What Roles Will Be Most—and Least—In-Demand at Agencies in 2021?

What Roles Will Be Most—and Least—In-Demand at Agencies in 2021?

By  |  December 29, 2020  |  Uncategorized  |  No Comments

Advertising agencies have had a rough year in terms of staffing. Dozens of the industry’s biggest shops were forced to cut staff this year as a result of Covid-19 and its impact on business.

A recent Forrester report attempted to quantify the damage, predicting that roughly 35,000 agency jobs will be cut this year in the U.S.—and that 17,000 more will be gone in 2021.

As agencies grapple with the impact of layoffs and recover from 2020, they’re thinking about how to create a workforce that will set them up for future success. Much of this involves reevaluating internal structures and determining which positions will be crucial for growth moving forward.

“I think there is going to be a massive amount of restructuring in the second or third quarter of next year,” said Ashley Jahn, co-founder and creative recruiter at Creative Search Consultants, an executive search and recruiting firm that’s worked with agencies including Droga5 and 72andSunny.

Change is already afoot at Dentsu International, which recently divulged its plans to cut 12.5% percent of its workforce and consolidate its agencies.

While every agency will have a different approach, industry recruiters, analysts and executives are seeing clear trends emerge regarding which roles and areas of expertise agencies are willing to invest in.

Doing more with fewer leaders

Leadership and management roles will be harder to come by in 2021 at agencies.

“Senior management is going to be a lot thinner,” Jahn said, explaining that each layer of management will likely have fewer and fewer people. For instance, an agency that once had seven group creative directors may now only want two.

“Every layer will have less, except for the lower levels,” she said, explaining that agencies will instead prioritize hiring “worker bees,” or those actually doing the work on a day-to-day basis, as clients continue to demand more content.

She said the search for these types of employees, which she categorizes as being at the associate creative director level or below, has been “frenetic” at her firm this year.

That’s not to say that leadership roles are going by the wayside or losing their value. Jahn said she doesn’t foresee titles like “chief creative officer” going away any time soon, as it takes a “very special person and a really amazing leader to weather these times.” But the people who do hold these roles will be expected to take on more as the hierarchy flattens, according to Jahn.

This also means lower-level employees will be tasked with more responsibilities. “The younger folks are going to be more client-facing,” Jahn said.

Laura Bajkowski, principal and founder of marketing consultancy Bajowski & Partners, agreed. “Clients are tired of paying for layers of what they view as waste,” she said, noting that roles with qualifiers like “global chief” in front of them will diminish, but not fully disappear.

Adjusting for AI

Automation and AI will also affect professionals in the industry. A report that Forrester released in October predicts that agencies will automate 11% of their workforce by 2023 thanks to these tools.

“Across the board, all functions are affected in some capacity or another,” said Jay Pattisall, a principal analyst at Forrester who worked on the report. Even so, he said production-related roles will be hit particularly hard.

“Tools and platforms make some of the manual labor of production redundant,” he explained, noting that production jobs are expected to decrease 15% at large creative agencies by 2023, according to Forrester’s forecasts.  

About the Author: Minda Smiley Doug Zanger

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