Where are the Mad Men (and Mad Women)?

On an annual basis I make my lament for the advertising and PR business in New Brunswick. Of course, I shouldn’t use the term mad men at all as 58% of all workers in the industry nation wide are women. Although it is interesting that New Brunswick is the only province in the country where women account for less than half the advertising and PR workforce.

I’ll reiterate the stats. Forget 2020 as it was the Covid year. Between 1999 and 2019, the relative GDP contribution from advertising, public relations, and related services [NAICS 5418] in New Brunswick declined by 35% (that is New Brunswick’s share of the GDP in the 10 provinces combined). New Brunswick now accounts for a microscopic 0.3% of the 10-province GDP from this sector.

We have 0.46% of the national total of advertising and PR hours worked (or 46 out of every 10,000 hours worked across the country). As of 2019, that was 45% less than in the peak year of 1998.

And when you look at the trade data, you see why New Brunswick has such a tiny advertising and PR sector. We imported just under $90 million in advertising and public relations services in 2017 (mostly from firms in Ontario, $53.5M) and we exported only $8.7M. This includes interprovincial and international exports. Adjusted for population size, New Brunswick had the largest trade deficit in this sector of any province (where data is published).

I will reiterate that every $1M revenue in these services creates $916,000 in provincial GDP, $650,000 in payroll and supports 16 FTE jobs. If we had even just Nova Scotia level exports, that would add 368 jobs and several million dollars in tax revenue for provincial and local governments.

When I ask industry folks (and I apologize for asking every time I see one), they promote a variety of reasons for this weakness. The older folks talk about the NBTel effect. NBTel used to be a multimillion dollar client for the sector and Bell now does almost nothing with NB-based firms. Others talk about how the national firms are scooping up much of the large firm/government business. Others say it is unrealistic to think that NB advertising and PR firms could win national accounts or business in other jurisdictions – even though Nova Scotia firms generate 3.7 times as much export revenue as NB firms in this sector.

Or maybe it is because Nova Scotia has a larger presence of national firms (small n and big N in this case) that do more work for national clients in Nova Scotia.

I can’t help but think it would be interesting to give this sector the NouLab treatment. Get the best and brightest minds in the space and try to figure out why we are not doing well here and what might be done about it. How much of that $90M imports could be repatriated? How? Do we need more entrepreneurs? Do we need to attract a national or international firm (s) and convince them to do creative work here? Is there a role for PSE? Do we need to attract more international talent?

I’d bring in Roger Attlee, Patrick Lacroix, Bonfire, Hawk, BrainWorks, etc. and just for the fun of it spend a few hour thinking about how we might carve out a small niche for ourselves.