EDITORIAL: Adland must learn recession lessons

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

different characteristics.

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

is obvious.

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.


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