Brothers and Sisters’ Matt Charlton: advertising begins to learn the true cost of Brexit

Finally data is emerging that should put the fear of God into adland and the the UK a whole. Omnicom UK (below) managed organic growth of five per cent in Q3. Deduct the currency bounce as the money is converted to dollars for the US holding company and you get an horrific minus ten per cent performance.


Sure, as an independent agency we may be shielded but a terrible economy is a terrible economy for everyone.

What this means in simple terms is that all of these businesses that have to convert pounds to the dollar (euro not far behind) are either going to have try and put their prices up, like Marmite, by 18 per cent, the fall in the pound against the dollar (which has zero chance of succeeding in a market under constant cost pressure and scrutiny) or they will have no choice but to adjust their cost base by 18 per cent. Which means a lot less people doing even more.

This isn’t going to be about people losing their bonus but about people losing their jobs: significant numbers.

This is a perfect example of the perfect storm the UK has been dumped in.

Since 2008 the economy has been held together with string. Agencies have had to put dramatic cost cutting in place to lower costs and keep output the same over the last eight years. It’s been unbelievably hard on employees.

If you talk to the people that run agencies the same theme emerges. It’s never been harder. People are leaving the industry because of the sheer hours and pressure they are under. Agencies have been struggling for eight years to cope and, arguably, just about kept above water.

If the expectation from UK Brexit voters is that businesses can slash costs massively again and keep production output the same then they are sadly mistaken. It’s not possible. There is no more output. We cannot ask any more from people already hugely overworked.

Working from 8am to 10pm three or four times a week and most weekends, which is the industry norm, means people are already being broken. We cannot and surely will not ask for more.

The Government need to start listening and fast.

If you can’t put your prices up and you can’t cut any more cost out then the only other option is wage deflation or becoming an unprofitable market to invest in.

Wage deflation doesn’t work. Making people literally poorer isn’t often seen as a great motivator.

Being an unprofitable market destroys the economy.

Where is all this going? Seriously, what on earth is going on. So many people have been saying this to me since Brexit. So much utter nonsense has been spoken. Such muddled debates where worries about economics are answered with statements about immigration or sovereignty. It’s like taking a maths exam but writing answers about geography.

Listen to the people that run businesses. Listen to the people that you are asking to tolerate mass economic destruction and expecting to rebuild it afterwards.

Advertising is predominantly a London-centric industry still. If you destroy the economy in London you destroy the UK. Advertising is a big deal industry in London in terms of jobs, revenue and tax.

The reality is that three quarters of all UK Cities have yet to grow back to the same level of tax contribution they made in 2008. Three quarters! In other words they haven’t recovered from the 2008 disaster. That is a frightening reality if London too is going to be left to the dogs. My home town of Norwich generated 21 per cent less overall tax in 2014/15 than immediately before the 2008 recession. 21 per cent – stick that on a bus Boris and drive it around Norfolk.

epa05299338 Former Mayor of London Boris Johnson poses as he launches the Vote Leave Bus Tour in St Austell, Cornwall, Britain, 11 May 2016. Boris Johnson is supporting the Brexit campaign touring the country with a bus. EPA/STR UK OUT

Think tank Centre for Cities found that London generated almost as much tax as the next 37 largest cities combined in the UK.

So industry and everyone else needs to send a message very loud and clear now to the Government and quickly. We’ve run out of options, there’s no more water in the industrial well.

For people in advertising this Omnicom data is a dire warning.

unknown-5-1Matt Charlton is CEO of Brothers and Sisters.


  1. Pretty much the best-written and clearest description of our current position. And non-partisan. In fact that is the strongest argument in Matt’s piece. This is the first comment I have seen from a business-runner’s point of view that isn’t in some way compromised by association with industry pressure groups or political bias. I can tell Matt that out here on the front line – working with many countries in the EU – all the feedback I am getting is “are we mad?”. And it is beginning to manifest itself practically in a sort of reluctance to work closely with us because of what “might be about to happen”. Plus we are getting very concerned about currency fluctations. We are bidding a €1.7m job out of Germany and I have to think carefully about exposure to risk on a fixed-bid project that will take 3 months to complete. If the £ tanks during the life of the job because of some daft playground point-scoring comment from any of the Brexiteers, what then?

  2. Thanks Mark for your kind words. The process for getting through to people is not clear now it has turned into a bandwagon but we have to keep on trying because no doubt it’s going to get serious for everyone very soon. I am not going to give up!

  3. As a non advertising IT geek, involved in the Remain community can I say one thing.? HELP!!!! Yes YOU talented advertising geniuses of London and elsewhere, the pro-EU community really needs good advertising to win hearts and minds. With today’s court finding making a Parliamentary vote more likely we need to win over the British public and hence our MPs to bring the country to its senses. You can literally save Britain. Contact us via Together we can Break Brexit Before Brexit Breaks Britain!

  4. I agree with Stephen Smith. Isn´t advertising the art of swinging opinions? On bread, toilet paper, cars and politics? Help those who are trying to keep the UK in.

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