Between the Lines: Look behind the IPA figures

First the good news. The IPA's latest census shows more people are working in advertising than at any time in the past 30 years. Although the figure of 15,000-plus employees hardly compares with the heady days of the early 60s, it indicates the industry is picking itself up and dusting itself off after the drubbing meted out by the recession.

Indeed, Hamish Pringle, the IPA's director-general, believes the steadily increasing number of hits on the trade body's jobs website indicates an industry back in hiring mode.

Now the bad news. To some extent, this increase in employee numbers is simply a reflection of the IPA's success in throwing its net wider, beyond the traditional creative agency sector. By embracing direct marketing and media more effectively, the IPA has increased the scope of its membership, so the boost in employment numbers is not necessarily cause for popping the champagne corks at above-the-line agencies.

Scratch beneath the surface of the figures and you find that the size of the average London agency has shrunk from 84.2 staff in 2003 to 82.8 last year. Interestingly, the average size for agencies outside London is up from 37.5 to 41.4 staff.

Perhaps the most encouraging news of all, though, is that the number of first-year trainees is on the up, reflecting a strong return to hiring new talent in significant numbers.