Why Low Morale at Agencies is Also a Marketer Problem

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You may have heard about the study that shows that morale at agencies is at an all-time low. Here is the leading paragraph from the study, conducted and published by Campaign US:

“Forty-seven percent of industry employees rated their morale as either “low” (31%) or “dangerously low” (16%), according to the survey. That number is up a whopping 36% from 2015, when just 34% of employees said their morale was either “low” (26%) or “dangerously low” (8%).”

The study is quite shocking, because everyone understands that unhappy teams have a much higher propensity to deliver sub-par work. Just think about other industries where morale is or was low: the car industry in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s or in the US, customer service for cable companies like Comcast in the USA, or Ryanair, Europe’s leading low cost airline.

Where morale is low, you have a real challenge to attract and retain top talent, and the chances of just having mediocre talent working on clients’ businesses is high, with all the consequences you can imagine (or have experienced). It sounds as bad as it is.

To make matters worse, it appears that the unhappiest group of people at the agencies is the group on which clients rely the most. It is not the young, entry level people whose morale is the most challenged (even though they make very little money and are working incredibly hard. So hard in fact, that in Japan there are two documented cases of work pressure related suicide at Dentsu!).

It is in fact the whole middle segment of managers who earn a more-than-decent salary and who lead teams and client assignments every day. These are the senior people who clients interact with on a daily basis, who clients rely on for their daily guidance, counsel and ideas.

What is interesting is that the top executives are apparently less low on morale, but they are the main reason why the middle group is so down. The vast majority of people with low morale attributed “leadership” or lack thereof as the main reason. And two-thirds admitted they were actively job hunting.

None of this is good, especially if you as a marketer rely on your agencies for anything from creation to strategy, planning, buying and a lot more. “But what can I do as an advertiser?”, I hear you ask.

Well, there are several things that clients can do to foster a healthy relationship with your agencies. And when the relationship between client and agency is good, you stand a higher chance of happy, motivated people on at least your teams as compared to the (dreadful) average.

First, make sure your agency ecosystem is designed for purpose. Many marketers have ecosystems that have organically grown into what we call the overloaded Christmas tree, full of random stuff accumulated over the years, pulling down the limbs and creating an uncoordinated mess.

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Once you have the right partners, ensure there is a process in place that motivates and stimulates the team members in an integrated way (i.e. both internally in your marketing department and at your agencies). People who feel they are part of something tend to be much more inclined to deliver “over and above” versus people who are constantly wondering about their roles and responsibilities.

Finally, set up an incentive program that is fair but challenging, and that offers real rewards. If team members know there is something to be won collectively from performing well, they tend to perform well (funny that!). The rewards do not just have to be financial: a combination of financial and intangible rewards is usually very effective.

Flock has a lot of experience building and implementing these types of programs, and we would be happy to share some cases with you. All you have to do is ask!

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2 thoughts on “Why Low Morale at Agencies is Also a Marketer Problem

  1. Maarten,
    Here’s an easy tip for clients. And its free. Say “Thank You” every once in a a while when it is deserved. You’ll be amazed how far that goes. If it’s not deserved then get a new agency.

    And try paying your bills within a reasonable time frame. Make sure the “Tree” gets enough water to ensure it thrives. A christmas tree without care and feeding dries out quickly and leaves a prickly mess to clean up. Most businesses understand that a supplier network of any kind must be healthy or they themselves will suffer ultimately. This kind of common sense and frank discussion has too often gone missing.

    These two simple things do wonders for morale.