Advertising executives drop out of the fast life  

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The advertising industry is suffering from a brain drain because an increasing number of senior executives find the strains of the job incompatible with family life, a survey shows.

The advertising industry is suffering from a brain drain because an increasing number of senior executives find the strains of the job incompatible with family life, a survey shows.

Figures from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising say nearly half the people in the £7bn industry in Britain are "Young Turks" under 30, and only one in five survives beyond 40. The survey suggests the social whirl of the industry – with many leading companies based near the bars and restaurants of Soho – makes advertising a young person's game.

Stress counsellors say more mature staff are voting with their feet because they are disillusioned by poorer pay and less fun since the spendthrift heyday of the late Seventies.

Rather than pursue a place on the board, many choose alternative but less lucrative jobs as varied as furniture-making and alternative medicine, which enable them to spend more time with their children.

Experts from the institute say their 2001 census of the 14,000 advertising employees in Britain raises concerns over a lack of experience in senior positions. There was a danger that unless companies made greater efforts to retain experienced staff, they may lose touch with the "grey market" as the population grew older.

Hamish Pringle, the institute's director general, says: "It bothers me that by definition this means the industry has very few people with any significant business experience. There are people advising clients on multimillion-pound decisions who are really very wet behind the ears. You've got to ask yourself whether that is really good for the business."

Mr Pringle, who is 50, believes there is a case for positive discrimination on age and encourages advertising companies to follow the example of the DIY chain B&Q. He says: "They have decided older people know more about DIY and would be ideal personnel."

He says increasing numbers of men and women tired out by the dual demands of desk work and essential socialising in the London-dominated industry are leaving around the age of 40 to achieve a healthier balance between work and home life. "A lot of the job is to do with socialising and after the office there is the call of the bars and clubs," he says. "It is all part of the process."

Last year the charity Nabs, which offers counselling to those in the advertising and communications industry, dealt with a 60 per cent increase in callers to its helpline. Kate Harris, its chief executive, says about 500 new callers complained of the additional pressures due to new technology and cutbacks as advertising experienced a severe recession. She added: "The industry used to be much more sexy but young people are now going into management consultancy, brand management and into the City. I'm not saying those jobs are any less stressful but they pay much more."

Of the 200 firms registered with the institute, 80 per cent of staff are employed in London with others in Scotland, Manchester and Northern Ireland.

The proportion of women working in advertising agencies is almost 50 per cent. Only one quarter of board positions is occupied by women and only one in eight chief executives is a woman. The institute blamed a lack of family-friendly company policies for the high turnover of female staff, which has resulted in a high proportion (58 per cent) of women under 30 in the industry compared with 41 per cent of men.

Paul Simons, chairman and chief executive of the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, which employs 1,000 staff in Britain, accepted a company preference for "young talent" but "harsh economic realities" meant many high-earning managers aged 40 or over were let go last year when the industry shed an estimated 600 jobs.

Case studies

'I've put motherhood on hold for five years'

Deborah Stephens, a 28-year-old account handler at the St Luke's agency in King's Cross, north London, has put motherhood on hold as she tries to get ahead in the advertising industry.

The history graduate from Oxford University said her job selling the image of Ikea furniture, Fox's biscuits and the lure of the ballot box for the Electoral Commission, was totally incompatible with the responsibilities of home life.

She said: "My employers are great because they give you a lot of flexibility but during hectic times ­ like during a pitch to a prospective client ­ you have to drop everything."

When Deborah, who has been at the agency for five years, made a successful pitch for the Electoral Commission shortly before Christmas she worked 10 hours a day over four consecutive weekends, and averaged 12 hours a day during the rest of the week.

As account handler she is responsible for strategy, writing briefs and evaluation. She said: "You don't crack the brief immediately and you have to learn the market in a short time. You also have to spend time with research groups which are carried out between 6pm and 10pm and you are often away from home for two nights a week.

"There is a lot of pressure to push yourself as hard as you can for the product, the client and the team. When you have other responsibilities it is hard to give 100 per cent to the agency. I don't intend to have a family for the next five years."

She said she is compensated by working with interesting people on a variety of briefs, unlike marketing executives who specialise in a single market. She added: "It's not for the money ­ I have friends in law and the City who earn three times more than me."

'There was pressure to stay on later at night'

Damien Fanshawe, 42, was once in advertising but now runs a fledgling furniture-making business at his home in Chiswick, west London and is training to become a bereavement counsellor.

Although he still works as a freelance art director, he left his last salaried job in advertising two years ago after 20 years in the industry.

His new lifestyle allows him to spend more time with his wife and young daughter.

He said: "We had suffered major trauma trying to start a family and so there were other reasons to leave. But in my last salaried job (as director of art for a company near Fleet Street) there was pressure from the chief executive to remain in the office until 7.30pm although we were contracted from 9-5pm... I have been in the industry long enough to know that the hours can be irregular, especially during a pitch, but with responsibilities at home I was not going to sit there for the sake of it."

Mr Fanshawe, who worked on campaigns for British Airways and ran direct marketing projects, has witnessed major change in the industry in the early 1980s.

"The accountants moved in and eradicated overspending but they have had a hold ever since. There has been a further shake-out in the past year and a half. I believe the industry has become more impersonal. People don't mind working through the night at short notice but if they don't get any thanks they'll become pretty hacked off."