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January 28, 2016
Is There a Mass Exodus out of the Ad Business?
 
It’s still an attractive industry to lots of people

Recently, a Big-Time Creative Director left his long-held NYC ad job to head to Apple. He wasn’t the first to pull a move like this, nor will he be the last. But the switch left many people wondering if his move was an indication of some bigger trend of bigwigs fleeing the perceived constraints of the ad industry.

It’s certainly no secret that there’s a lot of disillusionment with the state of the ad industry these days. But does it mean people are leaving the industry in droves? Are shops really struggling to find talent?

Early on, I realized that advertising careers take bizarre turns. Back when I was an intern at an ad agency, there was a Senior Art Director who played the Mr. Cynical Ad Guy role to the hilt. Every day, it seemed, he’d launch into a diatribe that included, “When I open my bait-and-tackle shop on the Gulf Coast…” And after my internship was over, I visited the shop six months later. He was gone.

Today, I don’t know where he is, or what he’s doing. Maybe he’s doling out Red Wigglers on Grayton Beach. Maybe he’s driving an Uber, or working in real estate. It happens.

If you’ve been in the advertising industry for a while, it’s difficult not to look around and measure the career trajectories of people who first got started when you did. Yes, a few people I knew way back when became names you’d be familiar with if you perused Ad Age or Adweek on a regular basis. But many friends I know took different paths and got out of the ad agency scene. They didn’t leave the business of mass communication all together: Some went to PR shops. Some jumped to in-house creative departments (and some came back.) A couple became commercial directors and photographers. Some went into content strategy, recruiting, or pursued jobs in the marketing divisions of consulting firms and other publishing companies.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and there simply isn’t an automatic path from agency junior creative to CCO. So does this mean the agency business is actively repelling talented, experienced folks? In some cases, yes. But it’s not a mass exodus, just the usual reshuffling.
 
There isn’t any talent shortage in advertising or any other media-related business. More people want in than there are available positions. People scramble for any opportunity they can find to get into the industry.

I’ve taught entry-level copywriting for several years now. Trust me, there are plenty of aspiring professionals who want to work in advertising agencies. But the ever-evolving nature of the business means that a “junior copywriter” could be writing tweets and email subject lines all day, not TV commercials. Who knows what they’ll be writing ten years from now. And that means the way we train people, and their expectations of the industry, also must change.

As the lines between marketing disciplines continue to blur, so do the job descriptions and career paths. People can definitely make a career in some sort of “content” related field without traversing the world of advertising agencies the way we often picture it.

Yogi Berra (who might’ve been a great copywriter if not for that whole baseball thing) was right. The future ain’t what it used to be. As agencies adapt to where the market and client demands are going, we all have to adjust our career paths as well, and prepare for an unexpected and uncertain future.

Talented people come and go. A part of me sees a parallel to this in the NFL, when a player gets hurt or cut from a team — the “Next Man Up” syndrome. Someone’s always there to take another person’s place. And particularly in this business, there’s a seemingly insatiable appetite for a new crop of faces on a “30 Under 30” or “40 Most Creative People in Advertising” list.

As a result of age, family demands, a desire for a saner work environment, or just the need to do something different — the advertising business has a curious way of cycling through people. And it seems like there’s more job-hopping than ever. But the fact that a startup or Silicon Valley firm is now more attractive to a mid-career Creative Director doesn’t mean the ad business is failing to attract talented folks.

Good people still want in. It’s up to ad agencies themselves to decide whether they’ll do what’s needed to keep the good people they already have. 

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 


Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.

 

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