The Cost of Covid Growth in Online Advertising

For all of its benefits, the much-vaunted boom in digital advertising has come at a cost. The people who buy it are overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. This is the perspective of a senior agency executive who spoke to us, in this latest edition of our Confessions series in which we trade anonymity for the franchise, and exposed the human cost of digital advertising in 2021.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you give an overview of what is really going on here?

Overwork is nothing new, but the pandemic and, in particular, what it is doing to digital media has made it more intense. Agencies need to work on a revenue or margin goal, which depends on what the client has agreed to: they can either pay for a person’s time, which is what communications planners are typically paid on, or media percentage, which is what buyers and digital team members get paid. But that income has to grow dramatically before you get extra funds to hire people, as agency CFOs tightly manage their P&L – it all comes down to very strict margin and revenue targets. Even as the volume of investment increases, there is a big mismatch between a CFO who proposes the approval of a full-time employee to interview, hire, submit an offer, and then move on. the establishment of this person. In the meantime, a few people will be overloaded with the work of several people. In extreme cases, you may end up with one person carrying the burden of multiple hands, which is very unfair.

Underpaid?

Digital teams are paid on commissions, not on a full-time equivalent model, so earnings are less stable or predictable – this puts any CFO or CFO on the defensive. In other words, everyone on my team who works on a number of high profile accounts owe a raise – and probably everyone in the industry as well. We all attended the internal calls and were told that “promotions or salary increases are not financially possible”.

Is your team understaffed?

Overall, we are chronically understaffed on the digital side. It is not uncommon for a person to run several different campaigns on their own at a given agency. And the people we hire are juniors, so the quality of the work is slipping. This is made worse by the fact that the top executives of these teams are fed up and leaving (you can see this on L2 – Scott Galloway’s company which shows the number of people leaving WPP for Facebook and Google versus people leaving Facebook and Google for agencies). Specialist teams are fun down to the account manager level and then you’re typed negatively. Unfortunately, the reality is that you will be treated like a second class citizen because it is believed that what you are doing is somehow decoupled from reality. No one loses their job if the ads on Facebook or Google don’t work. In fact, a few senior industry executives have advised me to step away from digital or any other activating role, because that’s a bad word in the agency business.

Are you worried about your team being outsourced?

This is something that I follow closely because digital advertising doesn’t cost less, but it’s lower volume, which means the margins aren’t that big and can’t be traded from. the same way as ATL strings. As a result, more of the work of digital teams is offshored (or to the right when people are trying to be politically correct). The art of buying campaigns is shifting away as platforms continue to automate the ad buying process. Of course, there will always be practical keyboards, but that will be less the case. Problematically though, as the quality of teams in Eastern markets is worse, you still need London-based talent to deliver a digital campaign. quality of account – it really matters.

Taking this example further, as it stands, teams in leading markets such as New York, London, Chicago or Los Angeles should put the polish on upcoming work somewhere like India or the United States. Philippines. No customer wants messaging and creative for their next ad to bounce around the world like this. At the same time, the quality of these offshore teams is worse, so it’s one of those things that happens over time. It tells you everything you need to know about how agencies view digital.

How does it feel to be part of a digital buying team now?

Anyone in a leadership role will always multitask outside of their own – and you’ll never really forget how to campaign. It’s like riding a bicycle. This may mean running flagship single-player campaigns. What does this mean in practice? Everything from setting up the campaign and attending all client meetings, from scheduling reviews to reporting and tracking. I worked on campaigns until the early hours of the morning waiting for them to approve things before they went live.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 has made things difficult to navigate at home. In the office, this pressure would not be so intense because you would be surrounded by many people who do the work with you. The sense of camaraderie is so important in an agency environment.

So remote working makes these problems worse?

Usually when I’m in the office the camaraderie is strong, but now it’s gone. All the good things of agency life have been washed away by the pandemic. There are no great lunches, no team-mating jokes, and there are no fun work trips.

A team meeting on a Zoom screen is not the same as sitting next to your coworker. There is a hidden human cost to all this digital money. When I look back on my career, the best times I have had came from someone asking for a “favor” to do something basic that turned into something bigger like a new business pitch. or to manage a client. How can you replace this especially for juniors? Video conferencing tools cannot duplicate serendipity.

How do you and your colleagues handle this?

People are content to isolate themselves, to isolate themselves and to work. There is no commuting, there is no time for lunch or drinks after work. Everything is gone. But when it’s too much, they leave. And when you think about it, it’s easy to see why people are making these decisions and leaving to join one of the big tech or in-house companies where the business for employees is much better. I have colleagues who have done it and who have thought about doing the same. You go to these companies because they are more stable companies and the job security is good. The only other option is to go to another agency. Often times, this is the only way to rise through the ranks in this industry, especially if you are a person of color.


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