Study: Ad Agencies Not Doing a Good Job of Training or Retaining Employees

ad agency training employees

Ad agencies are doing a poor job of nurturing their employees and instilling a sense of loyalty to their shops and that’s bad news for new business.

According to a recent 4A’s and Arnold Worldwide Survey: Seven in 10 of those surveyed would return a call to a recruiter, three in 10 of the employee ranks will no longer work for that agency within a year, and nearly all believe there are few obstacles to finding a new job because of the improving economy.

The survey found that agencies lose employees because they see little career pathing, feel they’re learning on the job and find new employers that invest more in training.

Agencies should know that training is critical to their success. The larger agencies are now rising to meet the escalating demands for digital, most of them are now requiring that almost all of their employees develop digital skills. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article,  the bigger agencies are spending roughly $750,000 to $1.5 million on digital training programs this year.

The following are some highlights of the information shared at a recent 4A’s conference, ‘Transforming Talent Management’.

“Transformation in our industry continues at an accelerated pace. Time now for the dialogue to shift from why and what change is needed to how we collectively work on integrating ideas to make it happen.” – 4A’s, Transformation 2011

The Problem – A recent 4A’s and Arnold survey on hiring, development and retention of agency executives:

  • 30% of the collective agency workforce will be gone within 12 months
  • 70% of employees would call a recruiter back if one reached out to them
  • 96% of employees surveyed said they feel they could easily get a job, in part because of the improving economy
  • 37% expect to stay one to five more years in the industry, 66% plan on staying more than five years in the business
  • 90% of employees said they learned by figuring out problems on their own. Conversely, 25% of execs said employees figured out their own issues

The cost of replacing an exiting employee is high. Experts estimate it costs 29% to 46% of an employee’s annual salary to replace a departing worker.

Andrew Bennett, Global CEO of Arnold Worldwide, further reports on this landmark 4A’s study on hiring, development and retention.  Here are some of the top quotes from his presentation:

  • “We say ‘Talent is our number one asset,’ but you look more into it and you look at how managers are, revenue is more important.”
  • “We’re not taking our own advice. We don’t have time to market ourselves, to care about our talent.”
  • “The average Starbucks barista gets more training than the average communications employee.”
  • “It’s an incredibly attractive industry, we’re just not leveraging and leaning into that. We’re not doing a very good job marketing to our people.”

Miles Nadal, Chairman and CEO, MDC Partners: “I am the Chief Talent Officer.  As CEO, I’m in charge of talent … talent is the single most important thing that I do. We spent $25 million on new talent last year and I was involved in 95% of those hires.”

The Solution  – Benett’s 5 solutions to turn employee attitudes around:

  1. Invest in talent in the early stages, such as schools
  2. Promote cross training
  3. Introduce new incentives, such as education financing or sabbaticals
  4. Fix performance management
  5. Engage employees in the career conversation

The small agency is the incubator for the advertising industry’s talent pool and always will be. Small agencies have the culture, access to opportunity and teaching environment that is prime for growing talent. Sure, small agencies lose some candidates along the way, but they also retain a lot and — best of all — you put yourself into a position where you are always growing. – Anthony Del Monte, Squeaky Wheel Media, New York

Click on the following links to read the entire Ad Age article, “Left to Fend for Themselves, Employees Feel No Loyalty to Agencies”.

The 4A’s is the national trade association of the advertising agency business. It represents more than 1,100 member agency offices in the US that employ over 65,000 people, offer a wide range of marketing communications services, and place 80% of all national advertising.

The management-oriented association helps its members build their businesses, and acts as the industry’s spokesman with government, media, and the public sector.

For more information visit their Web site at, or follow on Twitter @4As.

Additional articles that may be of interest:

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. Great article and it’s true, great talent is getting harder to come by. Companies need to invest in their workforces and show new hires that they are a valuable asset, otherwise risk high employee churn. And the major shifts that are happening and changing workforce demographics are amplifying this need. One way to tackle the issue is by implementing onboarding processes that are more engaging and social. We recently covered the topic through our webinar Social Onboarding Goes for the Gold. Hope this blog post that links to the recording is of value to your readers.

  2. It’s refreshing to see this issue being highlighted. Lack of training and genuine interest in an employee’s career is bad for business; not only recruitment costs but jeapordizing client relationships. People buy people and when your key people leave very often so do your clients!

%d bloggers like this: