Opinion: Perspective - Agencies must treat redundant staff with respect

When Campaign's website ran a story recently about ten redundancies at Fallon, traffic spiked dramatically. It's a sign not (simply) of prurient interest in bad news, but of a general nervousness about job security.

When an agency as strident as Fallon cuts jobs, nervousness is compounded. Laurence Green, the Fallon chairman, said the agency had "acted decisively to make sure we go into 2009 not just right-sized for expected revenues but also future-proofed in terms of roles and offers to clients. Overall, our ambition is to reshape, but not downsize the agency."

Still, the take-out was: even the best agencies are reducing their workforce; what hope for everyone else?

On a similar theme, what is perhaps the world's best agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, has just announced it's culling 60 members of staff, about 6 per cent of its total workforce. Alex Bogusky says: "On a comparative basis, CP&B's business is doing well, but we are not immune to the constriction of the economy. These are extraordinary times and we hope that we will not have to do this again." Those last few words are less than reassuring.

Wild rumours also abounded this week that one top 20 agency is considering a four-day week. Meanwhile, an anonymous UK agency chief speculates in our feature on page 24 that adland will lose between one-fifth and one-quarter of its workforce by the end of the year.

It's a staggeringly depressing figure, that again echoes what's happening in the US. The US ad industry has so far in this recession cut more than 65,000 jobs.

Talking to senior marketing directors over the past week, it is clear that agencies' fees (and, therefore, job security) will come under more pressure. The attempts of one large client to cut his agency fees by 40 per cent and backdate that reduction to the first quarter of 2008 is an extreme example. But there's a general feeling among many clients that there's still room to trim fees.

So, more job losses seem inevitable. And it's vital that agencies treat their staff with respect throughout the process. The recent refusal of one of the biggest agencies to publicly discuss redundancies left a feeling that it was in denial about it. "It feels as though the agency is trying to pretend that it's not happening and trying to keep its reputation intact, which added to our pain," one redundancy candidate at the agency told me afterwards.

Hopefully our "Survival Guide" feature will prove helpful to anyone facing redundancy issues. Nabs, too, is geared up to offer guidance. There's certainly no stigma in redundancy any more, just an imperative to conduct the process with dignity and to focus on the potential positives.

Last week, I wrote about Paul Silburn considering whether to join TBWA as executive creative director. By Monday this week, he'd considered enough. He's staying at Saatchi & Saatchi. So, what now for TBWA? I know the team there will already have sleeves rolled up, energetically working out Plan B (or is it Plan C?). And I know they neither need nor want our collective sympathy. But you've got to feel for them.

After a rocky few months, getting a high-profile, much-admired ECD would have set the agency (publicly at least) on a confident new course. Now, limbo continues despite the best efforts of the TBWA management.

I really don't know whether Silburn was ultimately scared off by the idea of joining a management team that just a matter of months ago was so roughly treated by its international management. But he'd have been naive not to consider the implications of the Beattie McGuinness Bungay takeover debacle very carefully. I know all parties insist the event has been put behind them, but the bad taste lingers in the market, even if the London management team have moved on.