Work in Progress

Even in thriving economic times, interest in where the jobs are and who’s hiring is high. In this climate it’s on everyone’s mind, regardless of whether you’re looking for a job or just trying to gauge economic recovery for our industry.

The past 18 months have been brutal to employment in America, and the agency world was no exception. Around 20 percent of agency staffers were cut between fall 2008 and 2009, with the bulk coming in the first half of that range. “Bloodbath” was uttered more than once in my office during those dark months.

Thankfully, time marches on as it always does, and things are looking up considerably. A full recovery, if we ever truly see one, is a long way off, but I can confidently say we’re finally on the upswing and jobs are being created. In some instances, of course, these “new” jobs are simply ones that had been eliminated.

The question is, where can these jobs be found? While this issue of Adweek focuses on agency management, that’s not where the new jobs are. E- and C-level roles tend to be stable regardless of the economy. This job recovery is starting from the bottom up, and it’s junior-level employees — those just entering the market through those with three years of experience — that agencies are mainly seeking. This trend will likely grow with each remaining quarter this year. This year is also likely to come to a close with a decent variety of options for those in the five- to 10-year experience range.

Look for job growth as well in digital media at all experience levels. Some digital agencies never stopped hiring in 2009. For advertisers, the hottest potential employees are local digital design talent. The big shops will even pay relocation costs for the right people. These are largely Flash-heavy positions, but popular titles also include interaction designer and mobile/app designer.

While design is hot, I predict that over the next half decade jobs will center around social media. We can’t go 10 minutes in our professional lives without hearing or reading about it. The darlings of the late 2000s (SEO, information architecture, connection planning and user experience) have been taken over by all things Twitter and Facebook. According to my own monitoring, more than 50 percent of PR jobs now have a social media element, and this is only trending up. These roles will likely be the Wild West of the job market. They’ll lack clearly defined titles and descriptions, and salaries with social media in the title will range from $10 an hour to $80,000 annually to run the entire social media strategy division at holding company agencies. If it hasn’t seeped into your job function yet, be prepared. It’s coming.

Two sectors unrelated to anything digital that stayed relatively active for employment opportunities through this recession were shopper marketing and loyalty programs. While shopper marketing is still a small and specialized sector, it did remain healthy throughout 2009 and will likely continue its upswing through 2010. Loyalty and CRM will remain hot as data-capturing programs become more sophisticated and marketers maximize consumers’ spending habits.

The geographic trends will likely tilt toward the West Coast and New York, moving inland as the months pass. The technology hubs of San Francisco and Seattle lend themselves well to leading the agency job recovery movement.  

If you don’t specialize in digital marketing or any of the other areas I’ve covered, it’s not all doom and gloom. Traditional ad agencies will need to hire as their clients increase spending and they win new business. It’ll just be a slow comeback, and salary levels will drag behind. We’ve noted a mean salary decrease of approximately 9 percent across the board in traditional agencies through this recession. It was mostly achieved by letting go some of the highest-paid employees of a certain job title during downsizing, leaving those on the lower end of the spectrum with their positions intact. As new hires come in, they will do so at an even lower level, keeping the average down. This is precisely how the recoveries from the dot-com bust and post-9/11 ad recession of 2001 and 2002 played out. Hiring regained momentum in 2003, but salaries didn’t catch up to previous levels until 2005.