Will the election result mean an end to uncertainty and clarity on the future? Well that might happen, but it’s not a given, says Brian Carruthers.
The only clarity and certainty we have following last Thursday’s election result is that Brexit will happen. Beyond that, we still don’t know exactly what it will look like, there are still doubts as to when a trade deal can be agreed and whether the transition period might have to be extended again to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
For an election supposedly about Brexit, the campaign was uninspiring, notable mostly for the levels of misinformation peddled and the prime minister’s disinclination to face hard questions, retreating to breakfast TV sofas and industrial fridges if the likelihood arose.
The commentariat is divided on whether a comfortable Conservative majority means Brexit proceeds along the hardest of hard lines or that it gets softened because the prime minister’s hands are no longer tied by his hardliners.
Business, meanwhile, is still looking for reassurances. The CBI wants to be sure a no-deal Brexit doesn’t resurface and that any new immigration policy allows overseas staff to work in the UK across the economy.
Within the advertising industry, the concerns are similar. “The UK is the European and global hub for the advertising industry, but this status is dependent on securing a good future trade deal with the EU, with a regulatory environment that enables the free flow of data and services across borders and a flexible, growth-friendly migration system that allows the UK to access the best global talent,” said Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford.
The IPA’s director general Paul Bainsfair added to the demands for “an end to the current stasis” and a vision for the future.
“Specifically, for adland, we need clarity on Brexit so that clients can allocate appropriate marketing budgets to hire agencies to help transform their businesses,” he said.
“We need clarity on access to EU talent – our industry relies on diverse minds from all backgrounds; we need clarity on political advertising for which we continue to lobby for a machine-ready universal register of all political ads online.
“We also need a Culture Secretary in the post long enough to gain a good understanding of the incredible value that the creative industries bring to the UK and who can promote and defend our best interests accordingly,” he added.
ISBA director general Phil Smith echoed that last sentiment, noting that the new Culture Secretary (the previous incumbent, Nicky Morgan, having not stood for re-election) will be the ninth since 2010.
“It is vital, with challenges such as platform regulation, data ethics and regulatory efficacy, that we see an end to the revolving door at DCMS and progress made in key areas,” he said.
If, as is now likely, the government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill is passed before the end of January, Brexit is no sense “done” as attention turns to the future trade deal. All those industry concerns about immigration policy and data flows still have to be addressed and DCMS minsters will have to hit the ground running. Much will depend on their calibre and not all previous secretaries of state have inspired confidence, regardless of their length of tenure.
There’s another aspect of the election result that the industry needs to address itself: the London bubble effect. “Regardless of your political allegiances, there is a clear message to our industry,” said Xavier Rees, chief executive of Havas London and Havas helia.
“The London mindset is not shared by the rest of the country and the echo chamber that we inhabit does not reflect the views and experiences of the nation as a whole. We would do well to heed it as we seek to make our work resonate more strongly with the British people.”