It’s difficult to get a proper read on the number of job losses across media, marketing, and advertising in the wake of COVID-19.
It’s tough for a few different but related reasons. First, the great majority of people working in these industries work for small businesses. When a small business finds that it can no longer pay for people to show up and work, it’s not news. It’s personally devastating for all involved, but it’s not news because it’s not at scale.
The other factor here is no one—big, medium, or small—sends out press releases about firings, layoffs, or furloughed staff, and even fewer people want to talk about what happened.
Plus, when you are asked to pack your boxes, and all of a sudden you’re on the curb looking back at the place that once employed you, it’s painful, frightening, and embarrassing. It does not matter what the reason was, and yes, you take it personally. I’ve been there.
A person out of work may carry these emotions (which can translate into shame) in a cauldron inside. Once upon a time, you might have poured off some steam by telling your friends what a dumb ass your old boss was, or whatever, but today the place for boiling over is social media. This is where we can see glimpses of the “no work” pain. But they’re mostly quick glimpses because people don’t want to make themselves look bad, and not having work is a bad look for most.
Some of the Staff Reductions We Do Know About
BBDO New York parted ways with between 75 and 99 employees.
In Louisiana, one of the states suffering the most from the coronavirus, the Times-Picayune and the Advocate furloughed 10% of its 400 staff and switched the rest to four-day workweeks. The Plain Dealer, a daily newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, laid off 22 newsroom staff – including its health reporter.
Adweek let people go. Ad Age too.
Friday was my last day as editor of Ad Age. Here’s my final editor’s letter. (Plus a bonus podcast episode where I’m interviewed by my team). Thanks for a wild three years. https://t.co/20GznnX32C
— brian braiker (@slarkpope) April 20, 2020
VaynerMedia laid off about five percent of staff, due to pressures on the business from the coronavirus pandemic. The agency had already cut a portion of staff two weeks ago in a restructuring move not related to COVID-19, according to one person close to the business.
MullenLowe has cut 10 percent of its U.S. staff due to financial difficulties related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Anomaly laid off 22 employees due to the pandemic.
There’s much more, but it’s all scaps and for the full story to be told, we need a mosaic of these scraps.
When You Have No Work, Nothing’s Relative and Perspective Doesn’t Register
A person on LinkedIn left a comment on something I wrote about how it’s all in your approach and since her approach is solid, she’s got more work than she can handle. I assured her that she’s a winner in a sea of people who don’t know where their next job, client, or paycheck is coming from.
There are always winners and I do believe people who have already downsized, already done without, and already found a way to survive prior to COVID-19 are better positioned than someone who’s had a series of high-paying jobs. To go from holding court inside the mahogany board rooms to the unemployment line is a shock to anyone’s system. The kind of shock that leaves a scar.
Meanwhile, hustlers are hustling.
Friendly Reminder: You Are Not Your Work
The loss of identity that can accompany the loss of work can be a crushing weight to endure. Men, especially, suffer the indignities because men are often conditioned to believe that the work they do is also who they are as people. It’s a lie, but a lie that many men, myself included, are tempted to buy.
We buy the lie because we can’t reimagine ourselves as “unsuccessful”. That’s not part of the program. But shit happens. And when shit happens, your program, whatever it is, don’t mean shit. Now, you’re being blown about by events larger than you and larger than us all. Now, you’re on your knees, dazed and looking for answers and a lifeline.
Misfortune happens to incredibly talented people, as it does to people from every walk of life. Talent is no protection from economic maelstroms, nor does talent and experience necessarily offset institutional ageism, sexism, and racism.
William McPherson (1933–2017), a novelist, critic, and journalist was the editor of the Washington Post Book World and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. He also ran out of work and became poor, which he wrote about.
There are a lot of people like me, exiles from the middle class who suddenly find themselves on Grub Street.
We all know instinctively that nothing lasts forever. Yet, we want so badly to believe that it’s not true about our career.
Marketing, more so than media, pays well and the pay is one reason that talented people go into Marcom in the first place. To be deprived of this pay—to have it ripped out from under you—is ugliness manifested. Now, you have an unwanted and unexpected test in front of you, and it’s a test that you must do well on, as there are hundreds, maybe thousands, like you also working to rise to this new challenge and find work where little exists.
Innovation and Creativity Will Help Forge New Paths
Here’s a fundamental problem in the agency services business that we need to address and solve: Buyers don’t know where to look to find suppliers.
Here’s another problem: We lack common standards and pricing is all over the place (which creates both confusion and lack of trust in the buyers of agency services).
You’d think that the creative people who are suffering the most from lack of being found would be the most motivated to fix this.
New delivery methods for agency services and new easy to understand cost structures are desperately needed, along with a new humility and refreshed focus on the client’s customers.
The best media and marketing artifacts are not made in a lab or in a poorly lit cubicle farm. We must be of the people and among the people to effectively reach the people. It’s not hard to figure out, it’s just hard to believe in a new stripped-down more blue-collar way of working.
I do believe. I believe because I’ve seen the wasted time and money. I’ve witnessed the unchecked arrogance and endured the pain of hostile coworkers. I’ve also been in meetings where everyone’s talking MBA-speak and no one is representing the voice of the customer or the customer’s real concerns.
All this B.S. can end, but it will only end when you and I, and everyone we know agree to end it.
When we do our jobs right, what we provide to companies is invaluable, but we forgot to prove it. We lost ourselves in the mess of corporate largess and then again during the first tidal waves of digital disruption. Now with COVID-19 undoing all in fast order, here is the moment we need for a hard reset and the innovations that are born from it.
The hard reset will mean different things to different people. Some will leave Marcom forever, while others will find new ways to deliver business-building insights and the creative outputs to support the insights. The pressure is on right now. Someday soon, I expect to see a few diamonds.