A few weeks ago the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland released their annual census data - a set of figures detailing the state of the Irish advertising industry, what major challenges it faces and where it’s succeeding. Overall, it was a mixed picture.
LBB’s Alex Reeves turned to Boys and Girls Managing Director Patrick Meade to try and digest and interpret some of the figures and understand what they mean for the day-to-day business of a Dublin creative agency.
LBB> 45% of all agency employees are under 30. Only 6% are over the age of 51. How do you think that affects the way Irish agencies operate and the kind of work they do?
PM> Not to sit on the fence but I think there are positives and negatives to this. The positives are the energy and enthusiasm that younger people bring to the industry, the fluency they have with technology and social platforms as well as the insight into an audience that is in high demand among our clients. The negatives are the loss of experience that can be brought to bear on client opportunities and our own business problems. Very few issues we encounter haven’t been tackled before, maybe in a different market or a different sector, and we tend to ignore the lessons of the past and think that everything is ’different nowadays’. It’s important to have different perspectives in any business so the imbalance we’re seeing in these figures are a cause for concern.
LBB> Employment in IAPI member agencies stands at 1,830, the highest since they began the research in 2013. Do you feel this change? How does it manifest itself in your day-to-day working life?
PM> I’m not surprised by this as it probably follows the growth trends we are seeing throughout the industry. Boys and Girls has doubled in size in that time period so I can certainly see the effect on a day-to-day basis.
LBB> Agencies across creative and media are reporting that 27% of their income in 2016 came from International business, up from 11% in 2015. What do you think is behind this? What are international clients saying to you?
PM> I think many agencies in Ireland have international ambitions but I feel that this has only really begun to gather momentum in the past couple of years. A greater commitment to international events such as Cannes, the One Show and D&AD has signalled our intent to international clients.
We have also taken advantage of local relationships to expand internationally. Technology has played a role. Online tools and remote working is widely accepted now which makes working over longer distances easier.
Finally, I think the standard of work coming out of Ireland is higher than ever before. Our international clients see no difference in quality when they work with us and our confidence in our ability is also showing through where in the past we might have felt insecure in the presence of more famous international competitors.
LBB> Those predicting turnover will ‘increase or strongly increase’ have dropped from 74% in 2016 to 58% in 2017, pointing to a more cautious outlook among agency owners. What's motivated this pessimistic shift, in your opinion?
PM> Uncertainty. There’s so much of it around, especially around Brexit. It has to be impacting us. Our clients are dealing with issues like currency fluctuations or price hedging which, although not directly related to us, means that budgets might be tighter and a more cautious approach is being adopted.
LBB> Growth opportunities the report mentioned include new clients entering the market, internationalisation, revenue from programmatic, growth in demand for specialist services including PR, cross selling of services to existing clients. Which of these do you find most pertinent to your agency and the Irish market in particular? And why?
PM> I think internationalisation and cross selling are the most pertinent to our business right now. The former for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier, and also because we’re confident of our ability to create work that is of international standard. Cross selling is always an opportunity for agencies. Creativity and creative thinking can be applied to so many areas in our clients’ businesses and the deeper the relationship the more exposure we get and the more opportunity we get to put our skills to work on non-traditional projects.
LBB> The gender data proves that progress is being made on women in senior positions. Women make up just 20% at CEO/MD/Managing Partner level. The positive news is this has risen by 7% since 2013. Do you think the industry is doing enough for that? What are your thoughts on it?
PM> This is very positive news for the industry but it is by no means cause for celebration. There is a lot more to do and a lot further to go to address the balance, especially at the top. But it’s not easy and not every approach is the correct one. I think we need to foster a culture where women not only take on senior roles in agencies but also encourage them to start their own. Remove the glass ceiling completely. I’d also look at the recent initiatives in the UK where women with families are encouraged back into the workforce. This means challenging the ‘hero hours’ reputation this industry has and becoming more flexible in our approach to employment contracts and working conditions.
LBB> 41% of agencies report a skills gap. What skills are missing and how should Irish agencies be addressing this issue?
PM> I think there are certainly skill gaps, especially in technical areas and project management too, but there is also a talent shortage in the creative roles. It might still be a knock-on effect of the recession where we had little or no recruitment for a couple of years leaving us with a shortage of supply at the mid-to-senior level in the current market. I think we need to do better as an industry to encourage talent from abroad to come to Dublin to work in advertising and we also need to do a better job of competing with the likes of the large tech giants and the consultancies who are poaching talent and dazzling third-level students into choosing that path rather than one in advertising.
LBB> Are there any other issues in the Irish advertising landscape that you think deserve attention?
PM> I think we still haven’t really established an effectiveness culture. More needs to be done in terms of embedding it in our daily activities. Both client and agency side. More discipline in terms of understanding the role of our work, clearly defining the KPI’s and the effect we want to see and then detailed tracking to ensure our work is effective. Then I think we can get into a real discussion over value based pricing which is where this industry needs to get to next. But that’s a whole other topic of conversation.