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Execs at Indie Shops (Sort of) Upbeat

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Executives at independent ad agencies have not had all the optimism beaten out of them by the tough economy, to judge from a newly released survey by Worldwide Partners Inc. (WPI), though they're realistic about their current struggles.

Conducted last month among members of WPI, an international network of independent agencies, the survey found just 26 percent of the executives feeling "positive" about current business conditions in their markets. Nineteen percent were "negative" in their assessment and 47 percent "neutral," with the rest declining to respond.

The pattern was similar when the agency executives were asked to describe the mood "among most of your clients about current business conditions." Here again, "neutral" got more votes (51 percent) than either "positive" (24 percent) or "negative" (17 percent).

Responses were significantly more upbeat, though, when the agency executives were asked how they feel "about business conditions for the next six months in your market." The "positive" vote climbed to 41 percent while the "negative" fell to 13 percent.

There was also a rise in positive sentiment when respondents were asked to rate "current new-business activity" and then to forecast "new-business activity in the next six months." For that matter, the executives were surprisingly cheerful when asked about current new-business activity, with the "positive" tally doubling the negative vote (41 percent vs. 20 percent). But the spread widened considerably when respondents assessed new-business conditions in the next six months, with 52 percent "positive" and 9 percent "negative." Of course, all of this means the respondents will be unpleasantly surprised if business conditions don't somehow manage to improve in the next six months.

Are executives at independent agencies likely to put their money where their mouths are and hire new staffers? The polling yielded a more mixed verdict on that issue. A plurality (42 percent) rated themselves as "positive" when asked "about the agency hiring new employees in the next six months." But that left about half feeling either "neutral" (35 percent) or "negative" (14 percent), with the rest declining to answer this question.

It's easy to see why independent agencies are in no hurry to hire when you look at responses to a question about their current income. Here, "negative" beat "positive" by 26 percent to 21 percent. Once again, though, respondents were more upbeat when queried about the next six months. Using that time frame, 42 percent classified themselves as "positive" about their agency's income, vs. 6 percent "negative."

At least some of the agency executives may whistle a cheery tune as they attempt to outlast the economic downturn. When asked whether they think "advertising jingles are making a comeback," 31 percent said they are.