Are Agency Careers A Dead End?

A couple of years ago, I asked the readers of this column “Would You Want To Be A Media Agency CEO In 2015?” 

The point was that the role of leading an agency, or a group of agencies, was not an easy job. And that is probably even truer today than it was in 2015.

A few years ago, we made fun of the intended marriage of Publicis and Omnicom, which eventually fell through because neither Paris nor New York was prepared to compromise about where the new headquarters was going to be and who was going to lead the newly formed company. We laughed at “Publicom” or “Omnicis.” Silly guys, for falling out over such petty challenges.

Fast-forward to today, when agencies and their holding company motherships have become damaged goods, with revenues and margins facing south, growth stagnant, their very existence threatened. There are rumors floating around that either Publicis, IPG or even the mighty WPP might be bought by Accenture or Bain.



A lot of the damage has been self-inflicted, as a result of holding companies focusing on short-term gains at the expense of long-term survival.

The head-first jump into programmatic and digital advertising made sense because marketers wanted to go there, and for valid reasons. Digital had and still has the promise of delivering targeted messages cost-effectively and directly to consumers, in a relevant environment. And if consumers want, they can buy from or engage with advertisers in response.

What did the agencies do? Seeing how the supply side was desperate for income, and their clients at the same time were pressuring for lower cost, they made the whole ecosystem about non-transparent cheap reach. They rigged the ecosystem so it delivered huge margins for the agencies and their tech middlemen.

Never mind that clever criminal syndicates figured out how to game the ad and publishing business to their advantage, and now we have a very broken digital ecosystem that throws elections, siphons off personal data, pits people against each other and annoys consumers to the point of installing ad blockers.

The industry now must clean up the mess of ads placed next to porn or jihadist content, or not appearing at all even though all your system safeguards say it did.
As a result, trust in advertising in general, and the once-trusted partnership between agencies and their clients, has all but evaporated.

It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of agency leaders who possess talent and a desire to progress their careers are calling it quits. In the U.K., we saw the departure of the CEOs of Starcom, Dentsu-Aegis, Havas and OMD — all in one week!

I work with large, marketing-driven organizations, almost all of whom have large numbers of former agency executives among their ranks. It used to be an almost impossible transfer: going from the “fun side” (agencies) to the “frumpy side” (advertisers). Few were taken seriously by either side, and even fewer made a successful transition.

Today we hear from recruiters that their phones are literally ringing nonstop with people eager to depart. The business pendulum is swinging toward the advertiser side because of marketing and advertising control, career options, innovation and — yes, fun. The agencies are now the frumpy ones.

3 comments about "Are Agency Careers A Dead End?".
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  1. Mario L Castellanos from New Ventures Technologies, October 20, 2017 at 6:10 p.m.

    Good article. I'm finding the self-inflicted syndrome as well but I see it in the ad agency execs. They talk about all the big changes that are occurring but deep down inside, I believe they’re just not prepared and don’t seem to be receptive of how technology is changing their game using data.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 20, 2017 at 7:28 p.m.

    I agree that there is considerable anxiety among "agency" people concerning coping with the complexities of digital media and the stress of adapting or at least experimenting with new targeting/buying schemes that are coming to the fore. However, when we label this as an "agency" issue, which is partially correct, we must remember that we are talking mainly, if not exclusively, about media planning and especially media buying, not the account handling aspect or the "creative", which most clients as well as agency honchos believe is far more important than media buying/planning. In other words, as I keep saying over and over again, there's a lot more to "advertising" and "agency-client" relationships than just the media function.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 20, 2017 at 7:48 p.m.

    Like mafias.

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