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Hiring Freeze Starts to Thaw as Agency Business Hunts for Talent

WPP, Edelman, BBH, OMD Look to Hire; LinkedIn Lists 1,300 Openings

By Published on . 13

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After a nearly yearlong hiring freeze and having shed 14,000 employees, WPP chief Martin Sorrell had a bit of good news last week: The holding company is staffing up.

It's a welcomed announcement for an industry that lost almost 200,000 jobs between December 2008 and January 2010. Firms from Edelman to OMD to BBH are adding to their ranks, crediting a stronger business outlook and a need to add people with new skills.

"Agencies had to respond to what was going on in 2009 by making some massive cuts," said Pat Mastandrea, founding partner-CEO of the Cheyenne Group. She said when the market started to turn around in the fourth quarter of 2009 and budgets started to grow back, you had agencies that were too lean. "Now those agencies are in the process of having to address that by recruitment. And it's even stronger in the first quarter of 2010 than it was in the last quarter of 2009."

A search on LinkedIn jobs revealed nearly 1,300 agency listings for positions ranging from account executive and account director to senior account executive and business-development specialist. That's still a far cry from the number of jobs lost, and it's hard to believe the industry will ever equal the size it once did. But the recovering economy, new business and an uptick in spending from existing clients has Edelman hiring "in a big way," said Laura Smith, managing director-U.S. human resources. And it's not just replacing the jobs it cut last year. "It's mostly growth," she said. "At this time last year we had 25 positions open and today we have a little over 100."

Alan Cohen, U.S. CEO of Omnicom Group's OMD, said his agency's increased hiring is driven by the health of the media business in general and the amount of new business the agency has brought in over the past two years.

Social media recruiting
While many agencies are still working with recruitment firms, some like BBH and Edelman are relying heavily on social-media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or their own websites.

Edelman's in-house recruiters have been trained to use social media to seek candidates, especially for the digital positions, said Ms. Smith. "We don't put ads in the paper anymore and it shocks me that companies still do."

Agencies are also seeking new types of hires. BBH Labs announced last week on its site that it's "looking for a rare breed of person," for whom "technology is your oxygen -- you need it every second of the day and always want the freshest air, but you understand that not everyone is like you, so you can translate it into natural consumable language."

Ann Brown, founder of recruiter Ann Brown Co. , said it's not just digital jobs that are being filled. "Fortunately there are a number of agencies evolving the way they need to be and are hiring people with 360-degree experience," Ms. Brown said. "They don't want to train anybody in digital if all they have is a traditional background. They want people coming in to look at things from all sides."

Edelman's Ms. Smith said the agency has been hiring people across the board in practices areas such as corporate, public affairs, health care and technology.

Ms. Brown said that while chief financial officers are still keeping the reins pulled tightly on certain aspects of spending, they do appear to be feeling more comfortable about filling some of the slots vacated through layoffs last year.

Harris Diamond, head of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Constituency Management Group, said, "There is and will be hiring going on" in areas such as social innovation. "But there are other areas of our businesses where, frankly, you just lose some people and there won't be replacements for them."

"There are signs of life but I have to be honest, for the last two-and-a-half years we have had little jumps in hiring for four to six weeks and then it will settle back down," said Paul S. Gumbinner, president of recruiter Gumbinner Co. "We do have more jobs in the house right now... I'm just not sure it's going to last."

Johnson & Johnson loses top talent

Johnson & Johnson has long been a relatively low-profile player in the marketing-talent wars compared to Procter & Gamble Co., PepsiCo or Kraft. But it's become a fertile recruiting ground in recent months, with five president-level or above executives taking on new posts at package goods, media or technology companies.

Those familiar with J&J also see the departures as signs of trouble or tension at the marketer, citing tough bosses and growing pressure to perform at J&J. That four of the five recent departees are women -- and two of those women African-American -- also deals a blow to a company that's long made serious efforts to diversify its executive ranks.

Among them:

  • Bridgette Heller, 48, who had been global president of J&J's $2.5 billion baby care business, including BabyCenter.com, last month became president of Merck & Co.'s consumer health-care business, the product of the combination of Merck and Schering-Plough's consumer brands. Her new post includes leading such brands as Claritin and Coppertone, which compete with J&J's Zyrtec and Neutrogena. Ms. Heller, who spent most of her career at Kraft, came to J&J in 2006 and is former CEO of Chung's Gourmet frozen foods.

  • Debra Sandler, a 10-year J&J veteran who previously worked at PepsiCo. She left her post as worldwide president of McNeil Nutritionals, which includes the Splenda brand, in November to become chief consumer officer of Mars' chocolate division.

  • Georgia Garinois-Melenikiotou, a 20-year J&J veteran, will become Este Lauder's senior VP-corporate marketing -- essentially the company's first chief marketing officer, reporting to CEO Fabrizio Freda next month after leaving her post as Paris-based president of beauty-care strategy and new growth for J&J.

  • Renee Selman, a 20-year J&J veteran who last week was named president of Catalina Marketing Corp.'s Catalina Health Resource marketing unit after leaving her post as worldwide president of J&J's Ethicon Women's Health and Urology business.

  • Don Casey, a 25-year veteran who left his post as worldwide chairman of J&J's Comprehensive Care group last summer, who last week was named CEO of West Wireless Health Institute, a nonprofit exploring application of wireless technologies to advance human health.

    The executives themselves either didn't return calls and e-mails for comment or couldn't be reached for comment.

    --Jack Neff

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