Ad agency employment has been on a steady rise since the post dot-com debacle early this century. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, ad agency employment is at its highest level since May 2001 with 199,100 people employed in advertising agencies.
Ad agency employment has grown by 38,500 jobs since a low point of 160,000 in January of 2010, the beginning of the end of the dot-com boom. During the dot-com boom, ad agency employment hit a high of 207,400 in August of 2000.
And, yes, it was as crazy as you can imagine. Over the course of a 3.5-year period from 1998 to 2001, I worked for a technology-focused ad agency that began as one office in Chicago with maybe 50 employees and grew to an agency with four offices and upwards of 300 employees. At the end of that glorious 3.5-year run, all four offices were closed and every last one of those 300 employees were laid off and seeking new jobs.
While digital played something of a role in the growth of agencies early this century, most of the growth came from irrational exuberance in the form of dot-coms no one had ever heard of running Super Bowl ads and spending obscene amounts of money on media that, normally would have made no sense at all. But because it was all funny money, no one cared, and it was spent with gleeful abandon.
Today, digital has matured and become an integral -- and major -- portion of every brand's ad spend and every ad agency's skill set.