Where Are the Jobs — and Employees?

I understand your optimism. There are strong signs that the economy is on the uptick and we are recovering from the recession. In the last week of December 2009, the number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level in 18 months, a sure sign that jobless rates are leveling off. On the agency side, the last quarter of 2009 showed a significant increase in account shifts, and agencies with new business need new bodies.

Nevertheless, as someone who makes a living in the employment arena, I find myself more cautiously optimistic than you might be. Consumers are still being careful with their spending, and this causes advertisers to be more conservative with theirs. Unemployment is still high, leaving many talented employees reluctant to give up the security of their current position. And in the advertising industry, it is far from business as usual. The explosion of the digital world has seen to that. The speed of the Internet forces marketers and agencies to react faster, remain more fluid and take greater risks. The need to interactively communicate with consumers in real time with increased analytics, innovation and new strategic thinking requires a different contemporary skill set.
 
At the same time that our economy demands boosted operating efficiencies, most business are faced with a growing need for employees who can navigate in a digital world that is less familiar, less time-tested and, often, less proven within their current framework. This shifting of advertising and communication priorities does not mean that companies are completely abandoning their core sales and marketing models. Instead, it adds an entirely new dimension and new structure to their hiring and budgeting dilemmas. What goes and what stays? How are new resources integrated effectively with existing resources? What qualifications bridge the chasms and create a candidate positioned to wear different hats?

And then, of course, where do you find these candidates? Despite the high jobless figures and the duration of the Internet there is not an overabundance of exceptional talent within the industry readily available to move into these new communications niches. The past few years have forced some people in the industry to reassess their careers. Some folks, particularly in the media job market, have moved on to other endeavors. Others are not up to speed in the digital space and therefore finding it difficult to continue in the industry. Those that have found job satisfaction are reluctant to take on the risk of a new job situation and they’re staying put. Despite high unemployment, there is really not an endless flood of job seekers qualified to bring proven value to the new advertising industry. But the right people are out there for the right opportunity and often they are found outside the traditional business.

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Media spending is not expected to accelerate significantly in 2010. Take the Internet out of the mix, and many agencies are predicting negative advertising growth this year. Many others predict only modest gains. That sounds pretty flat to me. So where’s the agency and media rebound coming from? Excluding acquisitions and new product development, the largest growth opportunity will come from winning new business.

Unfortunately, the competition to win this new business will force many agencies to lower fees and media companies to cut prices, thereby reducing profits and putting more pressure on their direct salary resources. And perhaps the most obvious result of the recent economic challenges is that, in virtually all businesses today, fewer people are handling more of the work, and compensation is not increasing commensurately.

I don’t believe these changes are temporary, but rather systemic. The great dilemma today is that companies and candidates with immediate needs must force themselves to think long term. Public companies must find the talent that is durable and enables them to produce good quarterly earnings and keep stock prices high. Advertisers should make every attempt to correct any deficiencies in their current agency relationships before jumping ship to another.

Agencies must make it a priority to get regular feedback from clients on their performance and build performance metrics into their compensation.

And employees need to stay ahead of the trends and develop new skills, particularly in the digital space, while they bring new business opportunities to the companies that hire them. 

Mike Drexler is founder and chairman of executive search firm Drexler Geller Associates. He can be reached at mike@dgasearch.com.

Adweek accepts opinion column submissions. They should be around 800 words in length and exclusive to Adweek. Please send submissions to Roberta Bernstein (rbernstein@adweek.com).