Chief Marketing Officers come and go every twenty-three months or so. The average Client-Agency relationship tenure is thought to be around three years. So has anyone really noticed that average ad agency turnover is reportedly running between 28 – 30 percent?
In an industry where change and upheaval have become constants, the agency talent crisis has likely not received the attention that it deserves… outside of the agency community. Clearly, this is a dynamic that agencies in general and agency HR executives specifically are acutely aware and are trying to address. After all, in a service business that is highly reliant on talented professionals with diverse skill sets to create and deliver their product, the talent challenge cuts to the heart of agency sustainability.
During the fall of 2014, Digiday published an article entitled; “Anatomy of an Agency Talent Crisis” which suggested that entry-level salaries were one of the primary challenges in attracting college graduates to even consider a career in advertising. In light of the 4A’s annual talent survey findings, which found that “most entry-level salaries” for agency personnel “were between $25,000 – $35,000,” most agency insiders understand the challenges in attracting and retaining top tier talent.
The question, which has not been addressed is; “Why aren’t agencies paying more to secure top college graduates?” If a capable young person armed with a college degree can earn a starting salary of $70,000 by going to work for Accenture, McKinsey, Booz & Company, Adobe, Google or Microsoft then it stands to reason that advertising agencies must close the salary gap if they hope to attract their fair share of talent. As the American inventor and businessman, Charles Kettering once said:
“We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.”
Importantly, this is a decision which the agency community owns. Their ability to pay higher salaries to attract young graduates is not hindered by the fees being paid by advertisers. Unfortunately, many advertisers have little exposure to many of the agency “worker bees” deployed on their account, spending most of their time interacting with more senior “point people” such as account directors, creative directors or senior media planners. As such, advertisers may have little transparency into the high turnover rates being experienced within the agency community.
That’s not to say that advertisers aren’t paying a price from a learning curve perspective, which can affect the caliber of an agency’s work or the number of iterations required to generate satisfactory outputs.
What is intriguing when looking at the fully-loaded hourly rates being charged by agencies, is that there appears to be plenty of room to increase compensation for junior to mid-level personnel.
There are a couple of issues which impact an agency’s willingness to free up funds to address the pay scale issue. The first is the growing salary disparity between entry-level personnel and senior executives. One need look no further than the 4A’s own 2014 talent survey, which found that in the same year in which entry-level personnel were earning on average between $25,000 – $35,000, they had an agency report a $1,000,000 base salary for a Chief Creative Director position.
Additionally, agency holding companies are growing and require resources to fuel their expansionary appetite. This growth comes largely via acquisitions of specialist agencies and investing to support in-network horizontal integration strategies which have spawned the birth of digital media trading desks and the creation of global cross-platform production hubs.
Ultimately, market dynamics will force the agency community’s hand when it comes to a reapportioning or prioritization of resources to address the competitiveness of their salary offerings. Smart agencies will move to address this issue, recognizing that the lack of success in recruiting top college graduates combined with 30% staff turnover rates, is clearly not a formula for success.