Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ad Agency Working Hours Are Absurd

Typically, most service companies – lawyers, accountants and ad agencies of all kinds – do not charge their clients overtime for executives. But in advertising, agencies and their clients (through their procurement departments) have abused this practice.  It doesn't matter if it is digital or traditional, they are all the same. There is no reason for agency people to regularly work ten or twelve hours a day – or more. Seventy hour weeks are not uncommon - that is the equivalent to holding down two jobs.

Traditionally, ad agency creative departments have worked long hours.  This is nothing new.  But today it has gotten worse. (This is also true of account people, planners and media executives.)
Clients pay their agencies what is called a “blended rate”.  This is an average amount of the estimated time for all people at all levels who work on an account.  It has almost nothing to do with real time costs, but by senior people working long hours agencies can bill more time; unfortunately employees do not share in this windfall.  It is an absurd system.

I know at least one senior creative director who was making $300k a year who left the business after working for one agency (for over seven years), but typically worked from 9:30 in the morning until close to midnight (or later) four to six days a week.  Prior to presentations, she worked seven days a week, often just napping in the office.  This is how agencies and the procurement people from their clients have gotten around proper staffing; On paper one person looks better than two or three.  In other words, one senior person working late and long is perceived to be more efficient than two people working normal hours.  The creative director mentioned above should actually have been making more money since she was doing the work of two or three people.  But ad agencies don’t pay that way since their clients dictate how they can staff and, essentially, compensate their employees. 

The way client fees are now managed means that clients are in charge of and actually manage their own agencies.  I wonder if they do this with their legal firms or accountants.

Law firms are legendary for paying people right out of law school $100k or more. Those people work impossible hours but the reward for long work is the possibility of partnership and big bucks.  Ad agencies, on the other hand, pay entry level executives $40-60k with the possibility of getting a 5-10% raise each year, if that.  That is one of the reasons why so many advertising people change jobs frequently – with each change they can boost their salary by a significant percent, an amount higher than if they stayed.  Since advertising, despite all the changes in the business, is still about creativity – at all levels and from all employees – not paying well and not offering incentives to stay makes absolutely no sense.

Creativity cannot be quantified or output measured by hours worked.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Yet that is the way that time sheets are analyzed; agency people are not paid for the ideas developed in the shower or while raking leaves.  Rather, it is almost as if the employee who works longest in the office gets the most accolades.  

In the Mad Men era, it was not uncommon for strange, fun things to happen at ad agencies.  There were many water fights in the creative department where everyone got soaked.  I remember one head of account services who took his account group to the movies during lunch on a frequent basis.  On shoots, the creative people would sneak in an extra day or two to relax, especially if they had to work for many days away from home.  Lunches could be long, with or without alcohol.  

 All this to promote and nurture creativity, relaxation and job enjoyment.  Can you imagine these things happening today?

I would love to hear your comments.


  1. This is on point! It seems like the environment molds people into thinking that the more hours they spend in the office, the better worker they are, and at the end of the day with no compensation but a pat on the back and hey, here's more work, because we know you're hard working and reliable.

    1. Absolutely right. And on top of that, if the account cuts billing or leaves, your job goes with it. No loyalty or reward for hard work.


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