Why Creatives Will Be Praying Harder Than Most For Growth

Sorry to pile on extra bad news, but it turns out that most people in advertising aren't expecting the long-anticipated fourth-quarter recovery. For reasons we'll discuss here, that could have a bigger hit on creative than media shops.

A recent survey in "Campaign" is now leaning away from the hoped-for fourth-quarter bounce0back and much more toward a recovery coming in 2021. Just a little over a quarter of those surveyed expect growth to return in the fourth quarter, while around the same number -- at 26% -- are hopeful that first-quarter 2021 will be the time to consider taking the champagne out of the ice bucket. 

Reading between the lines, with a little artistic licence, you can almost say that nearly as many ad execs expect growth to return from the second quarter of 2021 onward as those who believe it will happen sooner. 

It's worth taking a look at the pie chart with the story because it soon becomes apparent that the speedy fourth-quarter recovery everyone was talking up, alongside visions of a "V"-shaped recession and bounce-back, now looks like wishful thinking.

When roughly three in four ad executives think we are talking of better days not arriving until 2021, it's a significant shift in attitude. 

Interestingly, although the woes we are currently talking about under lockdown are entirely due to COVID-19, it is worth checking out an additional research feature in "Campaign" today.

It turns out that head count IPA members has been dropping for two years running -- that's for the years 2018 and 2019. So, before we had even heard the word COVID-19, or at least been affected by it, we had the curious situation whereby ad shops were increasing in number but overall head count was going down. This is not a result of staff churn rate, because that has remained relatively stable. 

One can only assume that head count will also go down this year, to make it three years on the trot that agencies have shed more talent than they have taken on. 

There is a clue as to what is going in the fact most of the drop in numbers is happening around creative, while media shops are growing slightly in head count. 

It would suggest a couple of potential reasons. Perhaps creative agencies have simply realised they don't need as many people, or some of the guys who have left have set up micro shops and have simply not become IPA members. The findings also indicate more brands taking more control over their creative in-house.

At the same time, the massive FMCG groups have all talked about sweating assets, so creative can be used across several markets, and for longer. 

This also shows that with digital marketing there is renewed interest in media planning and buying, although the assumption was that more brands would be doing this for themselves.

Ultimately, then, the research shows that campaigns still need to be put together and executed, but they don't always need so much new creative. 

Whenever growth does begin to come back, it is arguable that it will be creatives praying harder than most for budgets to go up -- but they could well find that the giants will still be driving efficiencies by sweating those same assets harder and for longer, and still across multiple territories. 

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