Agencies may find they’re eating from a restricted menu as they venture into 2021

Carat UK CEO Jo Sutherland is reportedly “stepping down” as CEO – announced in a memo – and she won’t be the only person seeking new pastures as we venture into this strangest of holiday seasons.

The turn of the year always sees a string of top level departures (others too of course) and this time it’s likely to go further and cut deeper as holding companies in particular try to balance the books for next year.

Carat is part of Dentsu International which has already announced 6000 redundancies under new boss Wendy Clark. Clark only took over officially in September so the odds are that these were planned beforehand anyway. The other big holding companies have not so far made across-the-board announcements but they may be forced to as, with the exception of Havas, they”re all publicly quoted and shareholders might like to know.

The underling issue for them is how much of the expected global bounceback in ad spending comes their way and how much has disappeared for ever – straight into the pockets of Facebook and Google (and, increasingly Amazon, maybe Walmart) or the consultants.

Media agencies, like Carat, are obviously in the front line of this battle but creative agencies aren’t far behind. This year many have been kept afloat by the spending of big tech – all the so-called FANGS spend heavily on above-the-line advertising and mostly with creative agencies, even Apple. Top-of-the-range production values are no problem either. Airbnb, now ensconced at Accenture’s Droga5, may follow.

But their job is primarily execution. Strategy has been a big revenue earner for agencies for the past few decades – arguably since account planning was invented in the UK – and one somehow doubts if such companies, stuffed to the gunwhales with their own brainboxes, are prepared to pay premium prices for such services.

Maybe agencies will be forced to return to their traditional skill – making ads. That’s likely to catch out some of them as we venture into 2021.

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