THE BLOG

2014: A Year for Investment - What Can the Advertising Industry Do to Further Its Own Growth?

06/02/2014 12:32 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

With the first signs of economic recovery beginning to look like a reality, business leaders across the UK are entering a new phase of cautious optimism. Manufacturing revenues and employment figures are rising; advertising spend has bounced back to pre-recession levels. For the first time in a long time, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As pointed out at the Advertising Association's LEAD Summit last week, however, there is a long way to go before the battle for a healthy economy is over. Once we have moved beyond deficit, there will be the issue of national debt to address.

What's more, in order to create an environment fit for sustainable growth, we will need to eliminate the problems that contributed to the downturn - most notably the nation's over-reliance on London's finance industry. Only yesterday, Sky News reiterated the ubiquitous message that the current outlook for economic recovery is 'horribly imbalanced'.

The economic model as it once existed is broken, and it's up to each industry in turn to consider how it can contribute to a new, workable infrastructure for the future.

Speaking at LEAD, Jamie Isenwater, city analyst and founding partner of investment management firm Ash Park Capital, congratulated the advertising industry on its economic performance, reiterating the message that advertising, branding and marketing are essential ingredients to unlock the nation's potential for growth.

Our industry's contribution to annual GDP is already a sizeable £100bn - but what can we do to increase this? A large part of the answer, according to experts, lies in one very specific formula: exporting British goods and services to emerging markets, where consumer and business buying power has boomed - with many of these exports occurring via digital channels.

As an industry, we're heavily invested in the digital channels and technological skills that will enable this. However, there's still more we could be doing.

Exports of globally-renowned British brands such as Bentley, Land Rover, Tesco, Burberry and Topshop are, of course, flourishing, as are their digital strategies. But many of us are overlooking the goods and services of small and medium-sized businesses with potential to export. A large proportion of these are digitised B2B offerings which could easily be applicable and useful on a global scale - although, before they can grow, they need to create demand and brand awareness in new markets.

At MediaCom, we've recognised and proved the value of working with these smaller brands and businesses, as well as our so-called 'Brad Pitt' brands - well-known consumer brands, which tend to invest heavily in TV, print and out-of-home advertising as well as digital. We have been running a specialist B2B division for years, which delivers targeted media planning for business services, in whichever geographical and/or vertical markets are most fertile.

We also recently launched MediaCom iLab UK, a specialist digital performance hub, which sits in London as well as our regional offices, offering brands and businesses highly targeted, data and technology-led, cutting-edge digital media planning and buying regardless of their size or geographical location.

These brands, along with our 'Brad Pitt' brands, have been key to our own growth as an agency. On an industry level, though, small and medium-sized businesses and their services often fall by the wayside as we swoop for big-ticket briefs from globally known and loved brands.

As Engine CEO Debbie Klein commented last week: "We need to rethink our approach to new business prospects - considering not just the current size of a brand or company, but also its potential for growth."

To make a marked industry investment in smaller companies means investing not just in their futures, but in our own as an economic force for good. It will revitalise and bolster the health of the UK's start-up and small business community - generating demand in new markets, growing export figures, creating jobs and making these communities a magnet for global talent.

Most attractively of all, it provides a workable solution to our need for a new economic balance - helping to eradicate the strain of an over-dependency on London's high-rises, and creating a healthier, more diverse ecosystem of regional and local industries.

In order to achieve this, the usual rules will apply: we'll need to speculate to accumulate.

As pointed out by Laurence Green, founding partner of 101 London, we will need to educate many smaller businesses to see advertising as an investment and not a cost; showing them the power of marketing to fuel their own growth and removing any perceived cost barriers - smaller customers often assume they will need to spend extortionate fees on media, which is not the reality.

Making an investment in this education process should be something we think about on an industry level this year. Small and medium-sized businesses currently account for 99% of UK companies, 40% of UK turnover and 50% of UK jobs, according to the Advertising Association - and yet they account for a mere 18% of ad spend.

The brands and businesses we work with at MediaCom, whatever their size, have seen how share prices, sales figures and market value respond directly to a media investment - particularly an investment in a digitally optimized, highly targeted and highly creative campaign.

Our focus now, on an agency level and an industry level, needs to be on broadcasting the message to UK businesses small and large that the risk is worth the reward.