‘People are burning out’: Why agencies lose talent

Talent and culture were a focus for agency executives gathered in Nashville this week for the Digiday Media Buying Summit. During town hall sessions, held under Chatham House Rule, attendees discussed research, done via Digiday+, that showed that 30 percent of agency employees were currently looking for a new job — and that independent agencies had happier and more satisfied employees. Edited highlights below.

Why people jump ship
“A lot of people think the grass is greener elsewhere. As soon as they think they’re not getting the best opportunities, they think they can move.”

“It’s an age thing. One of the downsides of cool young agencies where they often culture is people get spoiled and they get entitled.”

“I would say it’s interesting because here in the U.S. we have at-will employment, and so people feel they can move around. We as businesses treat people like mercenaries. So they act like it. Attrition is less in other parts of the world. I also don’t think leadership communicates.”

“I owned an agency. We had a lot of churn. There is a clear lack of progression in how they can keep growing in their role.”

Work-life balance
“The work-life balance issue is real. Having owned an agency and worked at large ones, it’s the ability to see exactly where work is going and also making sure the long hours line up with you as a human being. A lot of companies talk about work-life balance, but it’s pure lip service. If you’re someone that wants to have a family or has other needs and if someone who is not going to stay past 10 or 11 at night, it’s hard in an agency.”

“I had a baby recently, and when I went back to work I felt I had to work harder than before I had a baby so people didn’t feel I was resting on my laurels. I felt so apologetic if I had to stay home with the baby once. Look, we’re in advertising, we’re not rocket scientists or brain surgeons.”

“Work-life balance comes with experience. I see people who are just junior don’t know how to manage their time and agencies don’t empower people to do better with time management.”

Why people move to brand side
“People are burning out. People in their 20s go agency side, and people in their 30s go client side because they just can’t do it anymore.”

“People aren’t just jumping out of agencies to other agencies; it’s people going to Google and Facebook because they sell the dream of this work-life balance. Agencies are agile and flexible, and the reality is it doesn’t move as quickly.”

“I’ve worked at holding companies. The biggest thing is raises. Even for junior-level people, who have worked hard to get to the next level, they are gone by two or three years, so that’s why people are jumping: They’re getting it to get a salary bump. Raises come so infrequently.”

“Consultancies historically walked in and told you what to do. As some of their employees shifted to get hired by the clients, those people are growing, becoming CMOs. They want the same approach the consultancies use. So it’s a better match, and what’s happening is that consultancies are getting to be a path for people who want to go brand-side.”

“We migrated a brand from holding company to in-house. They wanted us to interview talent for their in-house agency the way we did for our agency. And it was really hard. The interesting thing was after the project was done, they asked us to stay on, on retainer, to oversee our in-house team.”

“People want to go to client-side so they can manage agencies and work-life balance is better. They won’t have to work because they can tell agencies what to do and go home at 5 p.m. and the agency will do it.”

“I worked at a brand once. There was so much complacency. Everyone was so worried about losing their jobs; they didn’t take any risks. Everyone went home at 5:15 p.m.”

“It’s trendy to go in-house right now.”


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