Ad-agency jobs in October 2009 were down 14% from the recession's December 2007 start -- a loss of 26,300 jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Agency employment from January 2009 to October 2009 alone fell from 175,300 to 161,500, or nearly 8%.
That blow to agencies' work force was manifested in a number of ways:
- WPP's Ogilvy & Mather in December 2009 laid off 90 employees, or 4%, of its North American head count.
- Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide in November disclosed that its Detroit office would close -- and end its decades-long relationship with Chrysler -- by February 2010, cutting loose 485 people in a metropolis with one of the country's highest unemployment rates.
- Interpublic Group of Cos. in October folded Lowe's New York office into Deutsch, which became the North American hub of the Lowe & Partners global network.
- Independent Cliff Freeman, the once-hot New York creative agency, shut its doors in October.
Publicis Groupe, on the other hand, in October 2009 bought Razorfish, the nation's second-largest digital agency, from Microsoft Corp. It's a forward-looking move: The holding company acquired a respected interactive agency, beefing up its digital prowess -- a discipline that is increasingly sought by marketers.
While jobs have been shed and agency doors shut, there is a glimmer of hope indicating turnaround: stock performance. Shares in agency holding companies rebounded sharply in 2009, a sign that investors are betting on brighter prospects for the agency business.
It's logical to assume that an improving economy should mean some upside in marketing-communications spending. Marketing-services agencies could be in a good position, with prospects improving in such disciplines as event marketing and public relations.