Monday, September 01, 2014

what would independence mean for advertising in scotland?

In a couple of weeks Scotland will vote yay or nay for independence from the rest of the UK. 

As ex-pats we are ineligible to vote so will not waste any space on here debating the politics of the issue but among the commentary we were drawn to this article in the Herald by Ian MacWhirter. 

In the article MacWhirter takes a humorous swipe at Lord Birt - the former Director General of the BBC - who has apparently warned Scots that, after independence, they will be cut off from BBC programming and 'sent to bed early with no Dr Who... the screens will go black and cultural life in Scotland will wither as Scots lose access to Strictly Come Dancing'.

Joking aside, clearly Birt is discounting Scots ability to use things like the internet and satellite broadcasting services.

Anyway, the more serious point of the article is this.

'Scotland has had no shortage of broadcasting talent, but it largely gets exported to London, which is why Scottish accents are so prevalent in the media village. Anyone who wants to get on in the BBC has to go to London - as I did - because that is where the jobs are, where the careers and the budgets are. I spent more than 20 years in the BBC, nearly half of it in London... 

...Many Scots do try to come back from London, of course, but it is a big risk. I was speaking recently to one of my contemporaries, who started in the BBC when I did and became one of the best documentary film makers in Britain, with a string of Baftas and other awards to her name. She tried to come back to Scotland three years ago, and found she simply could not get any commissions from the BBC. So she had to go back to London. If you are not in the metropolitan village you are little people.'

Having been away from Scotland for a long time, it's only natural that once in a while the call of of home can be heard and we get a misty eyed for the skirl of the pipes and so forth.

Don't worry, this is not one of those occasions.

And even if it were then we wouldn't necessarily use this journal to express anything of that nature.

Plus, it would be pretty pointless anyway as the advertising industry in Scotland is so small that it cannot employ even a small percentage the Scots ad talent, they face the same conundrum as their broadcast media counterparts as almost the entire industry is in London.

MacWhirter goes on to ask. 'So Scotland could go it alone (ie having a Scottish national broadcaster), but would it ever have to? Everyone I speak to seems to believe the BBC would be determined to maintain its brand identity across the whole of the British mainland, not least as a bulwark against digital fragmentation, which is a threat to the future of the licence fee.'

Would Scotland's advertising industry go it alone?

I can't help thinking of this Australian population data point as comparison.

For instance in Victoria, where we have a population of about 5.7million - broadly similar to Scotland's.
Apart from MediaCom, whom I know are in Edinburgh I can't think of any other global network agency who still operate out of Scotland, yet Melbourne is able to sustain a medium sized office just about every global agency one can think of. BBDO, DDB, JWT, TBWA, Y&R etc etc are all here.

And they almost all have at least one other office in New South Wales, some are in QL, WA, and SA too. All the media agencies are here too, plus numerous indies and digital shops etc.

From that population standpoint, post-independence, a Scottish advertising industry at some sort of scale would seem to be equally sustainable (in theory).

Or is Australia just some sort of weird anomaly?

Would the global agency networks be required to open up (or re-open) their outposts in Glasgow or Edinburgh post-independence?

How much advertising spend from companies based in Scotland goes to London based agencies?

And, critically, would the Scottish talent that has had to follow the industry to London and abroad be prepared to return?

Would they even be welcomed back?


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