CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/NABS MONITOR - How the industry stays resilient despite recession

The Nabs monitor reveals most people still enjoy the business, Carol Reay says.

With this year's monitor Nabs has again tried to get in touch with what the people who work in the business are really thinking. The results paint the human picture behind all the recession headlines. A massive 45 per cent found the past year dispiriting and 88 per cent reported evidence of recession in their working lives.

And it is clear that people really wanted to get things off their chests, as it was a good year for responses. Questionnaires came back from employees of all types of companies and all disciplines. Worthy of note is that 31 per cent of replies were from creatives, an unusually high response rate.

The main talk of the town is down talk: "I was made redundant along with a dozen others after 11 September or "company profits were halved or (referring to 11 September) "clients put life on hold". However, not everyone in the survey felt affected by 11 September in this way as 45 per cent reported that it had no impact on their working lives.

One impact that recession usually has on working lives is that training gets axed and indeed 57 per cent of you had had no training at all last year. But 43 per cent had, and most of them found it a rewarding and confidence-boosting experience.

But the cold wind of recession also seems to have blown in some positive signs of change. Eighty-one per cent of respondents claim their companies are offering totally or somewhat integrated solutions, which is a high number. Similarly most are operating globally or at least on a European basis and those who are not are deliberately UK servicing boutiques.

Work/life balance is a key new issue for business. There is no evidence of advertising grasping this with both hands but it can be seen to be toying with it. Sixty per cent claimed to have noticed no change in this area but 33 per cent had and practices such as career breaks and part-time working are creeping in. Twenty-one per cent mentioned the availability of extra holiday time (see table one). There were mentions of four-day weeks, paternity leave and even weekly massages. Change is clearly bubbling through.

The character of the business is certainly resilient enough; you are nothing if not survivors. Sixty per cent would still choose this industry over others and 45 per cent were quite optimistic about the future. However, the picture sadly is still mixed, as table two shows, with too many still feeling gloomy about the coming year.

No respondents felt very optimistic about the business. Perhaps more telling, however, is that 25 per cent felt quite pessimistic.

And a further 12 per cent were very pessimistic.

This year we included your top five likes and dislikes about the advertising industry and it made such interesting reading that I have included the whole response in table three.

We appear to have a love/hate relationship with our own industry and it is deliciously possible to be both talented and false or both buzzy and over-processed at the same time.

And in such a situation you'd expect there to be room for improvement. We asked you what one thing you would change about the industry and your answers are in table four.

There's a plea for the leaders in the industry to be more communicative in these difficult times and even more decisive. Just like when a train has broken down there's nothing worse than not being told what's going on.

There also seems to be a need for more teamwork and camaraderie. People could do with more body warmth from colleagues in chilly times. The answers to the question about what you would all change about clients were less topical, more perennial - more openness, more clarity, strategic direction and more respect.

Last year work-related stress and presenteeism were big issues. This has not gone away. Forty-eight per cent claim to work between 40 and 50 hours a week and 21 per cent more than 50 hours. I wonder how many contracts have been duly adjusted in line with new European Commission regulations on this?

Finally, what about Nabs? We always sound you out on how the industry charity is doing. Here there is an improving picture. Forty per cent say they are quite knowledgeable about Nabs - mostly through participating in or being a guest at an event - and you all seem to know about Nabs' services too: the flatshare, the helpline and the welfare grants to help those in difficulty.

Sadly, however, too few (5 per cent) knew about Fast Forward - that's Nabs' programme that brings young people together across all disciplines.

If you want to know more, call the number at the end of this article.

And a massive 52 per cent of you don't give at all to Nabs, which is surprising, when you consider all that Nabs does. Did you all read Mike Smith's letter in Campaign (10 August)? Nabs really helps real people who are in desperate need. One respondent said that when asked about what he or she would change about Nabs: "Its profile. Surely a place at the heart of the business beckons - somewhere between union/support/association. In other words, there for you all.

For all of those who participated, thank you. For the 30 per cent of you who did and who also give to Nabs, thank you even more. It is a rare and real insight into what you all think and feel at heart of the business.

For more information about Nabs, contact Belinda Duncan on (020) 7299 2888.

3. WHAT DO YOU MOST LIKE/DISLIKE ABOUT THE INDUSTRY?

TOP FIVE         LIKES                     DISLIKES
The people       Talented, brains, flair   Shallow, false, egocentric,
                                           pretentious
The atmosphere   Dynamic, energetic,       Imbalance, conflict,
                 buzz, attitude            bullshit
The diversity    Sense of adventure,       Constant change, processes
                 new possibilities         that stop, no teamwork
The money        Reward in good times      Lack of reward in bad times
Youth            Young, relaxed, fun       Youth at the expense of
                                           experience

4. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

1. Leadership        Show, don't tell. Be brave. Listen more.
                     Communicate better. Be more effective in
                     decision-making. Give more empowerment, trust. Be
                     more honest about what can be achieved.
2. Time management   Keep to time, or pay overtime! Go home when job is
                     done. More flexible working.
3. Financial         Better systems. Less short-term thinking.
   management        Profit-related bonuses for all staff.
4. Creative process  More transparent, more open. More shared.
5. Sense of fun      More socialising, more generosity of spirit, a
                     social fund, extra holidays.

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