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The ad industry lost 2,400 jobs in May, and more could be on the way

The news: Advertising and public relations lost 2,400 jobs in May despite an overall increase in US employment, per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a sign that the industry is beginning to wade through a period of uncertainty that will define the rest of 2022.

By the numbers: Ad agency employment is still at a high, but last month’s downturn comes as the industry faces an uncertain economic outlook and adtech issues.

  • The May employment loss was the first monthly decrease in advertising jobs this year. Overall, the US economy added 390,000 jobs last month.
  • Moreover, it was the first employment decrease since November 2020, a sign that the advertising boom brought on by the pandemic is slowing down.
  • Layoffs have plagued several adjacent industries like tech and social media. The tight labor market and rising interest rates means hiring is currently a slow and difficult process for many companies.

What’s behind the reversal? By some metrics, digital advertising seems to be doing better than ever. Digital ad spending will reach record highs this year, consumers are still spending, and industries that suffered during the pandemic are seeing a return to advertising.

  • But despite this, ad industry employment has been slowing down for a short while. April may have added 300 advertising jobs, but that was down significantly from 1,300 in March.
  • Recent events have raised concerns about the efficacy of digital advertising. Snap recently shook the tech and ad industries with news that it would not meet its own revenue expectations.
  • Surrounding Snap’s update were a series of layoffs and hiring freezes at companies with a heavy influence on digital advertising like Meta, Twitter, and more.
  • Still, that refocusing doesn’t instill much confidence since many advertising platforms are dealing with the fallout from Apple’s ad tracking and privacy changes.

Indie agency feels the squeeze: Recent layoffs at independent advertising agency The Many are a preview of how advertising’s troubles will take form.

  • The small shop, which reportedly lost Google as a client, recently let go of around half its staff after two rounds of layoffs, Adweek reports.
  • Agency co-founder Christian Jacobsen’s statement about the layoffs was telling: “[The Many] built believing the economic growth of 2021 would continue through 2022,” he told Adweek. “We don’t believe this will be the case.”
  • That’s the story not just for agencies, but for tech and social media companies that hired aggressively during the pandemic and now find themselves in an economic squeeze.

The big takeaway: The immediate future of the digital ad industry is unclear, and if a recession really is coming for the US economy, advertising is often one of the first industries to get cut.