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LBB Online: Brexit One Year On: What Was The Word on The Croisette?

On the Friday morning of last year’s Cannes Lions, a dreary, sombre mood lay over the Lions festival. This may not seem like a surprise for any of you who have attended – the culmination of the week’s festivities have a habit of catching up with us by that point in the week. But last year was different and that was because of Brexit. The UK had cast its vote the day before and many of us woke up the morning after, already sore-headed, to the news. Conversation on the day shifted from advertising to politics and the effects that this huge shift could have on the advertising industry and wider world. At the time it was understandably difficult to determine them. But now, one year on, where do we stand? The UK government has done little to settle any nerves and indecision is still the order of form, but what was the word on the Croisette this year? LBB’s Addison Capper and Laura Swinton spoke with executives from Grey, Y&R, MediaCom, AKQA and more to find out.
Alain Groenendaal, President & CEO, Grey Europe
People are still trying to work out what the impact is actually going to be. The biggest thing is continued uncertainty about what it will entail. I think there are a lot of people that think business is business and there will be a solution that makes sense. For the UK in particular, there is such a wealth of talent and capability, and I don’t think that is going to go away. I do think that eventually some clients on the continent will look for an agency on the continent. There are things like VAT that are going to start impacting the cost of working with London. But it’s still early days – and like anything, the only way to resolve it is to face it, follow what’s going on, double down and keep getting better, and having clients coming to work with you because they want to work with you, not because of where you are.
What’s also been interesting is that this has seemed like an energising moment for Europe. Rethinking the European project, the position of places like France. I think in Europe it’s been a big wake up call, especially because the vote split was so close. It’s happened in Britain, so people are aware that if they don’t get their act together then it could happen in other markets. The Dutch rejected it, the French election recently was an incredibly energising moment, people are happy and smiling. I think it’s been really energising. That will be a positive dynamic in terms of the industry –  but we’re going to have to muddle our way through it!
Jaime Mandelbaum, CCO, Y&R Europe
I felt it more last year because from January to August I was there, Monday to Friday, in London. At that time I felt it because there were no pitches. I was like, ‘is it always like this?’, but people were waiting it out to see what the result would be. Now that I’m not based in London, I think I feel it more in other places. In other countries, people are waiting to see if they’ll get the banks, if they’ll get new business opportunities. Regionally it’s like moving something from the pocket of your jeans to the pocket of the jacket.
Toby Jenner, COO, MediaCom Worldwide
Are people in Europe trying to leverage this against us? I don’t think it is helpful. I don’t think instability is good for business and it’s unstable because of Brexit. There are 1200 people in MediaCom across the global team, regional team and UK team. So you’ve got macro instability and then you’ve got personal instability. Our Head of New Business is French; what does it mean for him?
Hugo Veiga, ECD, AKQA Sao Paulo (from Portugal)
It’s still hard to tell what the effects are going to be. It’s a real pity though. We’re living in an age where people are building walls, literally – but then we’ve had the Berlin Wall in our living memory. People should learn from history. I think everyone as an individual should try to love a bit more. Right now there’s this feeling that people are mad at how things were, but they’re taking the wrong path. It’s understandable that people want change, but this isn’t the way to do it.
Céline Mornet-Landa, Creative Director, Sid Lee Paris
I feel like a European citizen, and as a European I was sad because it felt a bit like being dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend. I know it’s not that but that’s what it felt like. I can’t remember the stats exactly but I know that there’s been a huge surge in applications for French citizenship. But looking to the future, it’s a long process and it’s really difficult to determine the effects.
Luke Fenney, VP, Publisher Development, Index Exchange
There have been various events in the world – Brexit, Trump – that have really brought a need from everyday people to have access to quality content. That has put the power back into the hands of traditional publishers. At a time when fake news, or not even fake news but lower quality news sites, are getting a lot of traction, the challenge we have in this industry is that most buyers are just looking for an audience and they don’t care where they get it from. A publication like The Guardian pays a journalist x amount per year, plus a sub editor, etc., and spend a lot of money on that. Then there are other websites that are either algorithmically creating content, scraping content or paying someone in a cheaper country to write something in poor English. Those premium publishers aren’t being rewarded for the effort that they’re putting in. Consumers are now really looking for those trusted sources.
I wouldn’t say that it’s affecting the tech industry too much per se, but as a business that’s operating in the European market, our strategy so far has been to open up in London and we want to expand that across Europe. The plan was to have a hub in London with a multilingual team, but it’s getting harder to hire someone that speaks French or German in London because there’s so much uncertainty about what will happen. Most North American companies that look to expand into Europe head to London first – maybe that won’t be the case moving forward.
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