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IPA agency census shows industry beset by instability

AA/WARC paints rosy picture of ad growth but it's nearly all digital

The IPA has just produced its latest census of people working in UK adland and the overriding impression is that it isn’t much fun.

Timely in a way as current IPA president Josh Krichefski from EssenceMediacom is promoting a ‘People First’ agenda aimed at improving mental health in agencies. The census clearly shows there’s much work to be done.

In the past year redundancies are up from 2.1% of all staff to 4.9%, with surely more to come as the dreaded AI makes its presence felt, and churn is an astonishing 30%, down a bit from 2022 but still clearly showing an unstable business. More than anything, clients hate losing valued members of their team. Pay rates for women against men and people from ethnic groups against white are roughly the same, while ethnic representation is also pretty consistent at 23.6%, mostly in less senior roles.

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair says: “After a dip in employee numbers during Covid and then a sharp recovery last year, we are now seeing a levelling out. As such, there are less dramatic improvements this year across key metrics, although there is some progress in some areas, such as the increase in women at the most senior levels of our business, which is most welcome.

“What is clear, however – with overall numbers of people from non-white backgrounds and numbers of people from non-white backgrounds in the C-suite both declining marginally – is that we mustn’t lose momentum on the great work our agencies have invested in over the past few years to make our business more diverse and inclusive.”

Surely a bigger issue is the continued erosion of agency influence with clients, who, after all, pay for it all. Advertising has always been a risky business (not too many gold watches for seniors) but what made it worthwhile for many was the money and fun.

The money is nowhere near as good as it was for most and the fun element has been dramatically reduced in a digitally-driven, data-obsessed business. Advertising Association/WARC figures out today show UK ad expenditure up 15.9% to a record £9.6bn in Q3 2023 but this growth is almost exclusively digital. In main media Out of Home and radio were the bright spots.

AA/WARC has upgraded its 2023 full year forecast to £37bn, a rise of 6.4% on 2022, pretty good considering the UK economy as a whole is flatlining at best. But most of this isn’t the work that people in adland (of a non-nerd disposition) enjoy doing. Focussing on mental health is all fine and good but it’s difficult to make progress if people don’t enjoy what they’re doing.

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