Maisie McCabe by Frank, age 3.
Maisie McCabe by Frank, age 3.
A view from Maisie McCabe

Navigating the past year has been a huge achievement for agencies

As the School Reports reveal, the industry has been hit hard by Covid-19, so all the agencies included deserve great credit for making it through.

Today we have published the Campaign School Reports 2021. We try to put as much care and attention into each of the 100 write-ups as the management teams we're covering put into their agencies. This year we have endeavoured to be fair and compassionate but have also scrutinised the data as carefully as ever. 

To the agencies that grew their staff numbers and accounts in 2020, we salute you. Multiple agencies repaid furlough money (Mother, Leith and Uncommon Creative Studio). Some even made a profit. We have judged four agencies worthy of our top mark of nine but there is an impressive number with a seven or an eight, too. Whatever your score, though, to get through the year is a huge achievement. We look forward to writing about your ascent as the economy recovers.

As detailed in our feature, and in the tables provided to us exclusively by Nielsen, billings declined at roughly three-quarters of the top 100 advertising agencies in 2020 and just over a third of the top 50 media agencies grew. The ordinary run of business explains some of that. But much of it reflects the contraction in the economy and the devastating impact of the coronavirus.

Billings do not always correlate exactly with agencies’ balance sheets but they are a good indicator of the direction of travel. Where agencies have chosen, or been legally able to, share declared income we have included that too.

After the events of the last 12 months, we asked for and have published more detail on agencies’ diversity stats this year. As the IPA census already made clear, the pandemic has had a greater impact on women than men. There are now fewer women in senior management positions than in 2018.

Whatever the independent government report might have said last month, there is still much work to do when it comes to ethnic diversity in agencies. A depressing number of shops continue to have all-white senior management. Some even have an all-white staff. But at least those agencies have provided the data. How do we know what work there is to do when we don't know where we are now?

There has been better progress at a junior level. Indeed, 100% of the entry-level hires at seven agencies came from BAME backgrounds in 2020. But the industry must do more to nurture and promote diverse talent throughout their careers. 

We have cut some agencies a little slack, given the challenges they faced in 2020. But there has been a lot of talk. Make 2021 a year of action. 

Maisie McCabe is the UK editor of Campaign. Picture by Frank, age 3.