EDITORIAL: Supporting staff is vital in a recession

Sympathy for the vicissitudes of Britain's adfolk has always been a bit thin on the ground beyond the immediate confines of Soho and Covent Garden. This is hardly surprising - an industry so often cited as the supreme example of boom-time ostentation isn't likely to attract much compassion when boom gives way to bust. Try as it might, it can't entirely rid itself of its reputation for empty talk while massively overpaying itself.

While these charges are hard to refute in some cases, the perception is way out of line with the reality. A more accurate picture of the industry's collective psyche is painted by the latest Nabs monitor. The high level of angst it reveals is predictable given the hundreds of people calling the charity's helpline and making use of its career exchange service when compared with the relatively small numbers now employed by the industry.

The monitor provides a snapshot of agency life that no outsider would recognise. Forget the lottery-winning salaries - remuneration levels for many senior jobs have barely increased in real terms for a decade.

A champagne lifestyle? Forget that, too. Nearly half the people questioned admitted working up to 50 hours a week.This is an industry now suffering for being unable to compete effectively for the best new talent lured elsewhere by better salaries and for axing so many jobs in order to make the numbers.

Moreover, the growing salary chasm between agency managers and those of their clients threatens what is supposed to be a relationship of equals while devaluing the agency offering.

Small wonder the monitor detects a pervasive gloom about the future across the industry.

Agency leadership in the new millennium involves a delicate balancing act. How do you keep the agency fit and lean if staff are working harder while in fear of losing their jobs? As if that isn't enough, how do you ensure the agency is equipped to meet the needs of clients who have found new and more cost-effective ways of communication during the recession and who are unlikely to abandon them when better times return?

Never has it been more important for agencies to keep staff incentivised and motivated. Yet the monitor suggests managers often fail even the fundamental job of keeping their people informed about what's going on.

All isn't lost. There's comfort to be drawn from the fact that 60 per cent of those questioned for the monitor say they'd still choose advertising over other careers. The business can still retain the respect of its most valuable assets - but it's living on borrowed time.

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