State of the Agency Employee Highlights (2022)

Dragon Army
Dragon Army
Published Nov 17, 2022

Whether you’re running an agency or working with one, the stability of your team and how well they are engaged directly impact the quality of work and its outcomes. Balancing flawless execution, agility, and a retention culture demands a measured approach to team building and team member management. That balancing act has always been a reality for agencies, and it can be tricky. 

If your agency producers don’t clearly grasp their role in the greater objectives of the organization, the demands required to ensure delivery excellence, happy clients, and healthy margins can seem unreasonable.

Communication and transparency in the collaboration process are absolutely essential. Where a lack of information exists, seeds of discontent and fear grow. So not surprisingly, as small and mid-sized agencies have shifted to hybrid or remote work, open communication and transparency have grown in importance. Agency leaders are putting more priority and creativity into securing relationships between colleagues, access to leadership, and a general sense of psychological safety. 

As vital as that fulfillment focus is, it is the second step, not the first. Maslow had it right when he asserted that basic human needs must be met before spiritual ones. For agency leaders, that means salary, benefits, and career development opportunities must be fair before they can earn the chance to

create real value that recruits and retains the best team members. In short, both considerations are needed, and their prioritization and clarity matter.

Comparing Satisfaction and Salary Agency Studies

Every year, salary and agency studies provide a look at how the priorities are changing and impacting the shape and health of agencies. Two recent studies, analyzed in tandem, do an exceptional job of profiling agency team members based on their specific compensation, job growth, and fulfillment demands. 

In this post, we share some of the more salient takeaways from The 2022 Agency Edge: Agency Employee Study and the Robert Half 2023 National Salary Guide. They have been useful as we are planning for 2023, and we hope they will be helpful to you too.

What Matters to Our Agency (May Not Matter to Yours)

Because Dragon Army is a lean team of specialized practitioners, it’s important that every member of our team is capable, motivated, and delivering to their fullest. Partly that’s because we produce consequential projects and long-tail work for significant global enterprises, including The Home Depot, The Coca-Cola Company, TKE, BlueLinx, and The Carter Center. 

To continually deliver genuinely impactful digital solutions for complex challenges and opportunities, we ensure that the makeup of each team is spot-on, which is informed by the experience and knowledge base of each of our team members. Beyond delivery excellence, we are hyper-focused on ensuring each team member is doing work that is appropriate and fulling because we want them to be happy. 

Our company’s purpose is to Inspire Happiness, and it truly is important to our leadership to understand what brings meaning and joy to our team members. And on the flip side, it’s also important to be able to surface and mitigate issues before they become endemic and toxic to the working relationships and culture of the agency.

One way that we keep tabs on how well we’re delivering for one another and, by extension, our clients, is that we run weekly and monthly sentiment surveys, conduct Stay Interviews, and host open conversations about pressing issues. (We’ve done these things since before the pandemic, but ramped them up as we became a fully-remote agency.) All of those forums produce critical insight into how to care for our ‘Thunder of Dragons.’ And then we use research into the broader market to contextualize what we’re learning internally.

Key Findings About Agency Team Members

As its name implies, the Agency Edge study is specific to marketing and advertising agencies. The Robert Half study broadly offers a span of multiple industries and markets, including marketing and Atlanta (our HQ). Together, these two data deep-dives uncover considerations that should inform how agencies and the companies that hire them are putting teams in place to prepare for success in 2023.

Agency Edge offers a segmented look at agency employees, focusing on what keeps them content and fulfilled, and what drives them to seek other work. Breaking down the segments and considering all the ways in which they seek compensation and fulfillment, you can learn a lot about how to approach and nurture these individuals.

Enthusiastic employees (27% of the agency population) are proud to work for their agency and confident in their ability to succeed there. These team members are most likely Gen X’ers who believe in staying at one agency for many years and are content to stay in their role(s) for more than five years. It’s possible they have been with the agency for the better part of its existence.

A few things to know

  • Most likely responsible for strategic direction, PM, creative 
  • Most interested of all the groups in working remotely or hybrid
  • Likely working 40-45 hours per week

These older, more experienced team members do not cite salary as a top retention factor. Instead, they say that satisfaction comes from positive feedback from superiors and clients, the chance to work on exciting projects, and a manageable schedule. But it’s worth noting that fair compensation is likely an unspoken expectation, as these professionals are commanding higher pay by virtue of their stage and seniority. (A look at the Robert Half experience tiers shows real differences in comp levels for these most experienced practitioners.)

Self-reliant employees (45% of the agency population) feel they can only rely on themselves for career success. They are unhappy with their current agency and claim to need a side hustle to feel fulfilled. As described, self-reliant employees actively strive for ‘more,’ possibly due to their age and stage. Likely to be Millennials, they are making the ‘jump’ every two or three years to grow their career.

A few things to know

  • Most likely responsible for media and production
  • Most interested of all the groups in working in-person
  • Likely working 40 hours per week, at most (possibly because they have a side gig)

Not surprisingly, for self-reliant employees, satisfaction comes from compensation more than any other factor.

At-risk employees (29% of the agency population) have a lot of responsibility at their agency, want their agency to care about their health and well-being, and prioritize collaboration. They are extremely unhappy with their career trajectory and compensation. Notably, these team members are also likely to fall within the Millennial age group but are inclined to stay in a role longer, in order to reach a leadership role within the organization.

A few things to know

  • Most likely to be responsible for strategic direction, PM, AM, and leadership
  • Most interested of all the groups in working hybrid
  • Of all the groups, they are most likely to be female and to work more than 51 hours each week (making them a high burnout risk)

For at-risk employees, satisfaction is tied more to positive client feedback, promotions, and the chance to work on exciting projects than to compensation.

Key Takeaways 

Generally, agency employees are proud to work for their agency and observe that it has a positive reputation. They also are happy with the environment. Despite all the positives, however, most people say they feel that the benefits are insufficient. General surveys show that compensation is a top factor for deciding whether to stay or leave — and the consideration seems to be weighed separately from the ‘job satisfaction factors.

The top 5 reasons cited for leaving a job

  1. Inadequate salary
  2. A perks and benefits package that isn’t competitive
  3. Feeling overworked and/or unsupported
  4. Limited career advancement
  5. A need for better work-life balance

Perhaps what’s most concerning is that fewer than half (48%) of your employees are likely comfortable talking with leadership about advancement opportunities. Particularly with respect to discussions about compensation and benefits, we can’t presume that no news is good news.

All of this important (and somewhat worrisome) insight points to one thing, and it’s where we started. It may be more important than ever to keep your focus on building a culture where everyone can belong, connect, speak openly, feel heard, and grow in the ways that are important to them.