Forrester looks at how the pandemic changed agency hiring

Forrester’s advertising expert Jay Pattisall recently dove into agency employment data to get a better understanding of how the industry was affected by the pandemic, and how ready it is for the recession.

The data is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, so totals provide a snapshot of the U.S. market. in short, the market is good, with employment at ad agencies at an all-time high of nearly 220,000.

But it also reveals some of the structural employment changes resulting from the transformative social and consumer behaviour shifts arising out of the pandemic.

“As consumers’ embrace of digital media grew during the pandemic, agencies recruited the data, analytics, design, and PR expertise necessary to meet the ‘digital or die’ imperative facing marketers and brands,” wrote Pattisall in a blog post published Tuesday.

Specifically, Pattisall saw growth in four types of jobs at agencies:

  • Data scientists: responsible for data intelligence infrastructure and services, data scientists grew more than 500% between 2019 and 2021;
  • Web developers and digital interface designers: employees who manage digital experience services for clients, and for internal agency tech development grew by 38% between 2019 and 2021;
  • Market research analysts and marketing specialists: positions responsible for developing and applying insights from data across campaigns were up 35% between 2019 and 2021;
  • Public relations and PR specialists: employees responsible for both the agency’s PR efforts and communications for clients were up, particularly for corporate reputation (+27%) and crisis management (+11%).

Conversely, some agency jobs shrank significantly during the pandemic, reflecting the impact of pandemic on shopping behaviours—product demonstrators for events were down 63% , for example, while merchandise display experts were down 47%.

However, Pattisall also discovered a drop in administrative and back-office functions, from EAs to finance managers, and data entry, between 2019 and 2021. Those declines ranged from 1% to 28%, depending on the position. “These reductions are the effects of remote/hybrid work and automation,” he wrote.

Pattisall closed his blog post by turning his lens from the past to the future. “Rising interest rates, falling consumer confidence, and inevitable cuts to marketing will eventually catch up to the industry,” he wrote. “When a recession does eventually take hold, we anticipate an average agency layoff rate between 11% to 13%, consistent with what Forrester tracked during the COVID lockdowns of spring 2020.”

Top Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

David Brown