Pandemic job cuts another sign of reduced role for agencies

Campaign has been doing some digging into the small print of Interpublic’s and Omnicom’s annual reports for 2020, to discover that the two ad holding companies have cut 10,000 roles over last year’s course of the pandemic.

The cost of such exits usually comes under “restructuring,” a handy euphemism.

This isn’t surprising (and there may be more to come) but it still comes as a bit of a shock – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. WPP, still to report, employs many more – around 100,000. Or did.

It’s not just the pandemic of course. The shift of media expenditure to Google, Facebook and, latterly, Amazon has driven a coach and horses through ad holding companies’ revenues and margins. Yet media buying is still where they make most of their money and most of their people work. Working in an agency of any ilk these days must be akin to lodging on the edge of a cliff.

Big ad holding creative agencies are, if anything, in an even worse state. WPP CEO Mark Read,who said recently that none of his big agencies had grown for five years, has sought to remedy this by merging them – Y&R with VML, JWT with Wunderman, Grey with AKQA – with the former digital elements firmly in the driving seat.

Clients are in-housing or demanding more for less – or both. Creative advertising has lost ground to ‘content,’ as former WPP CEO (and founder) Sir Martin Sorrell has realised with MediaMonks as the foundation of his new S4 Capital empire.

Here’s a new big budget ad for Pepsi Max and its Champions League involvement. From BBDO? Pepsi doesn’t mention an agency in its lengthy press announcement

Technically pretty perfect – but is it an ad or content?

Rewind to 2010 and we had this from from Wieden+Kennedy for Nike, Wayne Rooney in a caravan.

Won’t be seeing too many more of those any time soon.

So is it all doom and gloom? Mostly. The latest wave of creative agencies may remind clients that to cut through you need more than technique. Facebook and Google may be reined in (don’t bank on it) but automation is is certain to remain the driver of the media market with lots of small ads on zillions of websites (some of whom may even exist.)

The pandemic just made things happen sooner – and not in a good way.

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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.

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