Where have New Brunswick’s mad men (and women) gone?

As originally published in the Telegraph-Journal (Wednesday this week).
The term ‘mad men’ was given to the people involved in the advertising and public relations business back in the 1950s and 1960s because most of the firms were located on Madison Avenue in New York City and most of their professional workers were men.

Back in 1997, according to Statistics Canada, there were more than 700 people working in the advertising, public relations, and related services sector in New Brunswick. At that time, we had more people working in the advertising and P.R. business – adjusted for the size of our economy – than British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

That year, unfortunately, was the high water mark for the mad men (and women) in New Brunswick. Since then, the industry has been shedding employment at a rapid rate. By 2011, there were only an estimated 232 people working in the advertising and public relations business across the province – a startling 67 percent decline.

And this is not part of a national trend. Across Canada, employment in this sector has grown by 32 percent since 1997 adding more than 11,000 workers. Nova Scotia and Manitoba have shed advertising and public relations employment too but Ontario witnessed a significant 66 percent increase in mad men (and women). Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec all had modest increases in advertising and public relations employment between 1997 and 2011.

It is hard to say exactly why employment in this industry in New Brunswick has essentially collapsed in just 15 years. Certainly the takeover of the NBTel by Bell resulted in a moderate loss of advertising and P.R. activity. There has also been some consolidation of the industry within Atlantic Canada resulting in a net loss of employment in New Brunswick. However, it’s hard to see how these two trends could have led to the loss of nearly 500 workers.
According to Statistics Canada, annual operating profit margins in New Brunswick’s advertising, public relations, and related services sector have averaged 7.9 percent from 2001 to 2010 which has been the second lowest in Canada among the 10 provinces. The industry in Nova Scotia has witnessed a much more robust 12.4 percent average annual operating profit margin over the decade.

Some people might think this is no big loss. For them advertising is superfluous and public relations is nothing more than professional deception.

But this industry is at the epicentre of the creative economy. It employs graphic designers, writers, photographers, audio/visual artists and increasingly Web and social media developers. For the most part, the industry offers intense but rewarding careers.

There was a time I actually believed New Brunswick could grow its advertising and P.R. sector by providing services to the national firms based in Toronto and elsewhere. When I put this idea to one of New Brunswick’s leading mad men, he told me “no Toronto firm would outsource work to little old New Brunswick”. Little places like New Brunswick cannot compete with New York, Chicago and Toronto.

The funny thing, however; is that a number of smaller jurisdictions in the United States have very impressive advertising and public relations industries.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Vermont and South Dakota are in the top five states for the concentration of public relations specialists and advertising sales agents. Minnesota has the second highest concentration of graphic designers among the 50 U.S. states.

We should convene those who are left in the industry to figure out what went wrong and brainstorm a brighter future for the sector.

If we are serious about building the creative economy in New Brunswick we should start by figuring out what went wrong with our mad men (and women).

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7 Responses to Where have New Brunswick’s mad men (and women) gone?

  1. Is is possible that these could be classified as something else as the advertising agencies have migrated into the digital world?
    Web site design companies and design firms such as http://orangesprocket.com are doing great thing in NB but they probably aren’t classified as advertising.

  2. Not knowing anything about the industry in the province…

    I would look to who buys advertising in the province, and to determine whether they provide any sort of market at all for advertising agencies, or whether they do it in-house. Because if there’s little or no advertising market here in New Brunswick there would be little incentive to either outsource to NB or set up shop here.

    I would also look for that all-to-common New Brunswick phenomenon, the dominance of advertising and marketing by one or two major firms who have the lion’s share of the business. Because again if newcomers are being blocked from the industry by incumbents, especially incumbents who use political sway to limit competition, we will again not see outsourcing to NB or new start-ups in the industry.

    Like I say, I don’t know the industry here, but I would bet dollars to donuts that if we looked more deeply into the decline, one or another of these is the cause (I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong).

  3. Jim Hudson says:

    There are a number of reasons why our industry is in decline here, not the least of which is large New Brunswick based companies such as McCain, Moosehead, Irving and others that don’t employ our services locally, choosing instead to do business in upper Canada or elsewhere.

    And, surprise, politics plays a huge role in which firms get work and which don’t. As one example, my firm has been in business for 30+ years in Moncton, we are one of the best in the business, and yet our City proper hires one particular firm almost exclusively.

    New Brunswick is home to several design and advertising firms that are world-class and could be providing far more employment, but too many NB firms see marketing and design as an expense rather than an investment in business success. Or they’re experts at it themselves or don’t need any assistance from professionals.

  4. mikel says:

    Just have to add that 1997 was the tail end of the ‘Mckenna years’, and Mckenna was quite famous for having a huge PR staff and tons of spending on PR for the province, both provincially, nationally, and internationally. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a good percentage of that was government related.

  5. Coypu says:

    It shouldn’t be too difficult to see where the jobs have gone: the surviving agencies will be able to tell you where the top 10 budgets are being spent. I think you may find the decline in ad and pr jobs is mirrored by the loss of tv industry jobs in New Brunswick – at a time of rapid expansion in the industry due to many new cable channels – none based in New Brunswick.

  6. mikel says:

    Its interesting that Fredericton has as many ad companies listed as Moncton. Online listing though include everything from ‘for sale by owner’ and guys who make signs (not sure if I’d call them ‘ad men’.

    What I found most interesting is that when you go through the list, the first five companies that looked of any size at all-didn’t even have a website! Now, in this day and age, if you are running an ad company and don’t even have a website, that says something about either how deep your head is in the sand, or your pocketbook. As the poster mentions above, a number are probably tied to government, a little too closely perhaps.

    However, why that would be any different in NB than any other province is a good question. But yeah, how much of this industry is tied to radio and television, where NB has a limited local market. Given tax credits its likely that much of this work is done in Nova Scotia or even PEI, which takes ‘creative endevours’ pretty seriously. Its even interesting to notice that I often mask my IP address, yet whenever I go to the CBC website, it almost never is advertising anything related to New Brunswick.

    Irving no doubt has people who do both ad stuff AND probably write stories so are listed as something else (partly joking). And apart from that…who else is there? So the question maybe so much ‘what happened to them all’ but ‘what are the ones still operating doing?’

    The only thing I know about this industry is what I remember from the Video Lottery referendum. No spending restrictions were imposed, and the industry basically had control of ALL the media. I can’t remember the name of the company in Saint John, but I remember for years after they bragged on their website that they were responsible for ‘winning’ the referendum (polls consistently showed the NB public opposed).

    You want ads, implement direct democracy.

  7. Bill Whalen says:

    As someone who has worked in this industry for over 30 years in this province I have seem many changes. I believe there are two factors that impact NB; one is the centralization of some of the largest accounts and the loss of that revenue for agencies; the second is the reality that there were far too many shingles hung out for the level of business that exists. When we had four telcos in this region a significant number of agencies got some level of business from them. Even when the four became one a good number of agencies were retained. Today almost all of that work goes to Ontario or Quebec where the decision makers reside. You can’t take that level of activity our of the region without having an impact, and they are only one example.

    The agency business like many others is tough. Many enter it with a sense of entitlement that they are owed something. We have to earn it every single day and when you lose that drive chances are you lose the business. Because someone hangs up a shingle in Moncton, does not mean the city or any other government should employ them. Results are what matters. People in our industry need to stop whining and continue to get better. That is what will help to grow the industry.

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