The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Agency Advice Agencies Agency Culture

Can agencies embrace AI tech without spooking staff?


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

April 3, 2024 | 11 min read

Agency workers are worried about the impact of AI on job security. What can managers do to reassure them?

ChatGPT being shown on a laptop

Agency staffers are worried about the impact of AI on job security / Unsplash

Agency execs across the industry have been bullish on the potential of AI to deliver cost savings. Agency staffers are worried that time gained from production won’t be passed on for them to think and strategize for longer, though. Instead, they worry that today’s use cases are trial runs for replacing them tomorrow.

Whether or not those concerns are well-founded, agency leaders need to bring their staff along as their businesses navigate this transition. How do you solve a problem like… exploring AI without terrifying your staff?

Give them time

Adam Birkenhead, chief operating officer, Digitas: “Internally, AI has started to significantly enhance Digitas’ daily operations. AI is the task-tackling teammate our people collaborate with daily, and we do not foresee it replacing any jobs or IP essential to delivering work for our clients and networked experiences. We strongly believe these technologies will liberate our teams from mundane, repetitive tasks, allowing us to deliver higher value for our clients.”

Anna Hickey, global client president and global consultancy lead, Wavemaker: “There’s been much talk about AI replacing people. What we are doing is developing smart AI solutions, such as LLMs, that enable planners to quickly source multiple audience data sets simultaneously for deeper, more relevant insights. It’s reducing/removing the mundane part of the task, so we can focus their time on using those insights for transformative thinking that gives our clients a competitive advantage in their growth ambitions.”

Dr Alexandra Drobra-Kiel, innovation and strategy director, Behave/Total Media Group: “We consider a behavioral science approach, ensuring that human dignity and responsibility are the two guiding principles behind why we use AI systems. To ensure we create value, we assess and map out how AI tools can complement employee roles and identify opportunities to enhance and explore what future configurations for these roles could look like. Without these two guiding principles, AI systems will not help agencies achieve any meaningful or sustainable progress.”

Powered by AI

Explore frequently asked questions

Isabel Perry, global vice-president of emerging tech, Dept: “First, make the impossible things hard, not the hard things easy. We see craft experts tired of having ‘the AI opportunity’ framed in cost and time savings. Lean into that. Celebrate original creations, hero your AI artists, and highlight your inventors. Share the mistakes and techniques that made the impossible possible. Then focus, don’t boil the ocean. In 2024, we’re taking just three big bets around technologies, services and efficiencies, each leveraging momentum we saw last year. Trust that you’ll go further faster with 10% of the most highly engaged team members, but make education and tools available to even the most skeptical. It’s OK to adopt at different paces.”

Training – and dialogue

Emma Gunning, new business lead, BMB: “Empower people to start working with AI by training them more specifically on the ways it can make their job quicker and more efficient while providing clarity on the risks and legalities that need to be considered. Our recent Breast Cancer Now campaign used AI and photography in an important, impactful way to create the ‘Gallery of Hope’ – but it also showed that the use of AI isn’t necessarily a quick fix. The campaign took time and craft, required new ways of working and was still the product of the strategic and creative thinking of a team of people.”

Amelia Dunlop, chief experience officer, Deloitte Digital: “In the workplace, we know that employees have real trust issues when it comes to AI, as employee trust decreases by 139% when they know AI technologies are being used. But there is a way for agencies to approach AI and create an environment where humans work alongside machines. Consider taking a humans-with-machines approach by identifying the human-centered need, building trust with the humans involved, designing the AI to be trustworthy and preparing your team to interact with it confidently. When agencies harness AI’s power and gain buy-in from staff, they can achieve greater creativity, efficiency and productivity than ever imagined.”

Henry Cowling, chief innovation officer, Media.Monks: ”We believe in candor with our talent; downplaying the impact of AI would frankly insult their intelligence. Before going public with our AI POV, we invited feedback from everyone in our company because we wanted to give our people the opportunity to be part of a company that massively succeeds in this shift. That openness enabled us to be the first to declare that AI changes the economics of advertising for both our clients and our people. The response internally has been overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing gratitude that we did not try to dilute the message.”

Promote curiosity

Bas Korsten, global chief creative officer innovation, VML: “Creatives are curious people by nature. When it comes to tools that can help them to get to better ideas, I have never seen any fear. Just curiosity. Anticipation. Willingness to try. I think that creatives are convinced and therefore confident that creativity, true originality, is a human domain. Of course, the tools become better and smarter, but they won’t replace them because they remain tools, a means to an end. And that end is not the end of the creative industry. Just better ideas.”

Dan Gardner, co-founder, Code and Theory: “When we started, we primarily created Flash sites. Think of that. Since then, we’ve seen the end of Flash, the rise of smartphones, and then social media. The list goes on. Change, of course, is a bit scary, but it’s necessary. Fear to act is failure and being complacent is what dries up creativity. We already look different today because of AI. Be prepared to see something even more radical a year from now. The arcane concept of traditional ‘creativity,’ meaning just creating a big concept and that’s it, lasted longer than I would have thought. It is definitely over.”

Max Lederer, chief innovation officer, Jung von Matt: “After recognizing the incredible potential of this technology and its transformative impact on our industry, we made a conscious decision not to build our own AI lab or incubator and instead harnessed the strong bottom-up energy and curiosity of our employees. We set up a virtual innovation structure within our company chats and made all common generative AI models accessible to everyone. We also encouraged entrepreneurship by funding concrete customer projects to quickly create real use cases. In doing so, we have created a culture of innovation that puts people at the center of this change and uses generative AI models as tools to work more efficiently and create even more room for creativity.”

Joe Panepinto, senior vice-president and executive strategy director, PhD: “The best way to bring our people along on the AI journey is to lean into what differentiates the way adults learn from the way children learn. Adults need to be involved in deciding what they learn about. They need opportunities to integrate their unique experiences into the learning and they need choices. We’ve folded all of this into AI Fest – a 10-day learning event that fosters experimentation through the widest range of learning opportunities – from peer-to-peer to function-specific presentations, contests, case studies and AI use cases from their colleagues’ personal and professional lives.”

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

James Calvert, head of generative AI, M&C Saatchi: “Agencies need to go from the ‘what ifs’ to the ‘let’s see’. AI excites with its magical capabilities. It’s tempting to gloss over people’s existential fears, to push for profit and prowess. Despite appearances, AI is neither magic nor magician. Just as people create ideas, it’s people who create with AI as a catalyst that reshapes, refines and realizes thoughts. Our Pathfinder AI projects aim to find high-impact uses and cultivate curiosity and optimism. We demystify, show relatable examples, and discuss opportunities and challenges. Seen this way, we reframe the ‘what ifs’ of a sentient AI snatching livelihoods to the ‘let’s see’ of how we can amplify creativity.”

Jeff Cavallo, senior vice-president of decision science, Hill Holliday: “Agencies are full of resilient, ambitious people and staff need to be reminded of this when it comes to automation. Just as programmatic created new job specialties, generative AI will, too. I’m optimistic that generative AI holds similar potential to dimensionalize how agencies operate, from identifying the right level of human intervention to completing rapid testing and iterative development and instituting guardrails that keep outputs on-brief and on track to drive results.”

Agency Advice Agencies Agency Culture

More from Agency Advice

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +