5 Minutes with… Dominic Lyle
If you want to get your head round the state of the European advertising industry, Dominic Lyle is your man. The Director General of the European Assocation of Communication Agencies, he works with agencies and local associations across the continent. The cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe means that the EACA brings together a variety of markets, but wherever you are it seems that all countries are plagued by similar issues. LBB's Laura Swinton caught up with him to pick his brains...
LBB> What sort of concerns are members
talking about at the moment in regards to the advertising industry across
DL> In general our members are concerned about adblocking, inconsistent digital media measurement, the lack of independently verifiable data from the big platforms, and the continued threat of legislation for certain sensitive sectors such as alcohol or HFSS foods. In certain markets, there is a shortage of talent, particularly for digital media, which is a cause for concern given the rapid growth in that sector.
LBB> Last week, Maurice Levy voiced concerns that Europe could be in for an uneven year in 2016 – does this reflect what you’re hearing from member associations and agencies? Or is 2016 looking rosier for Europe?
DL> One of our initiatives demonstrating the diversity of the European advertising market is the EACA Advertising Business Confidence Index. The Index is published on a quarterly basis and produces indicators on how the overall EU advertising market and Northern, Western, Mediterranean and Central/Eastern European regions reflect changes in advertising business confidence, expectations, evolution of employment and demand for advertising services.
The latest Index, released in late February, indicates that the European advertising industry started 2016 with much more confidence than it ended 2015. It also shows that Mediterranean Europe has higher advertising demand expectations than Western Europe, while Northern and Central/Eastern European regions are more optimistic that employment will rise than the other two regions.
LBB> One of the interesting things about EACA is that it brings together a very culturally, linguistically and economically diverse region. How do you navigate that? Do most European ad markets face similar concerns or is there quite a marked difference between, say, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and Northern Europe?
DL> EACA represents 2,500 agencies, from 30 European countries, employing more than 120,000 people, and co-ordination is certainly a challenge. From the everlasting ups and downs of client-agency relationships to legal threats over food and alcohol advertising, all EACA members face similar problems, just during different times. What is an issue for France today might be an issue for the UK in a year.
That’s where EACA steps in; we gather best practice, share experiences and help our members adapt to and overcome various challenges, by providing them with our pan-European recommendations and connecting them with other parts of the European ad industry.
LBB> One of the big EACA initiatives of the past year was revising the Data Protection Directive, as part of the European Commission’s Single Digital Market drive. What does the Single Digital Market mean for European ad agencies and how might it change things for them?
DL> The DSM Strategy is brimming with different initiatives of interests to agencies. EACA is engaged in a number of them. Apart from the General Data Protection Regulation, which harmonises the data protection regime across Europe, we are also facing a revision of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive which stipulates quantitative rules for TV advertising and qualitative rules for alcohol advertising. Naturally, protection of minors is under the spotlight as well as the effectiveness of the European self-regulatory system. Furthermore, we will be dealing with copyright infringing websites being partly fueled by advertising money. A lot is at stake for agencies: how much and if we will be able to advertise food and alcohol products, how to be more transparent towards consumers about how their data is used about or how to counter adblocking.
We usually agree on positions with our members, take their concerns on board, and actively advocate on behalf of agencies in co-operation with our Brussels allies representing advertisers, self-regulatory organisations, broadcasters and others.
LBB> One of the major talking points at the moment is digital ad fraud – something that can only be tackled by cross-party and cross-border initiatives. Is this something your member agencies have been raising with you? From a European perspective, what can be done about it and where does the EACA fit in terms of bringing agencies together from a range of countries? Have you got any specific initiatives in the works?
DL> The digital advertising spend rose to more than €30 billion in 2015. Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine a campaign without a digital component. However, as you mention, digital ad fraud is also on the rise. Our members have indeed been raising this point as it is definitely not in their interest to create or place fraudulent ads. We have spent years building trustworthy relationships with other advertising stakeholders and that is why we have engaged with IAB Europe and the World Federation of Advertisers to develop new European viewability standards, backed by an industry seal for accredited participants. EACA is taking the lead on the agencies’ behalf by channeling our members’ positions into a constructive discussion with other industry members. Expect to hear more about this by the end of the year.
LBB> European creativity is often dominated by the big obvious markets like London, Germany, France, Sweden, Amsterdam – but there are so many exciting cities and countries that can be overlooked. Which cities or countries are really piquing your interest as up-and-coming creative hotspots? (The quality of work coming out of places like Poland and Hungary seems to be getting stronger and stronger, for example…)
DL> My exposure to campaigns from those countries is limited to visits to Golden Drum and other festivals, so I am not able to comment other than to say that I am always very impressed by the dynamism and creativity of the work in CEE. Romania, Poland and Bulgaria are all pushing the envelope in terms of creativity and there is a pool of young talent emerging within the digital sector. Festivals such as the Golden Drum in Slovenia, Golden Hammer in Riga and White Square in Minsk are wonderful showcases for the CEE countries and a useful counterbalance to Cannes.
LBB> One of the big European stories that is surely going to rumble on for the next year is ‘Brexit’, or the UK referendum to leave the EU. Is this something that member agencies and associations have been discussing much with you? If so, what sorts of opinions are you hearing? Are people apprehensive or is it not a particular concern yet? How do you think the referendum (whichever way it goes) will impact upon the UK’s place in the European advertising community?
DL> EACA sees the United Kingdom as a key member of the European Union and we are confident that the British people will vote to stay united with the rest of Europe. Disintegration is a narrative of the past, not of the future and this is not ideology speaking but plain facts: 1.4 million Brits live in the EU, Britain’s leading trade partners are in the EU, and UK GDP could be reduced by between 1.1% in an optimistic scenario and 3.1% in a pessimistic one, if the vote is to leave.
We are well aware that the EU has tended to over-regulate in the past, but this is why Brussels has put so much emphasis on better regulation and why the new European Commission has been working on making regulation smarter and less burdensome. For us, the best way to achieve this is through the promotion of industry self-regulation, something we have been working on for a couple of decades now, with increasing success. Certainly, we and our members are worried about the prospects of the EU without the UK but we believe that reasonable arguments will overcome demagogy.
LBB> Over the past few years, everyone in advertising seems to have gotten really excited about the BRIC nations, but with China’s economic slow-down and the catalog of economic and social issues Brazil has been facing, I wonder if some of that breathless excitement might be re-diverted towards Europe?
DL> Europe is economically torn nowadays; while Southern economies are having sluggish growth rates, other countries such as Poland and the UK are doing much better. That being said, I believe that the European market is on its way to a full recovery, but there are still certain political and economic issues impeding it: the refugee crisis, Brexit, uneven growth across Europe and, further down the line, the after effects of the massive quantitative easing programme currently underway. On the other hand, new markets are emerging across the world, beyond the BRICS, such as the technology-empowered economies of Taiwan, India and South Korea.
The EU might join the group of world tech leaders by completing and creating the Digital Single Market, which will give a boost to our economy and our prospects to divert that ‘breathless excitement’ from other parts of the world to Europe.
LBB> You’re also the Vice Chairman of the European Advertising Standards Alliance – I’d love to pick your brains about advertising standards online, an area I’ve heard described as ‘the wild west’. Recent hot topics have included YouTube stars given paid-for endorsements in their videos to native advertising – what are the challenges involved in creating cohesive, Europe-wide policies or directives for such a rapidly evolving area?
DL> I have already mentioned that technology-empowered advertising has developed so fast that the industry is struggling to find solutions for different challenges. One of them is definitely native advertising online through endorsement on social media. We believe that advertising content should be clearly separated from editorial content and labelled as such and this stand is supported by EASA in its Best Practices guidance focusing on digital commercial communication.
This issue is being debated also with the European Commission in the context of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which is to undergo a fitness scrutiny in 2016.
LBB> What are the EACA’s key goals for 2016?
DL> Our key goals for 2016 are to continue to be a key player in the many legislative reviews being undertaken by the European Commission, especially within the remit of the Digital Single Market; to advance our joint initiative with IAB Europe and WFA to develop an industry standard for viewable impressions; to extend the scope of our training and education portfolio; to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our flagship awards, the Euro Effies and to ensure that the concerns and contribution of agencies continue to be heard and recognised in Brussels’ institutions.