Why So Many People Leave Advertising

4A's and LinkedIn study highlights factors behind low morale

Headshot of Katie Richards

The battle for talent has always been a great concern for agencies, and a new study from the 4A's in partnership with LinkedIn illuminates some of the top reasons agency people either move to different companies within the industry or leave it altogether.

The findings, according to 4A's president Nancy Hill, are not surprising, but they are dismaying.

Turnover in the advertising industry is higher than related industries. It's growing at a faster rate than competitive industries, with the gap increasing 10 percent in the past year, according to the trade group.

For an industry built on marketing and selling products, and one that relies on its people, the ad industry has a major problem with its image. Mainly, it's not meeting people's expectations.

"These are things we've been hearing from our members for a number of years, but now the statistics actually show that we have an image problem," Hill told Adweek. "I don't know what we do as an industry to combat it, but it is now a glaring problem based on the research from LinkedIn."

While compensation is an issue—for entry level positions there's an average $45,000 gap between ad agencies and technology companies—it's not the main reason why people are leaving the business.

Fifty-four percent of people who left advertising said a major reason they changed industries was because they felt there was little opportunity for advancement, compared to a 45 percent global average.

The data, pulled from LinkedIn's proprietary platform data alongside two talent-focused surveys, one of which collected responses from over 300,000 global professionals, placed agency jobs near or at the bottom of categories including long-term strategic vision, work-life balance and job security. Agencies were compared against eight competitive industries including technology, retail and consumer packaged goods.

Fifty percent of people said they wanted more challenging work from agencies, compared to a 36 percent global average, and 46 percent are unsatisfied with agency leadership.

In terms of compensation, 45 percent want more rewards or recognition and are unsatisfied with compensation and benefits.

According to the LinkedIn team behind the study, a major fix for these problems is learning to brand agency life in a more appealing and honest way.

"You're never going to be able to outspend Google to attract talent," said Jann Schwarz, global director of agency holding companies at LinkedIn. "What you can do is tell a story that's more compelling or tailored to the individual, about what it is they can achieve and accomplish, what sort of development and personal growth opportunities there are within the industry."  

Hill says while the 4A's can step in and create programs for agencies to implement to retain talent and offer insights to job seekers about what the industry is really like, agencies have a big part to play, too.

"It's incumbent on the agencies to help people who are coming into the industry to have experiences and not just drudge work," Hill said. 

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.