Will Adland be forced to move to new lands to hire talent?

A recent report says that the West End is now one of the most expensive places to set up a business. Add to that the fact London has one of the most expensive travel costs, plus housing costs and you have to wonder how anyone can afford to live and work in London anymore.

For many grads, living at home is the only option, the trouble is, many parents moved out to the suburbs so now their off spring face massive travel costs to get into London. With many internships unpaid, it’s almost too expensive to take one just because of travel costs alone. Catch 22.

I have friends who have moved out of London and claim to have a better work life balance as well as a better bank balances.

Buying a flat may not be a high priority for a grad but sooner or later they will want to and London is just simply too expensive – you’ll need £100k just as a deposit. And even though there are some schemes to try and reduce the cost, most are fraught with conditions, catches or simply offering duff property.

If you want to own property, London isn’t the place to be. By contrast, my brother lives in Manchester, his house (the same size as mine) cost half the price. He earns about the same as my London wage, so has more disposable income, so gets to go on more holidays, eats out more and can afford the latest gadgets and a very nice car. So what is the attraction of London?

Despite claims that the current generation of grads are work shy, over  expectant and job snobs – note Iain Duncan Smith’s comment about shelf stacking – like most of us, they will eventually want to settle down and have a family and a decent balance of work and life. It’s just human nature (not that at 25 you believe you’ll one day be mowing a suburban lawn, wearing slacks and  a brown cardigan).

While adland may be stuck in London, digital is well spread across the UK, with Bristol being one of the hottest creative spots outside London. So already London is no longer the creative capital.

Be honest, outside of working for one of the few really creative companies, life outside the capital is probably a lot better. Let’s take a reality check here, most agencies bread and butter is in dull, uninspiring, knock it out and keep the client happy work – “churn & earn” – as it’s known. So why live on nothing in London when you can live outside?

And salaries are not always better in London either. Some people I know are now earning more outside as they are seen as a valuable resource.

We are yet to see how hard the economics of London life will effect the workplace, but I bet it will. And in time that might mean adland has to try harder to recruit new talent or face a hard fact that organisations like the BBC have had to face, it’s time to move out of London.

Already we’ve seen a talent drain to technology based creative industries such as gaming, where you can be very creative and well paid. Advertising isn’t top of a lot of creatives list any more. End of last year I attended a meeting with other industry creative directors to discuss how we can attract more talent.

If Mother, W&K, Fallon or Droga 5 set up in Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool (all cities with great facilities and a great night life), I bet they’d have even more applicants than they do, because they’d still be doing great work, and you’d be able to live in a decent house, not in a small flat, and you could drive to work in a nice car, rather than spend 25% of you income on an overcrowded, dirty transport system.

Throughout history, economics, more so than social trends, has dictated change. So unless something radical happens, adland could soon find itself moving out to pastures new

  • iain Maclean

    London’s stranglehold on advertising is akin to that which Madison Avenue once had in the US.

    Their monopoly was broken in the mid-1980s, when a small, provincial agency in Minneapolis, Fallon McElligott, suddenly started winning dozens of golds for big awards, like the One Show and Clio.

    With Winter temperatures of -20 and a relatively small population, no-one could explain it.

    Under the creative direction of the great Tom McElligott, they created the famous
    “Perception/Reality” campaign for Rolling Stone magazine, and the “The Daily Diary Of The American
    Dream” tagline for the Wall Street Journal.

    They dominated all awards throughout the late 80s.  And suddenly, suspecting that there must be something in the water, more and more Madison Avenue stalwarts opened branches in Minneapolis. 

    Thanks to Fallon McElligott, many agencies such as W+K in Portland, Butler, Shine, Stern in San Francisco and Martin in Richmond, have their HQs outside New York.

    All it would take is one brave agency with a big creative reputation to set up outside London.

    Apparently, in the 70s (then plain old Mr.) Frank Lowe wanted to move CDP, which was regarded as one of the best creative agencies in the world, to a stately home off the M4 corridor. It made perfect economic sense as so many client companies were based there.

    But, it went against the prevailing social trend.  Clients and staff wanted the buzz and glitz of London, not some sleepy town off the M4.

    Besides, all the TV and radio production and facilities houses were in London. And TV ruled.


    It doesn’t any longer.

    Digital agencies don’t need to pay huge rents and business rates, or the proximity of ancillary services..  But, because the average age of their staff is just above that of a foetus, they feel they need the buzz and edge of the East End.  It’s he old cattle-market syndrome; young, single people prefer big cities because they’re on the hunt for a mate and good times. 

    So, the digital agencies are all there near Old Street, in London, not in Bristol. 

    It’s a shame, but perhaps one day soon a British version of Fallon McElligott will shock the London stalwarts. 

    For the best of all worlds, I still like the idea of a stately home off the M4 corridor.  Hmmm.

  • Marie Clarke

    I totally agree. I think most people soon realize that work-life balance is a must. Being “creative” and having a high-paid job just isn’t enough, especially when you see what other cities/countries have to offer. Take Singapore- I lived there in 2011. People worked hard, but played equally hard. There was life beyond commuting, watching telly and going out to pubs and restaurants. You could take part in outdoor sports after work, go to Sentosa beach on your way home, eat out everyday for under a fiver at hawker centress. On the weekends you can also get cheap flights to anywhere in SE Asia. The  365 days of sunshine helped too. 😉