A recent survey by Arnold and 4A’s in the US found that advertising agency personnel have no loyalty to their current agency. Is this new? Let’s face it, agency folk have a history of hopping from one shop to the next, continually chasing elusive $5000 raises, mini-promotions from Account Executive to Senior Account Executive, or promises of a more appropriate work-life balance. Constant turnover doesn’t even seem to phase clients any more. When talking about an account team from another agency, a very senior client recently told me,
“I can’t tell you what their names are. All I know is that at one point, the entire team was blonde.”
Even when they’re not officially looking, people are are looking. Here are some additional stats from the study:
– 70% would call a recruiter back if they got contacted.
– 30% of the collective agency workforce will be gone in 12 months.
– 96% said they could easily get another job if they wanted one.
What is it about this industry that people show the same amount of loyalty to their agency as Lindsay Lohan does to her rehabilitation process? Here’s why I think this exists:
1. No training and development
To quote Arnold CEO Andrew Bennett, “The average Starbucks barista gets more training than the average communications employee.” After over 15 years in this business, I have to agree. Hell, agencies have never been good at the entire HR function. While “lunch and learns” take place at a lot of agencies, I’m always amazed at the training my friends receive in other industries. In fact, the study found that 90% of people feel that they are left to figure out problems on their own. Not very comforting for a client when a 25 year old Account Executive is forced to use Jersey Shore as a metaphor for their brand positioning. And it’s getting worse. With new channels, new media, new approaches, and a ton of technological implications, people need training more and more and it’s still not happening.
2. Too cool for school
Sure agency management is partially to blame but I think employees have to share in that blame. If you asked agency personnel whether they’d rather spend $300 on a day for training or $300 on a ticket to an industry award show, most would probably choose the award show (me included). You get to drink, party, and show that you’re part of the in-crowd. Training just seems to be a dirty word. Cool kids know it all, don’t they?
3. It’s not perfect. But it’s advertising.
There’s a lot that is frustrating about advertising but people are still drawn to the sexiness of the industry. So when tensions mount at one shop, people simply think a change to another agency will provide enough new stimuli to compensate for the issues that seem to be baked into the business. One senior creative who wanted to leave his agency told me,
“No agency in Canada has really figured it out. I just want to experience someone else’s dysfunction.”
Clients may not like to hear this but we know all about you. In Canada, this industry is pretty small and people talk all the time. I remember winning one client away from a friend’s agency. When we were appointed, he said,
“Good riddance. Winning this account just brought you closer to hell.”
Yikes. Before we even had our kick off session, staffers were running for the hills and refused to work on it. While the agency may be happy for the bump in revenue (even more so after the recent recession), the agency staff want nothing to do with it. So they run. They call a recruiter, they call their friends, and they get the hell out. On the flip side, a very positive client reputation can have the same effect. Clients who are known to buy breakthrough work usually get the best staff because people will leave their agency simply to work on that account.
5. Other interests
I’m guilty of this myself. While I absolutely love working in advertising, I have always had other things that have interested me. Comedy, speaking, photography and more. A lot of creatives got into this business because of the balance between art and commerce. Occasionally, the commerce part gets in the way and people retreat to what really makes them happy. This is one of the reasons so many people enjoy freelance. You work less than you would at a full time job leaving you more time to explore other passions.
Agency management: Put aside more dough for training. Agency staff: Manage your career. Demand training. Develop training. Or if push comes to shove, find those agencies that do it well and stay loyal. We’ll all be better for it.
If you’re looking for training, one of the best is Leslie Ehm at Three Training.
She’s smart. She’s fun. She’s talented. She’s also a friend and I would recommend her without hesitation.