Digiday+ Research: Most agencies held onto or added staff in 2022 as they hold out hope for 2023

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Here’s some welcome news for the agency world: It turns out that, despite the economic doom and gloom that ushered out 2022, most agencies added to their full-time staff in 2022 — likely to back up a wait-and-see approach to 2023. (This news looks different for publishers, by the way.)

This is according to a December Digiday+ Research survey of 79 agency professionals.

Digiday’s survey found that 60% of agencies increased the size of their full-time staff last year, and only 10% cut staff. This is an unusually encouraging bit of news as the economic downturn lurks, but it is slightly less encouraging considering the results of Digiday’s survey last year.

The percentage of agencies that increased staff was actually down last year from 69% in 2021. And while a full third of agency pros said their companies’ full-time staff increased significantly in 2021, that percentage fell to 22% in 2022.

Meanwhile, 29% of agency pros told Digiday their staff stayed the same in 2022, up from 21% in 2021. However it is definitely interesting to note that not one respondent to Digiday’s 2022 year-end survey said their staff decreased significantly last year.

Agencies’ attitudes toward the economy provide a likely explanation for their more cautious approach to staffing in 2022 compared with 2021. Digiday’s survey found that while the economy left a bit of a bad taste in marketers’ mouths at the end of 2022, many are holding off judgment for how 2023 will shake out.

Nearly two-thirds of agency pros (63%) told Digiday they agree that economic trends hurt their companies’ performance in 2022. But the vast majority of those agree only somewhat, as opposed to strongly. To be exact, 49% of respondents to Digiday’s survey said they somewhat agree the economy hurt their companies in 2022, compared with only 14% who said they agree strongly.

Surprisingly, fewer agency pros told Digiday they agree that the economy will hurt their companies in 2023 than said so in 2022. Fifty-six percent of agencies agree they anticipate painful economic trends this year. However, only 4% of respondents to Digiday’s survey said they agree strongly that the economy will hurt their performance this year, while 52% said they agree somewhat.

Very interestingly, nearly a third of agency pros (30%), said they neither agree nor disagree that the economy will hurt their companies’ performance in 2023. In other words, they’re not willing to make a prediction either way, and instead are waiting to see how the year turns out.

Amid a very negative environment, this actually represents a somewhat hopeful approach to the new year — or at least it leaves space for hope among agencies.

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