Agency summer Fridays still exist

It’s Friday, so chances are, if you work at an agency, you’re reading this with one eye on the clock, preparing to bolt the second your summer Friday kicks into gear. The perennial agency tradition is alive and well; it just doesn’t look anything like it used to. Instead of the typical half days every Friday between Memorial and Labor Day, summer Fridays today come in a variety of flavors: from four-day holiday weekends to a couple of full Fridays off.

Advertising agency BBDO, for example, used to allow all of its New York staffers leave early on Fridays. Now, employees are allowed to pick four Fridays during the summer to take off entirely, a change first brought about when the recession hit. The policy ensures that operations run smoothly even when a few people are out while allowing staffers to take it easy during the summer months.

“The industry has shifted from one that has historically relied on seasonality to one that’s always on, always busy and unpredictable,” said John Osborn, CEO at BBDO New York. “The mass exodus that would happen at noon just doesn’t make sense anymore; that wasn’t productive for anybody.”

Like BBDO, Deutsch Los Angeles, Ogilvy & Mather and Havas Chicago all have their own versions of summer Fridays. Walrus is quite generous, shutting down completely the week before the July 4 holiday weekend. Others, like Huge and Omelet, still stick to the tradition of giving their employees half days on Fridays throughout the season. The proponents all argue that summer Fridays not only help promote work-life balance but also boost productivity. And in an industry with an acute shortage of talent, it doesn’t hurt as a recruitment and retention tool either.

“In the agency world, it’s an industry standard,” said Hannah Lindsey, vp of talent at Huge. “It definitely helps us set the expectations up front and attract and retain top talent.”

Execs do acknowledge that since the practice is not as prevalent outside of advertising, and it is often a frustrating experience for clients. Work, after all, doesn’t come to a complete standstill on a random summer Friday. “It’s a hard sell for clients,” said Jennifer Marszalek, chief talent officer at Havas Chicago, who came from the client side. “It is unacceptable in other industries and a luxury that only agencies can afford.”

It may be a luxury, but it is rightly deserved, said Alison Brod, owner of Alison Brod Public Relations, a beauty, fashion and lifestyle PR agency. The demands of the industry and the “never-asleep” 24-hour media and social landscape tend to require more hours than other industries. Summer Fridays are a way to compensate for the hard work that gets done during the year, said Brod, who has done everything from organizing blowouts to getting a Hamptons home for her publicists to unwind on summer Fridays in the past.

“It is needed more than ever before because with email and the ease of communication, we are always on, answering clients’ urgent emails at 2 a.m. or monitoring social media post traffic,” she said. “Summer Fridays or not, everyone is on call even if they are at the beach at 5 p.m. on Friday.”

Not everyone is as passionate an advocate for summer Fridays, however, and would rather be done with the tradition entirely. James Cooper, head of creative at Betaworks and former chief creative innovation officer at JWT, called summer Fridays of any stripe “a relic from the past.” The tradition stems from the culture of long agency hours, which itself results from an outdated agency model.

“There’s no real reason to work late nights and weekends and then count on the summer for these benefits,” he said. “Instead of figuring out a more sustainable new model, agencies are focusing on these perks.”

Until that happens, staffers like Omelet producer Caitlin McBride will continue to happily log late hours, because they know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel: in her case, a day out with her colleagues at the beach.

“I’m spoiled for choice,” she said. “There’s a reason I’ve been here for over five years.”

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