Agency Misery Levels Rise

There are indications that working in advertising agencies/media agencies isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Whilst it’s easy to say that that applies to almost any endeavour, there are reasons for those of us who care at all for the future of the industry to be concerned.

‘Campaign’ in the US reports that their own annual ‘morale survey’ indicates that 47% of agency employees consider their morale to be ‘low’ or ‘dangerously low’. In the same survey in 2015 the equivalent number was 34%.

The ‘dangerously low’ number doubled year on year from 8% to 16%.

The key reason? 73% of 2016 respondents quote ‘company leadership’ as the reason for their low morale.

Amongst the 53% who seem to be pretty happy with life – no-one (or no significant number) quotes ‘company leadership’ as a reason for their positive outlook.

To give some context this is a small scale study (about 300 respondents), plus it’s been conducted in the US only. And around 60% or respondents were from creative as opposed to media agencies.

But anecdotal evidence supports the survey’s overall findings.

‘Campaign’ in the UK on 21st October carried a feature on the current trend towards in-house agencies. Gerry Moira, a fixture in our industry for well over 40 years and most recently ex-Chairman at Havas London is quoted as saying: “If I were starting out now, I’d much rather be client-side. It’s the future. Agencies have had their day. They are sweatshops.”

ID Comms’ David Indo and Tom Denford in one of their excellent podcast series MediaSnack both said they would rather be client side today if they were starting off (both have agency backgrounds).

At a Mediatel event on the future of planning earlier this year, several of the panellists when asked said they wouldn’t advise their children to pursue a career as an agency planner.

As to leadership, ever since agencies went public via holding companies there has been the predicted tension between the requirements of shareholders and the needs of clients. There shouldn’t be, after all both are interested in creating successful businesses, but how you get there is open to debate.

The old (private) agency ownership model was based on a belief that great advertising leads to successful business results for their clients. Happy clients tended to lead to more clients – and thus a successful agency.

Nowadays the rise of the mathmen over the madmen (I suspect Sir Martin might be regretting that quip) means that great advertising has taken a backseat amongst our chattering classes to all the algorithms, the bots, the fraud and the transparency issues.

Writing as a card-carrying member of the National Union of Media Troublemakers and International Egotists (NUMTIE) I do think the industry would face a rosier future if we all got back to worrying about how to produce great ideas as opposed to obsessing about where to put them.

  1. As a media man by background, I think I’m allowed to say it’s the media tail wagging the advertising dog and it is entirely wrong

  2. Brian, I disagree! There has never been a better time to be on the agency side. Sure, it’s not perfect, sometimes it’s even very imperfect … but change is exciting and liberating. So much of what we have fought for during many years is actually happening. Instead of feeling defeated we should fight for what is right, that’s what our clients are expecting from us at a time of turbulence and uncertainties.

  3. Maybe this is the problem… agency leaders like you are not listening to feedback. I’m sure people in global CEO roles are all thinking this is the best time to be in advertising, but that’s not the point, is it? Rather than ‘disagreeing with Brian’ based on your individual opinion you might want to take some time to understand the survey results that are based on a far larger sample than just you.

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