Brexit: What Next?
Tim Cumming talks to ad industry folk about the uncertainty of a post-Brexit Europe.
So, is it an unconscionable disaster, presaging the death of the UK’s creative continental collaboration and fiscal flourishing that will – with popular fascism oozing across the pond – lead to WWIII and the end of civilisation (and advertising) as we know it, or just a mild ‘annoyance’? Tim Cumming talks to ad industry folk about talent drains, uncertainty and the age of endarkenment
As a confounding riddle, “Brexit means Brexit” sounds more a curse than a blessing. Here, a range of industry voices from Britain and Europe reflect on what its impact may be on London and the UK’s creative scene and relationships with the rest of the world.
Sam Evans, strategist at brand-builders The Partners equates attempts at defining Brexit as “putting one’s finger in the air during a hurricane. It threatens to further tighten the noose around the creative industry’s jugular: access to global talent,” he says. “London has grown to become an unrivalled talent pool. The biggest effect of Brexit on the long-term looks to be the ability to access and attract the very talent that keeps it alive. This may be partially mitigated by the creative networks and partnerships that will be able to navigate tighter immigration regulation, but there’s no doubt it will be less organic, less unexpected and unusual.”
Sergio Lopez, head of integrated production at McCann London, doesn’t see Brexit itself as the enemy, but the uncertainty surrounding it. “It will test our ability to react to the challenges and opportunities that arise throughout the creative process,” he says. “I don’t see a post-Brexit UK turning into a North Korea-like country any time soon, but having built my career on international roles, my knee-jerk reaction is to see Brexit as detrimental. However, I think it’ll just end up being more of an annoyance on the day-to-day. We are a global community of people that are used to working across borders and with global clients. I imagine that London will continue to be the regional headquarters the same way that Singapore is in Asia.”
For Stink founder Daniel Bergmann, the reasons and consequences of Brexit represent a dangerous endarkenment of the body politic. “Brexit happened for all the wrong reasons and I’m afraid it was a trigger to what we’re now witnessing in the USA and could see in other parts of the world. It fed off the frustrations of the minority but it was not the right remedy, and we will now all suffer because of it, and it will negatively affect the creative and advertising industries. Multiculturalism became a dirty word, but its mix of cultural and intellectual influences is exactly what propelled London to number one creative place in the world.” That number one position is under threat, he adds. “Our foundations are built on the free movement of global culture, insight and flavour but with movement restrictions and the inevitable volatile perception of Britain, London is now a much less attractive place.”
Seize the opportunity
Steve Davies, chief executive of the APA, concurs. “London is an international centre for directors, production talent, creatives and agencies,” he says. “We rely upon free movement, and particularly in the case of visual effects, which relies on this large and very mobile group of top talent, who move from one project to another. It is critical we have [access to] those.” For Davies, like Lopez, it is the uncertainty that troubles. “Uncertainty is always bad for advertising, but the uncertainty here will go on for so long people may end up having to ignore it and get on with it.”
And for the UK, and London, that uncertainty could damage its reputation as Europe’s creative hub. “If you are a brand from Asia,” says Davies, “you come to London to use the marketing services here to sell to Europe. Will those companies still see us in that way? If they don’t see us as part of Europe they may want to relocate to France or Germany.”
Tom Roberts, managing director at Tribal Worldwide London, has seen creatives looking that way too. “The most upset among the creative community talk openly about moving to Amsterdam, Berlin or Barcelona if and when we do finally leave the EU,” he says, while hoping the creative ingenuity of the British will win through. “Brits have a reputation for spotting and seizing opportunity in all situations,” he says, “but until we have a definitive plan from the government on what our future outside the EU might look like it’s difficult to determine what that opportunity might be.”
Alex Van Gestel at behavioural comms agency Verbalisation is cautiously upbeat. “Brexit will change London’s standing,” he says, “but where there is risk, there is opportunity. London’s creative crown will not be lost – it will be worn by the most agile players in the cast.” And opportunity, rather than obstruction, is what Nicholas Gill at marketing agency Team Eleven sees as Brexit’s outcome. “The short-term effect is that UK-based businesses just became a lot more attractive to clients and potential suitors headquartered in Europe or beyond,” he says. “The lower value of the pound does literally mean they get more bang for their buck if their budgets are euro or dollar based.”
Across the channel, Nic Owen, MD at 72andsunny Amsterdam says the Dutch capital is an increasingly attractive hub for international offices. He’s seen “a massive upturn in talent based in the UK clamouring to come and work with us here. Which is very cool, as it increases the diverse talent we can welcome to the agency, which can only make our work and our culture better. In terms of more client interest in Amsterdam, I think interest has been high for a number of years. Smart clients get that this is the smart place to come to if you want to develop truly powerful pan-European and global work efficiently.”
For Mercedes Erra, co-founder of BETC and executive president of Havas Worldwide, Brexit threatens the European ideal as well as London’s pre-eminence. “The UK’s belonging to the EU has favoured the British advertising industry for years,” she says. “It has allowed international companies to [base] their European HQs in London and benefit from European laws. Thanks to this, London has been able to gather some of the best European creative talents.” She questions whether global brands will continue to see the UK as a European platform outside the EU, and fears an industry and investment slowdown as a result of all the uncertainty. “I’m sad when I think that Eurostar will no longer drive us into a European country. Europe stands for a lot of things in the world nowadays, from human rights to a certain art of living. I don’t believe that the historical and cultural cement that unites Europe with the UK can dissolve through this single vote.”