Tuesday Club talk with Cilla Snowball

The Advertising Association’s recent report, “Advertising Pays – How Advertising Fuels the UK Economy” was a welcome boost for an industry that does pretty poorly in the reputation stakes. If you missed it, take a look at it as it’s vital reading for anyone working in our sector.  It shows how £1 of adspend delivers £6 to UK GDP and how advertising is a vital enabler of and catalyst for the UK consumer economy.

The economic impact and reputation of our industry was also at the heart of Cilla Snowball’s talk for NABS Partner Card holders earlier in the week when she talked about “pushing advertising up the business agenda.”

If you were looking for Superwoman personified, you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Cilla. Not only is she group chairman and group CEO, AMV BBDO, she’s also chair of the Advertising Association and a board member at BBDO Worldwide, Comic Relief, Birmingham University and the Women’s Business Council. The icing on the cake came earlier in the month when she appeared in the inaugural Woman’s Hour Power List.  It’s people like her who make our industry great.

On the one hand we probably face the worst recession since the 1920s. But on the other, we continue to suffer from some negative perceptions that have plagued our industry since its earliest days, Cilla explained. ‘Devious’, ‘not to be trusted’ and ‘poison’ are some of the words bandied around in any number of reports that attack our industry. While it’s part of a general trend of declining trust in business – just 56% of the UK population trusts businesses to do what is right and only 39% of the population trust CEOs – it shouldn’t make us complacent.

Particularly interesting was the view from the media camp. Cilla recounted how she’d reacted to hearing provocative comments about our industry from national business journalists talking at ‘Lead 2013’ a recent Advertising Association event. The two things they said they were most interested to write about were (i) recently upheld ASA complaints and (ii) Sir Martin Sorrell . There was a call for the industry to tell the story of its output, its successes and its personalities far better.

Gloomy as this all sounds, there’s actually plenty that we can do and this is when the fighting talk kicked in. It’s time, Cilla told us, to start to ‘advertise advertising’. It’s not as if we don’t now have the business facts at our fingertips thanks to the Advertising Association’s report. It’s time, Cilla claimed, that we stop being worriers and become warriors, going on the attack and striking out for glory.

Nor do we lack the necessary personalities to represent us. It’s pretty clear to all of us at NABS that this bit of the perception equation shouldn’t be too hard to fix. A quick look around the advertising world and in fact at NABS’ own 100 Club gives us plenty of industry leaders who would more than hold their own within a group of general business heads. There’s no excuse for our industry not to make that leap. Cilla has successfully embarked on such a role as a wonderful role model for advertising. We need more who like her who are engaging, successful, empathetic and of good moral fibre to represent us and what we offer to the wider world.

What’s more, there is much that our industry does that is of benefit to society at large. Cilla made the point that advertising can most definitely be a social as well as economic force for good; that is a message that NABS too does its best to broadcast. We need to do a much better job of measuring and selling the social impact and value of work, such as the many public awareness campaigns that agencies have delivered in the past. These award winning pieces of work have made a massive contribution by changing behaviour, saving lives, reducing illness and crime.

Cilla had plenty more to say on the subject of awards – creative and effectiveness. Our industry does a pretty decent job of recognising great work, though it can sometimes all feel a little insular. It’s vital that we do a better job of making the point that awarded work is effective work that delivers proven ROI. Clients need to embrace this too and we need to do a better job of taking this message to the outside world, particularly to these hard-nosed business journalists who we need to win over. And part of that is being smarter about getting involved in the commercial agendas of our clients, making sure the ROI from great campaigns is recognised by CEOs, the C Suite and the City.

We learned that the UK ranks 22nd in global population versus 5th in advertising volume. That the UK punches well above its population weight in the creativity league. That awarded work is twelve times more likely to drive brand share than non-awarded work. Telling our story through great creativity has to be our priority task.

If we do all these things, Cilla concluded, and do them well, then we can improve the face of advertising as a whole and be confident and business-like about the future of our industry.

The next NABS event is Creative Speed Mentoring on 6 March. This year we have mentors such as Paul Brazier (AMV BBDO), Steve Henry (Decoded), Malcolm Poynton (Sapient Nitro), Dave Bounaguidi (Karmarama), Flo Heiss (Dare) and Robert Campbell (Beta). Speed Mentoring is NABS’ lighthearted approach to mentoring which gives participants the opportunity to glean knowledge from industry leaders, whilst networking with peers.

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