“The situation can be (in broad terms) broken down as such: Bigots voting for economic isolation, and a grave instability the people who will actually live to see it (for the most part) don't want. Politics is broken. We are not governing ourselves now, the government is still governing us, only now they can do so without anyone there to pacify their slow march towards widespread austerity. And I didn't vote for THEM either!” This is a verbatim post from my Facebook wall at around 6am on Friday morning last week. It's a vitriolic piece of knee-jerk drivel that I am now rather ashamed of, but I was not the only one publicly venting their spleen. There were millions of us. Social media exploded with harrowing torrents of bile that surprisingly sunny Friday morning, and it seemingly continues to do so as those of us who feel like our futures have been stolen from us attempt to make some sense of the situation.
“Shell shocked & don't recognise our country. Looks like 60% of London voted to stay but rest of England has spoken. Respect Cameron's bravery but really not sure it's right decision for UK. We desperately need strong leadership to re unite disparate parts” Paul Frampton, CEO of Havas Media Group UK
There have been hundreds of social media breakdowns in the days following the Brexit though, and I'm not going to be another angry voice shouting into the already deafening echo chamber. Instead, I'm going to ask the simple question: How does the Brexit affect adland? The simple, immediate answer: It's too early to declare anything definitive, but it's looking pretty bleak. It's been said that an early indication of the state of the industry will be whether or not the various, regular mergers and acquisitions we've become accustomed to continue to take place in the coming months. This is all speculation at the moment though. Keith Hunt, Managing Partner of Results International, has said that the result could mean that industry “Growth plans become more difficult,” although he also points out that similar difficulties were predicted when the UK opted not to join the Euro, a move which actually saw the UK economy, and the advertising industry in kind, do very well indeed.
“Britain has made the historic decision to leave the EU. The full impact of this decision will depend on the negotiations that follow and, importantly, there will not be any immediate change” Ajaz Ahmed, CEO of AKQA
Of all the voices of dissent, perhaps the strongest came from adland kingpin and WPP boss Martin Sorrell, who used the platform of the Cannes Lions last week to warn us of the negative implications of the Brexit. Indeed, WPP's Ogilvy & Mather might have swept the board at Cannes this year, but any joy they might have felt having claimed so many new trinkets for the mantlepiece was almost certainly negated by the fact that WPP’s share price was down more than 5% this weekend. Earlier in the week, Group M, WPP’s global media arm, also stripped £220 million from its forecast for TV and newspaper ad spend in the UK over fears of a Brexit vote.
“This is not the outcome anyone in our industry wanted. We lost a big pitch. But when we lose a pitch we know we have to gear up to go again, to fight for a successful future” Sarah Golding, CEO of CHI & Partners
Speaking at a Cannes Lions panel hosted by his organisation's ad tech hub Xaxis, Sorrell branded a pro-Brexit vote a potential disaster for the UK economy, explaining that the resulting economic uncertainty if the UK electorate were to back an exit from the EU would be so destabilising that the financial repercussions would be felt for years to come. These are opinions he reinforced just days later when the results came flooding in. He said: “This is not good news, to say the least. The PM’s resignation clearly adds to the uncertainty. However, we must deploy that upper lip and make the best of it. The resulting uncertainty, which will be considerable, will obviously slow decision-making and deter activity.”
“We work in a very energetic and entrepreneurial industry that has always punched above its weight. There will be some challenges in the short term, but there will be many opportunities as well” James Murphy, CEO of Adam & Eve/DDB
Sorrell also added that, as four of WPP's top 10 markets are based in western Europe, they are adamant that they're going to build their European presence further in coming years. I know this is one very very rich, very very sheltered man, who probably has his own selfish financial reasons for feeling putout by the result of the referendum, but his fears have been echoed and reinforced by the community at large, and the news right now reads like something from the prequel pages of a particularly bleak dystopian novel.
“Turmoil in the financial markets over the next few weeks is inevitable and we can’t disassociate the advertising industry from the wider economy. Our clients’ share prices have been hit and that won’t be good for advertising budgets” Jenny Biggam, Co-founder of the7stars
On the flip side (because no matter how bleak things look, there's always a flip side), one voice of slight optimism came from Paul Bainsfair, Director General of The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), who was disappointed with the result but remained optimistic for the future of the industry. He said: “As an industry we had hoped that the referendum would have kept us in the EU, however, we believe the UK will continue to lead the world with its creative industries and advertising in particular. We have always been known and admired for our inventiveness and ideas. It will now be more important than ever that we continue to demonstrate these valuable traits.”
“We are a strong industry operating within a vibrant creative economy. No matter what the economic instability, volatility and uncertainty ahead we will fight to protect and develop our leadership as an industry, as networks and in our own agencies” Cilla Snowball, CEO of AMV BBDO
Tim Lefroy, CEO of the Advertising Association, who yesterday sent a letter to secretary of state for culture, media and sport John Whittingdale, giving the government a list of steps to aid advertisers, had a similarly vaguely optimistic outlook. He said: “Advertising is the second largest creative industry, but more importantly it’s an economic activity and bellwether for the economy as a whole. Advertiser confidence should be a high priority for Government and a clear commitment to these principles would send an immediate, positive signal. UK advertising will adapt and continue to lead the world. Our sector is outward looking, open to trade and attractive to global talent and with the right support from Government, will keep growing, creating tens of thousands of jobs and building on the £4.1 billion in advertising services we already export. First up is the imminent strategy for our Creative Industries; the UK’s fastest growing sector - and we look forward to advertising being right at the heart of it.” Of course, there are no facts and figures hidden away in either of those statements, and they both really boil down to little more than “Stiff upper lip” spiel, but at least it's not all doom and gloom.
“I worry most about a talent drain. At the moment we have an amazing array of nationalities in our office in London: French, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, German, you name it. Over time, more clients will want a European hub in Europe” Lucy Jameson, CEO of Grey London
As a final aside, if you feel strongly about the leave vote and haven't yet signed the petition for the second referendum, then I recommend you do so, then implore your friends and family to do likewise. Ultimately, this isn't about a second referendum, because, realistically, that's not going to happen. It's about showing support to the disenfranchised when jobs are being lost, xenophobia is rife, both online and off, and the Leave campaign's lies are already being unraveled. There are spurious reports that many of the signatories of said petition are either online bots or non-British citizens, but, even if it has been hijacked by a few rogue elements, there are still thousands, nay perhaps millions of legitimate Brits lending their voices to the fray who simply want to (borrowing a jingoistic nugget from the leavers) “Take their country back and make Britain great again.”
“This is a disaster for Britain. Almost four years to the day that we gave the World an Olympics that healed and united the UK we have now torn it apart” Richard Huntington, CSO of Saatchi & Saatchi London
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and proud Remain voter, who really hopes the comment section of this piece doesn't descend into petty name-calling.