Ad agencies cutback on freelancers

Freelancers in the advertising industry received confirmation yesterday of what many of them have feared, and seen, since the early days of the downturn: ad land is shrinking.

Reflecting on 2009, “the toughest period for [advertising] agencies in living memory,” industry group the IPA said that the stock of bodies in the ad business depleted by 2,000.

When stated on its own, 2,000 fewer advertising brains to compete with may not sound like such a bad thing, for both full-time and temporary or freelance professionals alike.

But the ad workforce has only thinned because smaller budgets, which have depressed take-home fees, have effectively downsized both the ad projects and the ad team required for those projects.

Seeming to confirm that the downturn is to blame, the IPA said the 7.4 % drop in the number of ad employees represented the first dent to the workforce since the 1990s, at the time of the last major recession.

At that time, freelancers reported slim pickings on the jobs market as companies all but called a halt to recruitment, although some freelancers successfully plugged gaps created by redundancies.

While there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that this latest recession, due to end later today with the release of new GDP figures, is no different, the IPA findings suggest otherwise.

According to the group’s consensus, 886 temporary and freelance professionals worked in the ad agency sector in 2009, compared with 1,210 in the previous year.

In other words, the number of non-permanent and freelance consultants who were on the books of UK advertising fell last year by more than a quarter (27 per cent.)

The reduction is bigger than that of any single age group, the findings show, given that the largest decline in employee numbers was 27% for those aged 25 and under

When asked how they cushioned themselves from the impact of the downturn, 16% of agencies said they initiated short-term working, while 19% resorted to staff sabbaticals or unpaid leave.

For the IPA, these measures clearly represent the lesser evil. It said: “As you would expect, the agency response to the economic recession has been innovative with many different solutions being used to continue to deliver for clients with reduced resources while retaining as much talent as possible.”


26th January 2010

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