Tuesday 26 September 2017

Adland is in good health but challenges remain

John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men.
John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men.

John McGee

That slightly well-worn but immortal gag, "don't tell my mother I work in advertising, she thinks I'm a piano player in a brothel" pretty much sums up the perception many people had of the wacky world of advertising in the 1960s and 1970s.

The gag even became the name of a book penned by the legendary French advertising supremo Jacques Seguela, the co-founder of RSCG (now called Havas) and it has become a self-deprecating one-liner that has since traversed into other professions. And in the best tradition of punchy advertising one-liners, it will probably endure for many years to come.

But the advertising industry has come a long way since the Mad Men era in which Seguela was one of its most influential figures. Nowadays it's much more business-like and is largely dominated by global giants that have specific growth objectives and are answerable not just to demanding clients but equally demanding shareholders. This is also true of the Irish advertising industry.

So what does the Irish advertising industry look like today? In its annual industry census, which will be published next week, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) gives a good snapshot of the industry and the many challenges and opportunities it faces.

Lest anyone think otherwise, advertising is a serious business and IAPI's members employ 1,830 people across both media and creative agencies, according to the Census. The smallest creative agency employs just nine staff, while the biggest employs 150. The smallest media agency, meanwhile, employs 23 staff while the largest employs 281.

In terms of the gender balance within the industry, 52pc are female while 48pc are male. However, when it comes to the boardroom, just 28pc of all directors are female and this drops to 20pc for agency CEOs and managing directors. While this is up slightly on previous years, there is considerable room for improvement now that gender diversity has become a burning issue throughout the advertising world.

In the UK, for example, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), has set a target that would see 40pc of all agency board members being female by 2020.

Further down the chain of command, other gender anomalies are evident. For example, females are greatly under-represented in creative departments while probably over-represented at account management level. Again, room for improvement.

When it comes to the age profile of the industry, it's clear that it's a young person's game with 45pc under the age of 30 while 36pc are aged between 31-40. When one looks how this pans out across the different disciplines, 37pc of those who work for media agencies are under the age of 30. This compares with 27pc for creative agencies.

At the other end of the age spectrum, just 6pc of agency staff are over the age of 50 and its probably fair to say that most of these are founders or directors of the agencies they work. If this is the case, then it's also fair to say that agencies really need to look at addressing this age imbalance, particularly in media.

Although the Census does not provide information on the combined turnover of the industry, estimates put it at around €1.2bn a year of which an estimated €1bn is attributable to media agencies with the balance generated by a broad range of creative and digital agencies. This is still some way off the halcyon days of 2006 when it was estimated to be worth in the region of €1.4bn.

But as budgets continue to shift online to the likes of Facebook and Google, we may never return to the heady days of the Celtic Tiger and it's clear from the survey that there's still considerable downward pressure on budgets. This is particularly true for creative agencies which reported a 3pc decline in income in the IAPI Census.

Not surprisingly, media agencies, continue to see an increase in both billings and income as group trading desks continue to squeeze as much as possible out of the market and by offering more value-added services to clients in areas like data, content and programmatic But overall, there is a noticeable change in the levels of confidence within the industry with those predicting that turnover will "increase or strongly increase" dropping from 74pc in 2016 to 58pc this year.

The industry is also facing other challenges according to those members surveyed by IAPI. Apart from declining budgets, higher wage expectations, rising costs, staff retention and a growing skills gap are amongst the most worrying.

On a positive note, new clients entering the market, a move by some agencies into international markets, an increased digital focus and the cross-selling of other services all bode well for the industry.

While the census paints a comprehensive picture of what's going on in adland, it should also be remembered that the output of the industry is estimated to support up to 30,000 jobs and its contribution to the economy could be as much as €6bn a year, if not more.

So, if you work in advertising, tell your mother that the brothel has closed down and you are now making an important contribution to the Irish economy.

Sunday Indo Business

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