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).