Advertising companies like WPP and Omnicom hard hit by the pandemic are hiring again

  • Ad giants like WPP and Omnicom are hiring again across departments after a crushing 2020.
  • Agencies including VMLY&R, R/GA, and The Martin Agency have open roles at a variety of levels.
  • But some recruiters say finding candidates to fill the roles has been difficult.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a terrible 2020 when ad agencies shed 49,000 jobs, firms are growing again — and hiring.

“2021 indeed remains a difficult year in some parts of the world. But we have been recruiting again,” said Mark Read, CEO of ad giant WPP. 

The holding companies say they’re hiring across the board as marketers ramp up spending. WPP’s GroupM expects worldwide advertising revenue to grow 10.2% to $651 billion in 2021 after a 4.1% decline in 2020. Ad revenue ticked up 1.8% in the first quarter at WPP while Omnicom Group grew 0.6%.

According to Glassdoor, WPP is looking to fill 82 roles at the holding company level in the US alone, while Omnicom has 172 open jobs.

One WPP ad agency, VMLY&R, said it has more than 400 open positions in the US alone across almost every department and job level. 

Omnicom, parent of agencies like TBWA and BBDO, has rehired some employees who were laid off during the pandemic as business comes back, especially in hard-hit sectors like travel and entertainment, Omnicom Group CEO and chairman John Wren said. 

“Our events business in China is experiencing significant growth and hiring, after being virtually shut down in 2020,” he said.

‘There’s a sense advertising is back’

At IPG agency R/GA, EVP and global chief talent officer Angie Hannam said the agency has hired 96 employees so far in 2021 and that it’s hiring across all 15 of its offices.

IPG’s The Martin Agency has hired 120 people since the pandemic, said associate director of talent and culture Cindy Cabral. Open roles include a senior business affairs manager, senior media buyer, senior editorial writer, junior and senior producers, and social media analysts.

“The opportunities are there, 100%,” Cabral said. “It’s a buyer’s market and the buyers are talent. As agencies pick up new clients, we’re all vying for emerging and diverse talent.”

Brian Dolan, CEO and founder of advertising staffing company WorkReduce, which works with all the major holding companies, said the ad holding companies are trying to get back to pre-pandemic levels or higher.

“People I’m talking to are hiring very aggressively,” he said. “One division at a holding company has 130 open roles. People are coming to us with 10, 20, 30 openings at a time. They’re bringing people back who were laid off. There’s a sense advertising is back and it’s going to stay back.”

The ad industry has traditionally lagged in diversifying, and many companies say hiring people from underrepresented backgrounds is a big focus.

WPP’s latest US diversity report in April showed its workforce was 68.9% white, 12% Asian, 9.9% Hispanic or Latino, and 6.5% Black.

Some agencies are struggling to fill roles

Some recruiters say they’re not seeing a lot of hiring at the executive level, despite the return of new business.

Dolan said many of the openings he’s seeing are in social and analytics for people with two to three years of experience, which pay $50,000 to $75,000.

“We’re seeing a lot of agency new business wins announcements,” said Christie Cordes, founder of industry executive search firm Ad Recruiter. “I haven’t seen a big hiring ramp-up inside the agencies yet. There are still a lot of agency executives seeking work.”

Holding companies are also finding a changed market, with some struggling to fill some roles, such as social media experts, Dolan said.

He hypothesized that people are opting to work for independent and small agencies instead. 

Cabral said many ad execs are more cautious in accepting positions after a difficult 2020. 

“Candidates are not shy to demand more of their work environments and ask pointed questions about how an employer supports and develops people,” she said.

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