Ad agency employees are suffering from burnout, and a labor shortage is worsening the problem by making it hard for them to keep up.
“There’s not enough staff,” said a senior ad professional who recently left a holding company due to burnout and requested anonymity out of fear of hurting job prospects. “Pretty much, people work nonstop. I have some colleagues in the office from 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. and leaving at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.”
Max Braun, an associate director of experience planning at Omnicom agency Rapp, said he’s been working 10 to 15 more hours a week since the start of the pandemic because processes have become more formalized in a virtual world. For example, a task that would have been quick to do in person, like getting signoff on a project, now requires a meeting.
People have been fleeing the ad industry in droves, citing burnout and the desire to work remotely, making it hard for ad agencies to fill roles and rebound from the pandemic. A survey of 423 marketers and agency employees by freelancer platform We Are Rosie found that 63% plan to change jobs or careers this year.
Braun said the talent shortage has made his job even harder.
“I’ve been hiring for positions and interviewed two or three times more than I normally would have,” he said. “It’s so much more competitive to get people in the right place. We’ve had a couple of bad hires, which seems to be the result of just getting people in the door.”
Adding to the crunch, clients have started spending again. Some agencies are turning down some new business pitches due to a lack of staff. But some agency employees said their companies are still taking on more than they can handle and are not pushing back enough on client demands.
“Clients are all briefing their agencies at the same time or pitching at the same time with obvious workload implications,” said a new business director at an agency, speaking anonymously.
Some industry insiders worry the labor shortage will worsen.
One agency executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on record predicted more people would quit after Labor Day, when many agencies expect their employees to return to the office.
It’s been a hectic time for agency headhunters, too.
Sasha Martens, founder and CEO of executive recruiting firm Sasha the Mensch, said this August was the busiest he’s ever been.
“There are people who are now more open to freelance, both because they see it as a manner to better control their personal time, but as there are a lot of options for work in the foreseeable future,” Martens said. “I don’t know if more people are going to leave after Labor Day, but it is not abating.”
Agencies, for their part, have said they are leaning on freelancers, automation tools, and their network of offices to fill staffing gaps.
A Rapp spokesperson said the agency has been doing all it can to reduce strain on employees, including using more freelancers.
“There is no denying that the hot talent market is creating fierce competition for Rapp,” the spokesperson said. “We acknowledge that workloads have, at times, been heavy for some of our people recently. We’ve got an open door/inbox policy as well, encouraging our people to voice concerns about pressure, burnout, or any other issues they might be facing to their managers, office leads or our people team.”
Still, insiders believe the situation isn’t hopeless.
Agencies could start graduate programs to train non-advertising professionals to fill their vacancies, said the burned-out ad pro.
Braun said agency leaders should set clear expectations with clients on what their teams can handle before taking on a project.
“We’re a bunch of ‘yes men,'” Braun said. “We agree to do more than we can actually bite off.”