The best that can be said of the latest IPA census figures - at
least 600 jobs lost at member agencies - is that they could be
This won't be much comfort, either to the staffers on whom the axe has
fallen or to the freelancers whose work has dried up and whose plight
suggests the true scale of adland's unemployment problem has been
significantly underestimated. With mortgages to pay and families to
feed, the first thing these people will want to know is how quickly they
will be back in work. The last is that what's happened to most of them
is almost certainly down to bad luck rather than lack of ability.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the industry's plight is a
manifestation of the bad times which return at least once a decade. The
silver lining is that when the situation improves - as it most certainly
will - many fat-free agencies will need to restore much of the weight
they have shed.
This isn't rocket science. Yet it's surprising how many in the business
seem slow to grasp it. Recession has been advertising's party pooper at
the beginning of every decade since the 70s. Each time the industry has
been hopelessly ill-prepared. Each time it has had to be shaken out of
its delusion - as with the dotcom boom of the late 90s - that the good
times would last forever.
It's a lesson agencies need to be constantly re-taught. Recession is a
brutal but often necessary catharsis, forcing them to banish managerial
complacency and stop believing their own hype. Each recession has had
The early 80s version was especially vicious, with clients not only
cutting their spends but exacting revenge on agencies for their
perceived greed. One in five agency jobs were lost, many never to
This time around, the recession in advertising has been exacerbated by
increased globalisation. Despite continuing healthy consumer demand in
Britain's high streets, US-based advertisers have pulled spends and
repatriated profits to New York to satisfy Wall Street. And since most
global communication groups are also at Wall Street's mercy, the outcome
The signs aren't promising that the industry will learn from the current
downturn when it has failed to heed the warnings of the last two. But it
could begin to show a bit more maturity by removing redundancy's stigma.
Recession often picks its victims at random - they just happen to be in
the wrong place at the wrong time.