Paul Simons: Blue Monday can last the rest of a lifetime in adland – why not plan ahead?

Blue Monday (January 20 this year) is the day when the realities of overspend in December come home to roost. But it’s also a time when structural changes in organisations are implemented. So for many an unlucky person it could be a double whammy of maxed out credit cards and a P45.

I have spent time recently with a variety of people who have been ‘let go’ as our American friends would say and it is a sobering reflection on both the shallowness of artificial relationships combined with the car crash of income evaporating overnight.

I have friends who were earning around £150,00 annually together, no children, nice life style, plenty of surplus cash, then both of them were out of work for very different reasons. Their weekly gross was around £3,000 which dropped to zero in pretty short order. Neither have found suitable alternative employment, they have casual jobs bringing in around £750 a week. Big difference, not a great way to welcome in 2020.

They are also in the trap of no credit due to the income issues. No chance of an extended mortgage for example on their property.

I hear on the grapevine a number of agencies are going through the redundancy process due to poor revenue expectations. Yesterday someone looking for a job said the recruitment environment is dead.

No doubt this cycle of boom and bust will adjust accordingly but not before a sizeable number of talented and experienced people are sliding down the greasy pole towards problems.

The ad industry isn’t geared up to provide security to its talent pool, every individual needs to be taking care of themselves for the mid to long term on the basis that the job might be eliminated without warning at any time.

I have repeated the same mantra many times that the decade shift from 30’s to 40’s is a move into the danger zone; where do all the 45 year old advertising people go? It is a mystery. There might be a number of them working on the maintenance of Maurice Saatchi’s home in the country…

The problem begins at the very beginning when people join agencies. For example, Ogilvy has been a consistent recruiter of graduates annually, often snaring future leaders such as Johnny Hornby, Carl Johnson, Charlie Rudd et al.

After university the environment feels exciting, creative, fun with pavements plated in gold. At no time are these fresh-faced, over-excited trainees ever warned about the lifespan of the average punter or the urgent need to set up a finance regime to squirrel away a quarter of your salary from day 1. As far as I know the IPA does not have a scheme, at the very least, to drill in to new recruits the need to build up a rainy day fund.

Here at MAA we are considering setting up a partnership with a finance house, calling it Early-Bird Capital, tailored to the advertising industry with “retirement’ hurdles at 40 and 50. These age stages don’t seem that too far away when someone is 30, say just eight years after leaving university/college.

The scary exercise is to work out how much cash is needed to survive after the 50th birthday if the recruitment doors are firmly shut. That is £480,000 for each £1000 a month for 40 years. If the monthly requirement is £3000 then the cash pot needed is £1.44m: gulp.

Our approach isn’t gloomy, just the opposite, more a case of getting people to focus on important life decisions early. The pubs, wine bars and clubs in London – or Manchester or Glasgow or New York and so on – suck the spare cash out of everyone in their 20’s so for many it is a case of starting the 30’s with nothing to show for 8/9 years of work. Except perhaps a few more inches around the waist and some hefty credit card debts.

Blue Monday this year has undoubtedly been miserable for a number of people and the likelihood is the ones with a decent financial cushion will be in the minority. We believe more advice and help should be the norm within the UK advertising sector. Watch this space.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.