Across the country and across the Web, within the last week, millions of readers saw an Associated Press story that details America’s lost jobs that are not likely to return, even as the economy improves. Among them are 65,000 advertising and PR agency jobs – about 14% of the pre-recession total.
Don’t necessary shed a tear. Many of those jobs shouldn’t have existed in the first place. I can’t speak to advertising but in PR, many of those jobs only existed to bill unsuspecting clients large amount of money that didn’t need to be spent. Then the clients got wise.
Too many “big firm” PR jobs have existed simply to grow billings, not relationships. In the past few years, since client tolerance for agency tricks has fallen to an all-time low, we have heard the stories from unsatisfied “big firm” clients who sought more cost-effective, honest alternatives from firms with new models.
For example, there’s the global agency that charged a medical society $250,000 for a “PR toolkit” it sold hard – essentially a three-ring binder with tabbed sections that was sent to every member nationwide. This binder was supposed to give doctors a “turnkey” solution to PR by giving them materials they could use to publicize their practices and profession. It was like sending PR pros a medical textbook so we could start curing disease. The binders ended up on shelves or in garbage cans as a complete waste of client money.
We have learned of other examples, like the “big firm” that charged a nonprofit client a monthly retainer for a four-person account team in which three of the members’ primary roles were to meet for an hour per week to “keep up the billings.” That client is now working on an “as needed” hourly basis at another firm with better results for less money. Other cases include flying an account executive into a city to wait by the phone in a client’s office “in case any media calls.” I witnessed that one in person along with another case in which an account person was flown into another city to sit in an all-day meeting and just take notes. Throwing bodies at accounts to make clients feel “serviced” is old thinking that just doesn’t pass muster for clients anymore.
In some of these firms, to support their overhead and staff – some are dedicated to making clips and/or media lists for just one or a handful of accounts – they have grown used to billing clients as much as they think they can get away with as a retainer each month, regardless of objectives. That means they have to find ways to bill clients, just to keep up the retainer, even if that extra work (and extra staff) is not really needed.
For the displaced professionals, many (if not most) of whom are committed to the profession, here’s to a future in better situations in which their future employers won’t abuse their time and their jobs.