Rampant turnover in Adland: What does it mean and could it even be healthy?

February 13, 2014


Careers can be had in Adland but almost certainly not at the same company. Whether one resides on the client side of marketing or plies his craft at an agency, transiency is a fact of life. People come and people go, some egregiously, but most harmoniously. Such is the ebb and flow between marketing’s coral reefs. Few denizens stick around.

Back in the day, a new employee may have entered into a marketing position, say at Kraft Foods or Leo Burnett, envisioning a full career spent in service to his company. That was during the time of gold anniversary watches and company pension plans. Alas, these and most other markers of solidarity are gone. Long gone.

Looking back I can safely say I was among the last rookie classes that actually believed it possible to stay at one company for an entire career. For a long while it appeared I just might. I remained at the Leo Burnett Company for over 15 years (happily, I might add), entering as a junior copywriter exiting as the Chief Creative Officer of an agency within that agency, LBWorks. During that time I even sat among the company’s board of directors. Heady stuff.

But then I took another job. And then another…

I’ve been in my current position as ECD of gyro, San Francisco for almost two years. If you compare that to my marathon tenure at LBCO, it is but a short sprint. However, compared to my fellow colleagues not only am I not considered new I am probably more tenured that half of them! Said another way, since I began my job a dozen or more folks have joined us and about that many have left.

Reef hopping!

Welcome to Adland, circa 2014. Turnover is commonplace, even normal. Not necessarily indicative of toxicity or any other malady, the myriad species of marketing fish merely change reefs when something shiny distracts them. Why stay? With no equity to be had, or long-term promises to be kept, both employee and employer are part of an ever-changing and fluid ecosystem. Nowadays, and for some time really, we have become so accustomed to transiency that even thinking about a 5-year plan makes us cross eyed.

I don’t believe in reminiscing and I won’t do it here. There are pros and cons to this new world order. But make no mistake it is our reality. Like professional sports, our teams change every season. To remain competitive, one must adapt.

For one thing that means taking it all in stride. Do not look at departures as grave warning signs unless they are part of a mass exodus, which, we must note, are typically referred to as lay-offs. When people do quit, HR still conducts exit interviews, searching for reasons why.

Well here’s one I actually heard: “They offered me a few more bucks and some new things to work on. I figured it might be fun. If it doesn’t work out I’ll come back or try somewhere else.”

How the f**k do you counter that? Why even try? A better move is to thank the man for his great service, sincerely wish him good luck and then offer someone else a few more bucks and some new things to work on. The good news is your mother was right. There are plenty of fish in the sea.


4 Responses to “Rampant turnover in Adland: What does it mean and could it even be healthy?”

  1. John said

    I find it interesting there is so much turn around in the industry I have yet to break into. That would explain why I keep getting looked over for positions. Despite having a master’s degree and running my own small digital agency for three years I have yet to find a salaried position. I have been offered commission only account executive jobs, but I make more building websites for people. I guess I never realized how true my words were when I used to tell undergraduates it would be difficult to find a job with a degree in advertising. You need more, a portfolio and an internship. Then it is still a tough road. Luckily I know someone at a firm and may get a position soon, but I have been looking since May. This rotation of experienced employees is probably a big reason graduates can’t find jobs.

    • Steffan1 said

      Good points, John. And you’re probably right about all those experienced candidates impeding rookie talent, no matter how well educated. That said, Good Luck!

  2. davidzorn said

    so true. I’ve been at my current job for a little over two years and am considered old guard. you forgot one big part of the equation though. client relationships have become just as fickle. the long term relationship is over, it’s become as casual as online dating.

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