News & Opinion

A buccaneering Brexit for British advertising

Advertising Exports Champion James Murphy has called for the flow of creative talent into the country to continue, and praised the resilience of the industry in the face of ongoing Brexit uncertainty. Business Reporter Liam Kelly spoke to James at Cannes Lions 2019 and heard his thoughts on how British advertising can continue to thrive for the future. 

James Murphy, who best known as the founder of advertising agency adam&eveDDB that was catapulted to prominence for its work on John Lewis’s iconic Christmas TV adverts, also said that British advertising and marketing firms “have to look beyond Europe” and tap into fast-growing markets in North America and the Far East.

In an interview on the fringes of the Cannes Lions festival of creativity, Murphy described future access to talent as the “biggest challenge” facing British media houses and that “if we get a sticky immigration process, it will retard our industry”.

He said that the government needed to “take an enlightened view on talent from overseas” because “the presence of overseas talent doesn’t take people’s jobs, it creates jobs”. Murphy pointed to the fact that pitching to large multinationals can take two months – a similar amount of time as a visa application.

Murphy also praised the industry for going from strength to strength in selling abroad. Recent figures from the Advertising Association showed that marketing services generated a £3.8bn balance of payments surplus in 2017, the biggest in Europe. The export of advertising services has nearly tripled in less than a decade, up from £2.4 billion in 2009.

British companies can continue to grow because of its unique geographical position and the strength of London as a global city, he added. “We would work with Sony and Samsung in the morning, Volkswagen in the afternoon and YouTube later,” Murphy said of his time running adam&eveDDB. “London has this vast reservoir of different and complementary skills,” he said.

Despite the Brexit ructions plaguing politicians at home, Murphy said that it had not been widely discussed at the festival and “our reputation hasn’t been so damaged that people are turning away”.

“We have to go through Brexit: what we need is a buccaneering Brexit, not a half-cocked one,” he said. “Whether you wanted it or not, we have to do it.”

He also praised the Department for International Trade, which has been spearheading the British efforts at Cannes, and said that “having government involvement lends credibility” to British advertisers. Murphy has met with senior delegations from China and South Korea this week.

However, he said that “we need so much more over the next two or three years so that it is not just London that bosses its way out of Brexit”.

Murphy, a former chairman of the Advertising Association, has also been visiting delegations in places such as Shanghai and Seoul in his capacity to help drum up interest in Britain’s marketing and advertising industries.

Watch out for updates from Cannes Lions 2019 on the Cannes Lions hub and on Twitter.

Ad Association 21/06/19

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