In My Opinion: Claire Wood: An end to (the advertising) Winter?

GOOD news in the communications industry in Scotland has been rather thin on the ground, in recent times.

There are a lot of brilliant agencies – and brilliant people within them – scattered across the country.

Just the other evening, I presented prizes to 23 of the brightest young people working in advertising in Scotland. They’d all recently sat – and passed – the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) Foundation Certificate, thereby gaining a solid grounding in all the key disciplines needed by communications professionals.

We have talent in abundance in Scotland. And good work continues to be served up to both UK-based and international audiences by agencies based here.

But as frequent contributor to this site, Mark Gorman, will no doubt testify, the industry as a whole in Scotland has been challenged by the recession. Long-established agencies fought it – and haven’t always won. And whether you’ve just stepped through the front door of an agency, or form a part of the furniture, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

Which is why the latest economic indicator produced by the IPA is such good news.

Figures just released in the IPA’s Bellwether Report suggest that we’re on the brink of the most substantial increase in marketing budgets that we’ve seen for six years. Since Q3 in 2007, to be precise.

Twenty-two per cent of UK companies have signalled an intention to up their marketing spend, bolstering hopes that sustained cuts to marketing budgets that have been evident since the financial crisis began, might finally come to an end in 2013.

Alongside this, we’re seeing a surge in confidence amongst clients. 43 per cent of the panel questioned felt more confident than they had at the start of the year ad overall, indicating that companies are more positive about their destinies than we’ve seen since the end of 2009.

UK wide, there is further evidence of economic growth. Business studies have already signalled GDP growth, strengthening in Q2 with the economy set to expand at a quarterly rate of 0.5 per cent.

Much as this ‘advertising Winter’ has offered moments of relief, I can’t help but be as pleased as the children who clambered through the wardrobe that the signs of a thaw seem to be well and truly on the horizon.

One of the most interesting trends in the latest Bellwether Report data is the creeping rise in client digital spend. The increase evident in this quarter is the sharpest we’ve seen for over three years and continues to be the best performing of all Bellwether activity categories.

I have two objectives as chair of the IPA in Scotland: to make sure that we’re offering the best possible training to the talent we have in Scotland and to make sure that we, as an industry, are best placed to capitalise on this growth in client digital spend.

We’ll be running a programme of events designed to increase digital knowledge across the communications community, that kicks off this Autumn. Further down the line, our training agenda will be informed by smart thinking from our newly-convened Client Digital Council, designed to ensure that our training is the best possible fit with the skills that our clients are seeking.

It’s easy for those of us who’ve been working in the advertising community for more years than we care to remember to dwell on the difficulties. To become the ‘Vermicious Knids’ of the industry, so wrapped up in prophecying doom that we forget to look for the signs of a thaw (how’s that for a literary mash-up?).

Let’s take this latest set of results as an excuse to start spotting the snowdrops as – sorry, White Witch – Spring appears to be upon us.

Claire Wood is IPA chair for Scotland and planning director at Newhaven Communications.