The Power of Local: Why out-of-London agencies are on the rise in Brexit Britain.
Nicky Unsworth, CEO of BJL, argues that new marketing ecosystems are thriving outside of London at just the right time.
Amid all the recent chaos surrounding Brexit, I’ve been thinking back to what the mood was like in the advertising industry in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016. In a sector that overwhelmingly backed Remain, there was not just shock about the victory of the Leave side, but also confusion about how the industry could have misread the mood of the nation on such an important issue.
As I stated recently during a panel session on the ‘Power of Local’ at Advertising Week Europe, I believe these feelings of shock and confusion were particularly pronounced in the London agency world – or the ‘London bubble’, as some have called it.
As a Manchester-based agency, I wouldn’t claim that we at BJL predicted the outcome of the referendum, but I think we – and other agencies in the so-called ‘regions’ – were probably less surprised by the result than some of our London contemporaries.
Now that Brexit has well and truly burst the bubble, agencies outside the capital appear well placed to prosper, both in terms of attracting new clients and the next generation of creative talent. Indeed Advertising Association figures show that 57% of UK advertising professionals are now based outside of London – a key indicator of the rising power of local.
This isn’t meant to disparage London agencies. London has long been, and remains, the epicentre of creativity globally. With a critical mass of business, media and technology based in the capital, London agencies are still the first port of call for some of the biggest brands and the best talent from around the world. It’s why we opened our own London office in 2014, to ensure we had a foothold in such a vital market.
But there are also signs that cities outside London are developing their own thriving ecosystems where agencies are flourishing. Partly this is down to the disruptive impact of the digital economy, which has seen a multitude of agile, digital-first businesses spring up in locations across the country.
The agency ecosystem has grown up around such businesses, creating huge scope for collaboration and growth. In the North this includes a breadth of digital, data and media agencies, and the growing footprint of the big agency networks like McCann and Dentsu Aegis Network. The latter has chosen to acquire agencies from either the North (including BJL) or from Scotland when making its last three UK acquisitions, as it looks to grow its specialism in these thriving regions.
Not only that, the North will benefit greatly from Channel 4’s decision to locate its new national HQ in Leeds, just as it is reaping the benefits of the BBC’s move to Salford seven years ago. The location decisions of these broadcasters have been an enormous vote of confidence in the creative potential of the North, further drawing talent and related businesses into these regions. No wonder that Creative England’s list of the top 50 creative companies or individuals for 2018 featured nearly half (22) from the North.
Simon Crunden, Managing Director of Republic of Media and a fellow panellist at the ‘Power of Local’ session, also pointed out that the average age of people leaving London to settle down elsewhere in the country has dropped considerably over the last decade, as people – many of whom work in creative sectors – find they can no longer afford the cost of living in the capital and so look for a new place to live. As Simon noted, this exodus of creative talent is a boon for agencies in the rest of the UK, who are benefiting from being able to hire young advertising professionals who have already cut their teeth in London-based agencies.
Meanwhile Alex Ayin, Commercial Director of Media Chain, and who was also on the panel, argued that in a globalised world, young people are increasingly agnostic about where they work – provided that their immediate working environment feels fresh and exciting, and job roles speak to the kind of dynamic, digital-centric lives they lead.
All agencies, regardless of their location, should know how to get under the skin of consumers and understand what inspires and motivates them. But in a post-Brexit world, where many of the old certainties have been shattered, it’s proving beneficial for agencies – and crucially their clients – to immerse themselves in the diverse experiences of consumers right across the country, not just our booming capital.