‘We had someone work so hard she had an aneurysm’: Agencies sound off about overwork, clients and measurement

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Managing mental health needs while working for a client services business like a media agency can seem impossible. Those agencies may have policies to make sure employees are able to unplug but clients’ needs will generally come first. At Digiday’s Media Buying Summit in Palm Springs, California, media buyers discussed the struggle they face to do what’s best for employees while managing client needs.

Agencies are talking to clients about work/life balance
“We had someone in one of our offices work so hard she had an aneurysm. That became a way of educating not only our own people but clients to take time away from work.”

“We’ve been encouraged by leadership not to respond over the weekend to Slacks or emails unless — something is spending over 5,000%. Clients pick up on it. When we don’t reply on the weekend they get used to it.”

“Email? How about [getting clients to stop] texting [on the weekend]?”

Improving time off policies
“We have a flexible time off policy. The challenge is to get people to take the vacation. We try to treat people like adults and believe they’re take it when they need it. But we recently had to push someone to take a month off.”

“Our agency added mental health or detox specific days where you can be free of devices. We also added a higher volume PTO policy. The challenge we see is that above a certain level, the weight of that work falls on managers. You can let junior level employees take the days and enjoy them. But the director or VP can’t take that time as easily so there’s still a bit of an imbalance.”

“We have a flexible time off [and work hours] policy. You can go into the office at 8 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m. or go in at 10 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m. We haven’t had a single issue since it was implemented. [We had to do this because] we don’t have the same talent pool that Manhattan would have so it helps keep people where we are.”

“Having a strong bench helps [with giving people time off]. We hire a lot of entry level people. In media, there are a lot of menial tasks to do.”

Measurement is still an issue
“There’s a lot of promises about what multi-touch attribution could do. Even in my imagination, I can’t see what value that real-time attribution will bring. When it comes down to what’s actionable from the measurement, I go back to Facebook. How actionable it is always up in the air.”

“We see challenges often with data living in various sources. There’s confusion around where it’s living and who owns the data. Clients are leaning on us to help them understand the data [probably because they don’t have the] talent to understand what the data is telling them.”

“There’s really a shortage in talent in data and analytics. It’s an employee’s market. There’s such a need for data talent across every industry — client-side, agencies, etc. It puts a pressure on others in the industry about how data fluent they need to be.”

“The cost of employing a measurement team is now tipping the scale.”

“As soon as you start to do branding and reach-based planning, we can’t really measure on the channel performance. [We’re still trying to figure out] how we think about analytics and how we connect the dots in the background.”

Extended payment windows are getting worse
“It’s getting worse. Clients are putting our finances on hold, to the point where they are making that a deal-breaker. You have to agree to the terms before you get to the RFP, assessment of skills or capabilities. It’s coming from the greater influence of the procurement arm of our clients. I’ve seen as much as 120-day [payment terms]. I’ve seen greater than that but we don’t entertain it. We don’t entertain more than 90 days.”


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