UntitledEven if (or maybe because) your last exposure to European advertising was a heavy metal cough drop commercial from Finland, you may be wondering how things are going over there across the pond. In general, I think the answer is, “Things could be better, but they were a lot worse.”

Ad spending is a kind of economic indicator. When a business, or a sector, or an entire economy heads south, ad spending is one of the first things to get cut. The European Union (EU) has been slower out of the Great Recession than the United States and ad spending didn’t return to growth until 2013, and even then it only grew by only 2.3% in 2014, according to a report by eMarketer.

Other trends follow a similar path. 4G mobile broadband availability doubled in Western Europe in 2014. And while smartphone usage in Europe lags behind the United States by a few percentage points, it’s expected to surpass ours by 2017. So it’s no surprise that digital budgets accounted for almost a third of European ad spending last year.

But while Europe, like the United States, is seeing a huge growth in digital advertising, Europeans tend to be much more protective of their privacy than Americans. As in the United States, ad agencies and advertisers have been largely – and successfully – self-regulating. But the search engines, ISPs and mobile carriers that collect and sell much of the data that allow for targeted digital advertising are not.

These and other issues were hot topics of conversation at this year’s Advertising Week Europe, which is being held from March 23 – 27.  I moderated a panel of industry leaders entitled, “Crossing the Atlantic” that discussed the impact of globalization and how, more than ever, agencies are expanding across the Atlantic.

The Way I See It

  • It’s easy to think of Madison Avenue as the heart of the global advertising world, but is it? What about Europe, Japan, China, and Latin America and the other rising ad creatives.
  • Europe and the United States face similar changes: a more diverse, tech-savvy millennial generation, an increasingly fractured media landscape through which to reach them and the rise of the importance of information.

The Way the Industry Sees It

Kathleen Headshot


I sat down with Kathleen Saxton, Founder of The Lighthouse Company, a bespoke headhunting firm based in London and New York, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly global ad industry.

For the past six years you’ve been surveying C-suite executives in the media and communications industry. What trends are you seeing in the needs of agencies for senior talent, and how do those needs differ between the United States and U.K.?

There is a universal truth in what is needed across both markets as we emerge from recessionary times. Over the last 5 years we have seen a pattern in agencies who were looking to secure their business for the tough times and relying on the safe hands of the leadership styles of Chief Operating Officers, whereas, we’re now seeing a greater need and desire for a more dynamic and charismatic leadership style on both sides of the Atlantic.  Given the scale of advertising and media accounts in the United States, it’s quite apparent that having the right client leads in place can often have more influence on an agency’s success than the domestic country management. Conversely in the U.K., while client directors are still incredibly important, agency leadership from senior executives tends to drive success. In many ways, this makes the U.K. market easier to navigate as a headhunter and indeed for candidates making choices about where they want to work.

What’s driving those trends? Is there a particular problem agencies are trying to solve? “I need the right person who can do X?

The biggest challenge that agencies are facing (according to our New World Talent Survey undertaken in January 2015) is that they are not as attractive places to work as they once were. The long hours, constant pitching, client turnover and squeezing of fees, particularly in the network agencies, are all impacting how talented individuals choose to spend their professional time.  There is equally an overriding macro issue of how agencies work to retain and attract brilliant talent. As you can imagine, this is particularly challenging when many media owners and technology companies are dangling numerous carrots in front of the best candidates; whether that’s financial incentives, creative freedom or simply fresh and exciting challenges.

What about the needs of individual creative leaders looking for more interesting or rewarding positions? How have their needs evolved, and do those needs differ depending on which side of the pond they’re on?

I fundamentally don’t believe that the needs of creative leaders differ on each side of the pond. They all tend to want to be professionally liberated and independent in an organization that desires and rewards their entrepreneurship. We’ve seen some of the best Executive Creative Directors coming out of the bigger networks, like Droga for example, to set up a shop that reflects their own working philosophies.  As agency outputs have become more commoditized, and the Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operating Officer influence has grown in strength, I believe that the creative leaders who will succeed will be the ones who can embrace both the passion for their craft and the pressures of efficient and digital delivery for their clients.

In what other ways have you seen globalization change the ways agencies operate?

In a truly positive move for our industry, collaboration across disciplines and indeed agencies is more prevalent than ever. Take for example the Havas Villages; these create an almost ‘full-service plus’ environment to meet the broadest possible needs of their clients.  It’s become even more important to not be too introspective. Today, some of the best work at Cannes comes from outside the major territories that are deemed to be at the forefront of creativity. Agencies need to be, and in many cases are, celebrating the great work that comes from every corner of their network, sharing and learning in the globally connected world. At the end of the day, if teams of surgeons can virtually operate on someone in another country, then surely our industry can definitely collaborate creatively across geographic territories too.

What’s the most interesting thing in your office?

The most interesting thing in our office is also the most striking! In fact, that thing is actually over 300 candidate photographs that adorn our office walls within beautiful golden gilt frames. Having the faces of those people that we represent, and have successfully placed, is a fantastic reminder of why everyone in The Lighthouse Company brings their heart and soul to work every day.