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Does Great Britain need a rebrand?

As the UK grapples with its identity in the post-Brexit era, is its reputation as a global creative powerhouse under threat?

For a long time, the UK’s creative industries have punched well above their weight on the world stage. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s statistics speak for themselves: between 2011 and 2019, the creative industries grew at double the rate of the rest of the economy, and in 2021 they generated £109 billion in revenue, equating to 5.6% of the UK’s economy overall. A big part of this success has been the ability of individual sectors – ranging from design and advertising to film and fashion – to attract the best and brightest creative talent from across the globe. But then along came Brexit.

The impact of leaving the EU, both in terms of opting out of the single market and damaging perceptions of the UK internationally, has been a huge source of anxiety for the creative industries in the wake of the 2016 referendum. Toby Southgate, who was worldwide CEO of Brand Union at the time of the vote, noticed the effects almost instantly. “I personally saw two German nationals decide very quickly that they didn’t want to wait to get told what would happen to them. I know other people who waited to see for a while. That stage of uncertainty lasted a really long time – certainly longer than anyone expected,” he says.

“The second stage was, ‘OK, this really is happening and it is going to look like this, so do I want to be a part of it or not?’ And between those two stages there was definitively, from my perspective as an agency leader, a decline in interest both from European native talent, either in the UK already or looking to come in, and also from the perspective of European-based clients, who would have historically looked to run a pitch or a project or find a partner comfortably in London.”