UK agency staff numbers fall for second year despite growth of media shops

It is first time since 1993 there have been two successive declines in staff numbers reported by IPA Census.

IPA Agency Census: staff numbers fell in 2019
IPA Agency Census: staff numbers fell in 2019

Staff numbers at IPA member agencies fell in 2019 for the second year in a row, with the overall total down 1.1% to 24,866, according to the trade body’s latest Agency Census.

This follows a smaller drop in 2018 and marks the first time the employee base of the industry has fallen for two successive years since since 1993, when the industry reversed several years of decline in numbers.

Again, there was a shift in the balance of the industry towards media agencies and away from creative and other non-media shops. Media agency numbers were up 3.4% to 11,357 – now accounting for 45.7% of the industry, up from 37.5% in 2015.

At creative and other agencies, meanwhile, numbers fell 4.6% to 13,509. It is the third year in a row this figure has fallen, although the decline was smaller than the previous two years both proportionally and as a number.

The Census sought responses from 199 member agencies and the data represents staffing levels on 1 September 2019.

Unlike in previous years, the IPA has released its diversity data as part of the Census, providing an insight into the representation of women and people from ethnic-minority backgrounds by level of seniority and job role.

The biggest change in the employment picture of UK agencies was a sharp decline in fixed-term contracts, with the number of people on these falling by more than half from 2,127 to 969. Permanent staff were up 3.8% to 23,897. The number of first-year trainees and apprentices shot up by more than a third (35.4%) to 1,366.

Staff turnover remained virtually unchanged at 29.8% – but at media agencies, it rose by 1.8 points to 30.9%, while at creative and other agencies it fell 2.4 percentage points to 28.6%.

There was little change in the age profile of the industry, with the average up from 33.9 to 34 years. While 44.8% of staff were aged 30 or under, down from 45.6% in 2018, 6.3% were aged 50 or over, up from 6.2% previously.

UK agency numbers are almost certain to decline again in the coming year because of the coronavirus slump.