploit the enthusiasm of young people. 

Q > Do you think the Creative Circle provides a good platform for students to engage with creatives by inviting them to awards and running competitions to submit work?  

SD> I think it’s a great idea. I’m sure they appreciate it and they get an idea of what work is and how to apply their skills in a real environment – it’s really worth doing.

Q > Have you experienced VR? How do you think we can use this medium in the future? 

SD> I think it’s amazing. Often if you look at the technology that has and hasn’t worked, the technology that hasn’t worked ignores the human experience. People want to sit around, maybe watching TV while texting, while talking, while eating their dinner, they don’t want to be immersed in another world. And yet you can see that VR is so powerful. You can see for gaming it’s going to be brilliant. I suppose eventually there’ll be a way of doing it so you can choose your seat at the World Cup Final and feel like you’re there. But maybe that will only happen when they find a way of getting beyond the headset because you really want to be in the room with the other people. 

Q > Are there any pieces of UK work this year that you think have really raised the bar? 

SD> I was just so pleased that at the Arrows the main winners were Curry’s Christmas ads with Jeff Goldblum and also the Guardian Weekend series because I think they really showed the value of craft. They were incredibly well written and incredibly well realised. All those things needed to be perfect for them to work. Someone pretending to like a present they didn’t really like is not an original idea, and yet with really good writing and incredibly good acting it can still feel new and engaging in a way that everyone can relate to. That was showing craft at its best. 

The Creative Circle Awards take place at the Roundhouse on Thursday 28 April. For more info head to the Creative Circle website.

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Creative Circle, Tue, 26 Apr 2016 14:36:45 GMT