As part of Ad Age Agency Report 2021, we queried 12 leaders from across agency disciplines to see what’s changed and where the business is headed following a cataclysmic year. Here’s what they had to say.
Employment at U.S. ad agencies dropped to a pandemic low in January, down about 8.4% or 17,100 jobs from a year earlier. But agencies are starting to hire again. Are the skill sets needed for these new positions different from pre-pandemic?
“The pandemic has caused real changes in client organizations, from in-sourcing, reassessing the role of agencies and realizing the need for direct, digital-first consumer engagement. Some of these shifts have directly impacted skill sets we are bringing into DDB across North America.
“We are seeing a need for our teams to transform from account management to business leadership with sharp business accountability. More than ever, we are seeking talent with data and insight literacy to uncover creative opportunity to unlock business. And finally, we are looking for integration leads to drive cross-agency partnering and new client and agency connectivity.
“As we look to fill our desks with the best and most creative in the industry, it is important that they bring a diverse set of skills, backgrounds and insights so that we are better able to connect with consumers and find more creative solutions for our clients.”
—Justin Thomas-Copeland, who in July was named CEO at Omnicom’s DDB North America
“We’ve always hired from a range of professions—journalist, barista, Olympic athlete, you name it—but we’re now even more sure of investing in people, skill sets and capabilities that make Anomaly an ‘anomaly.’ We’re defiantly doubling down on client transformation, innovation and our own IP [intellectual property]. We also have the unexpected-yet-welcome benefit of endless learnings from remote working. It’s not just about new skills in the building, but committing to an even more flexible and distributed model outside of the building, too.”
—Karina Wilsher, partner and global CEO of MDC’s Anomaly
Ad spending is recovering from 2020’s depressed levels, and digital leads the way. What are you hearing from clients regarding U.S. media spending, and any shifts in the media mix, for the remainder of 2021?
“The past year created a moment of digital acceleration for marketers. Not just in terms of media spend, but in all aspects of the consumer experience. Now is the time to go for the bold agenda that recognizes changes in consumer behavior, changes in marketplace supply and demand, and changes in what’s possible through data and technology. Advertisers need to diversify their mix by accelerating their use of connected TV, retailer media, shoppable social and doing so much faster than they might have anticipated 12 months ago.”
—Lauren Hanrahan, CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Zenith USA
Public relations agencies
PR agencies outperformed various other disciplines last year. What made PR do comparatively well during the pandemic, and what’s the outlook for the rest of 2021?
“Firms identified as PR aren’t actually. We are problem solvers, solution providers, thought partners and counsel collaborators. Last year, we supported business leaders through the quad-demic of COVID-19, economic insecurity, financial and health inequities, and systemic racism. We spent our time sitting at the (virtual) table with the C-suite as they determined how to accelerate their leadership, take the lead, or follow with purpose. It was a perfect alignment of what we do with what businesses needed.
“In terms of the outlook for 2021, the shifts in the landscape aren’t going away. Business leaders have recognized a need to be proactive in how they communicate, what stands they take, and how they can build and inspire loyalty. Your employees and your customers expect you to engage, and not just verbally. They expect you to do something, and that’s where we come in.”
—Lisa Osborne Ross, who today moves into her new post as CEO of Edelman U.S.