More than ever, consumers have fixed their gaze on digital media. This is a fact no industry can ignore: least of all one that earns its keep by gauging consumers’ attitudes and impulses. Where lasting media trends go, agency firms are quick to follow, and 2017 was a record year for digital advertising. Digital work—online ads, targeted social media campaigns, etc.—accounted for more than half of all agency revenue throughout 2017, and the digital ad market has averaged a healthy annual growth rate of 14.4% since 2013, according to data from IBISWorld.
Another analysis by AdAge shows that the revenue share of digital business has doubled since 2009, from 25.8% to 51.3%. The AdAge report notes that calculating digital as a standalone category has become a challenge, as digital strategies are common in all areas of marketing.
2017 was also a year of records for consultancy firms, which, for the first time landed the latter four spaces on AdAge’s list of the world’s 10 largest agencies. In addition, AdAge states that revenue has soared for five of the US’s top tech consultant companies—Accenture Interactive, Cognizant Interactive, Deloitte Digital, PwC Digital Services, and IBM iX—increasing 32.3% in 2017. Employment rates for consultancies have grown in kind, rising 33.9% in the US and 31.1% globally throughout 2017.
While 2017 saw the blossoming of many areas of the agency market, other parts have struggled. Rapid increases in the digital and consulting markets were counterbalanced by falling stock prices, and a slight (.2%) reduction in US ad agency employment. US agency revenue rates grew only 1.8% in 2017, and the 600 agencies tracked by AdAge totaled $55 billion in 2017 revenue. Performing best were agencies that specialize in building customer relationships and direct marketing, with a focus on digital and data-driven service; their revenue growth averaged 3.6%.
Organic revenue growth also slowed for major legacy agencies. The “big five” corporations, WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic, and Dentsu, experienced an average decline in organic growth of .1%, largely due to WPP’s 2.3% decrease. One-year shareholder returns dropped accordingly for WPP in 2017, down 32.5%. Out of the big five, shareholder returns were negative for all but Interpublic—their returns rose 1.4%. On the other hand, shares for top-tier tech consultant agencies Accenture and Cognizant skyrocketed 28.9% and 38.4% respectively.