The British Make The Best Advertising in The World: Julian Douglas

In his new role as the UK Advertising Export Group chair, Douglas wants British advertising to embrace its excellence with lashings of creative swagger

By creative salon

So it may still be January but it's time for optimism. And yes, the global economy and the political scene will continue to be buffeted by headwinds, but now is the time for an agenda based on thinking big. Time to make a case for commercial creativity and the need to come together as an industry to really push how Britain competes creatively as a nation on a global level.

This is exactly what Julian Douglas (aka Dougie), the international CEO & vice chairman at VCCP, and the former IPA president, wants to do in his new role as the chair of the UK Advertising Export Group (UKAEG). To support the work of the UKAEG, Dougie was appointed to the role late last year following his active participation in international trade missions and his IPA Presidency (2021- 2023). This is a role created for him to blow the horn and wave the flag for British commercial creativity and the wealth that it generates for the economy.

The latest UK advertising export figures show a 15.5 per cent increase to reach an impressive £15.6 billion, cementing the UK ad industry's position as a global powerhouse. This figure presents a compelling picture of the UK advertising industry's resilience, innovation, and sustained growth. "The UK’s creative industries are world leading, and these record export figures provide a welcome boost as we aim to sell £1 trillion of goods and services a year to the world by 2030. But when compared to British music or British films [UK music exports generated £4 billion in 2022], British advertising is somewhat of an untold story; an unsung hero. People are buying our services globally, just that we are not talking about it. And that is what I will be doing in this new role.

"I am so proud to be part of the UK advertising industry. I absolutely love it. And I want the world to know how extraordinarily good we are at it," he says.

Based on the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the advertising industry’s think tank Credos found that the UK advertising industry remained resilient in its exports growth, surpassing the revised 2021 export figures of £13.6 billion. The UKAEG has set its sights on key international markets such as the US, China, India, and MENA, with plans for multiple trade missions in 2024.

"By joining forces with the UKAEG and the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), ad businesses up and down the country can tap into new markets and further drive economic growth. But we don't get the same kind of investment from our government like music or film does. And we have the creative firepower to change the world and our position in it. I want to be part of that change," he says.

From embracing gaming technologies, to pitching positively, to addressing the talent crisis and more, as IPA President, Dougie knows a thing or two about big ideas to help advance the advertising industry. And if anyone can help get more investment from the DBT to help raise the international profile of UK advertising in overseas markets and, in turn, boost UK advertising exports then there couldn't have been a better hire than Dougie for this job. Creative Salon sat down with him to understand more about his new role and his ambitions for it.

Creative Salon: What does being the chair of UK Advertising Export Group mean? How did it come about and tell us what the role entails?

Julian Douglas (Dougie): In my role at VCCP, I travel the world a lot and attend several trade missions and have first-hand knowledge of the growth (in advertising and marketing) coming outside of the UK. And I know how appealing the UK market is on the global stage because of our history of producing world-class music, films and advertising. We're spoiled by having so much world-class culture here. So I was asked to chair UKAEG, which is led by the Advertising Association, since I was already in all the different markets outside of the UK.

And then I looked at the numbers - UK advertising export figures are astounding. More than £15 billion - and compared to music exports and film exports - we should be better funded as an industry but we remain an untold story, an unsung story. We're underfunded. We're not famous enough for what we do as an industry - for our creativity and innovation. People are buying our services globally. And we're not celebrating it enough or getting enough funding to realise the opportunity to be much bigger. And that will be my role to help make the case for how the UK makes the best advertising.

CS: Do you think that in the UK advertising has lost its confidence or swagger a little bit?

Dougie: I don't believe that to be the case.

I spend enough time in markets like the US to understand that the Brits are humble. We don't like to shout about ourselves all the times. Our industry is very established and mature with loads of brilliantly talent people working in it and just getting on with creating world-class innovative work. And the export numbers prove that it is working. And for businesses and clients who want to buy the best-in-class advertising, they are coming to the UK to buy our services. So we are not a problem child. But we could do so much more.

I see this as one unrealised opportunity. I remember how in 2022, UK advertising had a presence at the CES trade show but it was such a small stage compared to other countries talking about their advertising and marketing capabilities. And that is why this role has come about - we just have not been raising our own profile as a country that makes world-class commercial creativity.

CS: We've seen the defunding of arts and design subjects within schools, and you're also talking about how compared to sectors like music and film, advertising is underfunded in the UK. How can that be challenged ?

Let's take London as an example. One in five London jobs is now in the creative economy, with the creative industries playing an increasingly significant role in supporting the capital's economy. But part of the reason advertising doesn't get the same level of funding in the creative industries when compared to music or the film industry is the lack of of understanding and knowledge for people who are making the investment decisions. And you could argue that there is a trust issue when it comes to advertising, which needs to be fixed. But more than that within the creative industries, there's a knowledge gap on how much wealth we as an industry are creating, not just in London but around the country. Just under a third of UK advertising and marketing-related service companies currently engage in exporting, indicating significant untapped potential for growth. And I want to make the case for our industry and ensure it remains one of the UK’s most valuable exports.

CS: What is your ultimate ambition as chair of UKAEG?

It'd be a much harder job if the exports were going down. But here I am as the ambassador of an industry that is world class and whose exports are going up - people from all over the world want to buy into UK advertising. I am really looking forward to this task of talking about our people, our talent and our work on the global stage. When I go around the world and talk about VCCP's Cadbury case study, which has been winning several awards including IPA Effectiveness Awards, and which has been made locally across markets in Pakistan, in Australia, in South Africa - that is just one success story amongst several others. And I am not just talking about big London agencies. There's talent to be had from Bristol, from agencies in the northeast, who cannot just turn up to Shanghai or to Mumbai on their own to sell their services. During a time when our industry is facing more global competition than ever, I call this [the new role] like a landing pad where we are turning up with some other people in the same boat and figuring out what's going on in markets outside the UK.

I do see it's a continuation of the IPA presidency, actually, because my line was accelerate opportunity. And for me, I now see on a macro scale, a huge opportunity for all of us. We've got evidence that people are buying our exports, but we are unfairly underfunded as a sector. For a sector with global talent and world-class creative capabilities, we have been working with very limited, meagre resources when turning up on the global scale or on trade missions.

And I would like to build on all the good work that we've been doing as a sector to help make exports such a success story for us. For instance, India has been signing up to all the IPA training courses. So we're getting more export of our effectiveness training and Harjot Singh [McCann's global CSO] did a fantastic job raising the profile of the IPA Effectiveness Awards. I want to ultimately build on all these success stories.

CS: You have a much more global perspective than most other people. Do you have any kind of cautionary tales or advice at all, when it comes to working closely with international partners?

We can be almost so self-deprecating - both as a nation and as an industry - that it can sometimes come across as sort of lack of confidence to the outside world. We need to shake that off. Because if you're going up against a Chinese agency or any US agency, who are almost overconfident in telling everyone how bloody good they really are, then we need to make sure that we spotlight the extremely good talent in this country.

Our standards are so very high, but we just don't want to talk about it. And that needs to change when competing on a global stage. Mark Ritson did his piece, not so long ago, talking about how US advertisers don't understand effectiveness. He's obviously being provocative, but there's some truth there because you go and try and find good planners in the States and they're very hard to come by.

So sitting in the UK with all this brilliant talent, we need to realise and understand our value, and the value we create for our clients and the economy. I also don't think most people know that as a sector we're four-times bigger than UK music.

So let's be having that confidence. And yes, we need to have a bigger swagger about ourselves as an industry.


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