Claire Beale On Advertising: Smaller, fitter, leaner – and older

Click to follow

The advertising industry is shrinking. Literally. The number of employees in the sector decreased by nearly 2,000 last year. Everything's getting smaller, from the budgets to the fees to – inevitably – the teams producing the work.

Two thousand people might sound like a small chip, but advertising is not a big block. For an industry that makes a lot of noise and packs an influential punch, adland is remarkably trim. According to the industry's new census, conducted by the IPA, a little over 18,000 people work in the ad business, so 2,000 represents 7 per cent of the workforce, and it's the most dramatic decline for almost 20 years.

Not that anyone was expecting the census to reveal luxuriant staffing levels and a healthy programme of graduate recruitment. As if. Anyone left in a job feels the pain of picking up the slack from a workforce decimated by the recession. Even so, seeing the figures in glorious PowerPoint is unavoidably depressing.

So it's no surprise that all the headlines are focused on the revelations of job losses and a reduced labour market. Even the industry's freelance workforce (which you would have expected to grow as corners were being cut on the payroll) shrunk by 27 per cent.

So, we're leaner. Admit it, we're fitter, too. Let's not pretend there wasn't a fair hunk of flab overhanging agency structures. New efficiencies are in play that will save time and money. Job done, then, for anyone responsible for a balance sheet, meeting budget targets, making money.

But scratch beneath the streamlined surface of the census and you'll find some interesting figures about the age of the industry's remaining workforce. The issue is with the industry's young employees – or the sudden lack of them. Advertising is a young business. Generally, that's a good thing. It's the industry's young recruits who turn into the standard-bearers of the next decade. But the census reveals that the number of adlanders aged under 25 has collapsed, down by over a fifth. If you're looking for reasons, then cost is obviously one. Younger employees might cost less to employ, but they also cost less to make redundant.

So the balance sheets look OK and the older, more experienced employees are picking up the slack. The industry ticks over and comes through the recession. And then what? The timebomb ticks and, in a few years' time, the industry finds itself in the middle of a talent crisis. Disaster.

We're seeing signs of it already. The industry doesn't have enough good chief executives to go round because back in the early Nineties (when, you might remember, there was also a recession), the advertising business stopped recruiting. Almost 20 years later and adland has to deal with the fallout from that short-termism, and businesses – and the industry in general – are suffering.

Actually, there's a solution – and the industry might end up being all the richer for it, though it requires a cultural shift. Whisper it, because it's far from how adland would like to think of itself: perhaps it's time the ad business started to value wisdom and experience and grey hairs a little more. And not just value them – in a quiet, slightly embarrassed way – but champion them.

Yes, the ad industry needs its new recruits, it needs to keep refreshing, nurturing new talent. But there's no doubt that it also needs to recognise that economically and culturally the industry might be stronger in the long-term if people were given a little more time to develop their skills, do some great work and understand a breadth of business issues before they are thrust into the top chair.

And perhaps it's time to recognise that those who choose to simply carry on doing great work, honing their skills and getting to grips with clients' business issues, rather than chasing an agency management role, aren't simply excess to requirements once they hit 50.

Best in show: Nike (AKQA)

Eighteen months after the launch of the App store, you might think that the fad would be passing. Not at all. As mobile phone apps get ever more sophisticated, their popularity continues to grow.

So, not surprisingly, more and more marketers are getting in on the act. Take Nike, which has just launched a very cool new app for its Sportswear brand through AKQA. The app – called True City – is free and gives the user access to a live community of "tastemakers", who report on what's hip and hot right now in six European cities, including London and Berlin. It's all about big brands being useful, rather than just shouting about how great they are.