The Surge of Consultancies, and Nine Other Agency Facts You Need to Know

U.S. agency revenue rose 4.4% to $48.3 billion in 2016, according to Ad Age Datacenter's bottoms-up analysis of more than 700 agencies, networks and companies for Agency Report 2017. Revenue broke a record, but growth was the slowest since 2013.

U.S. agency revenue growth, 2001-2016
Revenue for agencies from all disciplines grew 4.4% in 2016, the second slowest growth rate since the ad market recovery began in 2010.
Source: Ad Age Agency Reports. Agency Report online archive back to 1998 available to Ad Age Datacenter subscribers.

Digital reeled in 46.6% of U.S. agency revenue. But growth is moderating there, too. Agencies' digital revenue increased 8.0% in 2016, down from 13.5% in 2015. Digital media employment in 2016 rose 8.9%, the lowest growth since 2009.

Going digital
Digital's share of revenue for U.S. agencies from all disciplines reached 46.6% in 2016. Digital accounted for one-fourth of revenue in 2009.
Source: Ad Age Agency Reports. Percentages as reported in historic Agency Reports. Increasing percentages partly reflect that Agency Report over time has expanded to include more digital-focused firms, such as major digital-centric consultancies. On a pro forma basis, 46.6% in 2016 was up from 45.0% in 2015.

GroupM and Dentsu top Ad Age's first ranking of the world's five biggest media agency groups, followed by Omnicom Media Group, Publicis Media and IPG Mediabrands. Top five 2016 revenue: $16.7 billion, up 8.6%.


U.S. ad agency employment in December reached its highest level (202,700) since the dot-com bubble in 2001. Ad agency staffing last year grew 2.7%, tracking with ad agency revenue growth of 2.8%.

U.S. ad agency jobs
Ad agency employment in December 2016 reached its highest level since the dot-com bubble in 2001.
February 2017 201,100
Now vs. year ago + 1,200
Now vs. downturn nadir (2010) + 40,500
Now vs. start of recession (December 2007) + 13,300
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. More info: See current jobs data: Now means February 2017. Now vs. downturn nadir means jobs added since sector's staffing hit recession/post-recession bottom in early 2010. Now vs. start of recession means difference in staffing, now vs. December 2007 (beginning of 2007-2009 recession). Media agency jobs graph includes media buying agencies and independent media rep firms.

All major agency disciplines grew last year, led by healthcare, up 7.6%. Promotion gained 5.4%, boosted by experiential marketing. The data-centric field of CRM/direct marketing rose 4.5%. PR increased 3.2%.

Growth by agency discipline
2016 estimated U.S. revenue growth by discipline, and digital revenue growth from all disciplines, for the nearly 700 agencies in Agency Report. Healthcare was the fastest-growing discipline.
Discipline % change, 2016 vs. 2015 Revenue

Agencies from all disciplines 1

+ 4.4%
$48.3 billion

Digital (including media agencies) 2,3

+ 8.0%
$22.5 billion

Healthcare 3

+ 7.6%
$5.4 billion

Promotion 3,4

+ 5.4%
$4.6 billion

CRM/direct marketing 3

+ 4.5%
$8.8 billion

Public relations 3

+ 3.2%
$4.5 billion

Ad agencies 3

+ 2.8%
$11.9 billion

Media agencies (excluding digital work) 3,5

- 0.4%
$3.1 billion
Source: Ad Age's Agency Report 2017. See expanded rankings by discipline. Revenue and percent change based on data collected and/or adjusted in 2017. 1. All agencies in Agency Report. 2. Digital work for all networks and agencies in report, including ad, customer relationship management/direct marketing, digital, experiential/event marketing, healthcare, media, multicultural, promotion and public relations agencies. 3. Disciplines may overlap. For example, a healthcare agency may generate a portion of its revenue from CRM/direct marketing, or a PR agency may generate a portion or all of its revenue from healthcare marketing. 4. Including experiential/event marketing. 5. Non-digital work at media agencies.

Agency firms are streamlining and pruning. Publicis merged some brands as part of its sweeping reorganization into four hubs; Omnicom sold Novus Media, a local-media agency; and IPG sold Los Angeles agency Dailey.


Agency stocks have fared well. IPG in April hit its highest price since 2002; WPP in March scored a new high; and Omnicom in December reached its highest-ever adjusted close.

Web production by Chen Wu.