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The Conversation

Levelling the playing field

The advertising scene is bigger than London alone and needs to be bigger still

By Jeremy Lee

There's a certain irony that it's my turn back in the chair, given the topic of this week's Conversation.

Just before Christmas, and in one of those classic moments of middle-aged introspection, I took a family ancestry test and discovered that nearly 80 per cent of my ancestry could be traced to the "north London area". Specifically, a look at the 1922 Census revealed this probably meant the distinctly unglamorous town of Hemel Hempstead - a few miles from where I grew up. In comparison, my colleagues are much more exotic - although having moved to the "south London area" I feel I have struck a small blow.

No matter. The point is that due to geography people like me have usually found it easier to get jobs in London than people from the rest of the country. Incidentally Creative Salon has built a resource that aggregates all the agency outreach programmes on offer to people of all backgrounds from around the country as part of our mission to open up the industry to the next generation of diverse talent. But London is where the UK advertising industry is still centred, whether we like it or not.

That's not to say that successful agencies or great creativity haven't emerged from what is still called "the regions". You only have to look at McCann's UK network, MSQ's portfolio of national agencies, and media agencies such as MediaCom, which have always had a proud and strong presence outside of the capital. However, the cluster-effect has meant that they have largely been obscured by the catch-all expression "the London advertising scene" as shorthand for UK creativity as a whole.

Thankfully some agencies are attempting to burst this bubble. VCCP has launched the VCCP Stoke Academy, which introduced first internship in that city this week; and New Commercial Arts has opened an office in Glasgow. But more needs to be done, not just to attract talent from outside the London region but to actually set up there too.

The government's "levelling up" white paper announced last week has been met with mixed reviews but the decentralisation of state-owned creative businesses, such as Channel 4 and the BBC, out of London have no doubt helped reinvigorate areas that were in need of it. The ad industry can also play its part in understanding the regions better (as Chris Kay, the Burnley-born newish chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, points out in an interview with us). It will probably make good business sense too.


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