In My Opinion: Claire Wood: Digital business is booming; how can Scotland benefit?

A Summer of sport looms. The Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup are just around the corner. And with six months to go ‘til the Referendum, all eyes are on Scotland.

Which seems like a good opportunity to show the rest of the world what we’re good at. And at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in Scotland, we’re happy to see that our member agencies are rising to the challenge.

The recently published shortlist for the Marketing Society Star Awards is testament to the fact that bucketloads of brilliant work is being done in Scotland for international companies like McEwans, Maxxium, SSE, Edrington, the, Sainsbury’s Bank and Iberdrola-owned Scottish Power as well as local leading lights like DC Thomson, Harviestoun Brewery, Quality Meat Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the Scottish Government.

This illustrious roll call is tribute to a greater increase in marketing budgets in the past quarter than we’ve seen in the last 14 years, as demonstrated in the latest Bellwether Report. This, the report concludes, is indicative of growing confidence and optimism amongst marketing professionals who are committing to high-profile campaigns in line with greater company and industry prospects.

Digital spend continues to be the second largest growth category (with media spend as the first), which confirms the wisdom of our focus as the IPA in Scotland on providing innovative digital training to both clients and agencies across the marketing community.

Our ongoing partnership with Millennial Media, celebrated in regular Drink Digital nights at Hotel Missoni in Edinburgh, has complimented our learning agenda. So we’re thrilled that this sponsorship will continue throughout 2014.

WPP published their latest results last week and its high-profile chief executive, Martin Sorrell, observed on the Today programme, on BBC Radio, that the UK is the strongest-performing of all regions in their network. Entirely consistent with Bellwether, digital business showed the strongest growth after his media businesses. Facebook has reportedly just enjoyed ‘substantial increases in revenues and profit’ during the first quarter of this year. Further confirmation that digital continues as an extremely strong area of growth.

What does all of that mean for us? Digital business is booming and agencies with a digital focus in Scotland stand to benefit. But that brings with it a responsibility. Glasgow University has just installed Edward Snowden as their rector. And the agenda at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, was a stark reminder that internet security is a hot topic. One that we, as marketeers, should formulate a response to.

Our agenda as the IPA in Scotland is focused closely on digital education across the marketing community. As communications is our business, it’s tempting to focus on smarter use of newly emerging channels and technology. But surely we have a greater responsibility than that. As digital continues as one of the fastest growing sectors in the communications industry, as we lead the way in using the internet to communicate more imaginatively with our target audiences, do we not have a duty alongside this to think about the consequences of our increasingly assiduous data collection?

The NSA and GCHQ are dealing with equivalent questions, thanks to Mr Snowden. And the communications industry is very careful to adhere precisely to Data Protection legislation. But how often do we questions the ethics that sit behind our endless gathering of customer information? When does it become unacceptable to use the data collected to inform your communications?

Robert Scoble reportedly commented at this year’s South by Southwest: “I will give away my privacy for utility”. Free data for the price of a tablet is one thing. But where will this end? We, as advertisers, need to continue to ensure that we treat this brave new world of ‘Big Data’ with appropriate respect.

Claire Wood is associate planner at The Leith Agency, and IPA chair for Scotland.