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Advertising Agencies: Perception vs. Reality
By: Shivani Sinha
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The niche world of advertising is so often construed as fun and exciting that when people learn about the high turnover rate (estimated at approximately 30%), they might be surprised. There is no doubt that there are many advantages to working at an advertising agency. The culture is usually considered to be laid back with frequent happy hours, the dress code is generally casual unless you’re meeting with the client, and the relationship between the agency and the media they work in tandem with can often lead to fun and new experiences that might be considered impractical otherwise.

However, the aspect of working at an ad agency that gets less fanfare is the volatility of these agencies. There is no such thing as stability when it comes to employment at an agency. Chances are that if you’ve stuck around with an agency for a couple of years, you’ve experienced this first-hand. According to Ad Age, the average client-agency relationship lasts approximately two years. It is not uncommon for agencies to lose a huge client and then downsize considerably, often laying off some of their most tenured employees, or entire departments even, who’ve worked on the account the agency just lost. Sometimes agencies can weather the storm, but expecting employees to stand by the agency during such a tumultuous time when loyalty is often disregarded in favor of ease (i.e., laying off entire account teams instead of transitioning some of these workers onto other accounts and making hiring and firing decisions based on merit instead) when it means more work for upper management, is naive at best.
Of course, there are other factors to consider as well. People in advertising often work between 60–80 hours a week. Between juggling projects for multiple clients (who all happen to be “priority” clients) and managing supervisor expectations, it is no wonder that employees can feel overwhelmed in this industry. What is worse is that the constant state of “busy” season in this industry makes the efforts of many employees go unnoticed and underappreciated, which breeds resentment. There are also the issues of salary freezes and lack of upward mobility. It is too easy to feel “stuck” at an agency, or any industry, for that matter, if you do not feel fairly compensated or appreciated, or if you can’t see the potential for growth in the future.

When thinking about the long and arduous process of pitching for a new client, I wonder: If that same effort went into employee retention, would this still be such a big problem in this industry? If agencies built a greater sense of community, managed workloads, and rewarded loyalty, then people (particularly Millennials) would be less likely to seek employment elsewhere and view advertising agencies as nothing but a foothold from which to launch their Mar-Com careers. 

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About the Author
Shivani Sinha is a Georgia State University alumni. She currently works at an agency in media buying and has a passion for digital media.
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