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Temp staffing takes hold in marketing

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Interim staffing—a fancy term for "temporary workers"—has long thrived in the accounting, human resources and information technology fields. Despite the so-called jobless recovery, nearly 200,000 temporary jobs have been created in the past eight months, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

In marketing, however, the notion of interim staffing isn’t as widespread, but it’s beginning to take hold in certain pockets, particularly among public companies where cost-cutting and keeping headcounts down are priorities.

For instance, Des Plaines, Ill.-based United Stationers, a $3.8 billion wholesaler of office products, recently employed two marketing professionals supplied through Chicago-based CPRi, a company that specializes in providing brand managers and other marketing professionals on a short-term basis. "We needed some marketing analysis, but we didn’t have the skill sets within our organization to go and do this and we needed it fairly quickly," said Doug Nash, a United Stationers VP. "It was the end of the year, and we didn’t want to put on headcount."

Providing product analysis

The interim staffers analyzed certain product categories, researching competitors, pricing and market share. "They did a great job, and we’re continuing to use them," said Nash, who added that his company has also used interim staffers for copywriting projects and for trade shows.

Churny Co., a Kraft Foods subsidiary that markets to consumers and also has a food service business, recently turned to CPRi for an interim brand manager and associate brand manager, said Marcus Bradshaw, Churny’s financial director. Because qualified marketing staffers were temporarily unavailable inside Kraft, where the standard practice is to hire from within, Churny looked for a short-term solution.

So far, the two CPRi employees have worked at Churny for three months. "The brand manager had done some work for Kraft before, so he was familiar with us. We’ve been very happy with them," Bradshaw said.

CPRi provides a glimpse of the state of the marketplace for interim marketing staffing. In 2003, it doubled its revenue from 2002 to $7.5 million. The company also increased its placements from 122 to 225. CPRi estimated that about 35% of its business is with b-to-b marketers.

Sean Bisceglia, CPRi’s CEO, bought the company in the spring of last year. He owns 65% of CPRi; William Blair Capital Partners owns the other 35%.

Prior to acquiring CPRi, Bisceglia launched 3i Corp., which he intended to be a b-to-b marketing holding company along the lines of Omnicom or WPP Group in the consumer area. But he shelved the idea after his first acquisition, the advertising agency CMF&A, was forced to close in 2002. Prior to 3i Corp., Bisceglia ran TFA, a technology advertising agency he sold to Leo Burnett Co. in 1998.

CPRi is among a handful of companies that supplies interim marketing professionals. Others include Paladin and Direct Marketers on Call.

CPRi has 15,000 marketing executives in its database, Bisceglia said. "About 60% have MBAs," he added. The pool of potential interim marketing staffers is large because a large segment of the workforce doesn’t want to work full time. "There’s a group of people who’d like to work six months on Gatorade then take the summer off," Bisceglia said.

Bisceglia believes the key to growing the business is simple education. "You go into someone’s office and they say, ‘I’ve heard about this for accounting or IT. I didn’t know it was possible for marketing.’ That’s the biggest barrier," he said.

On Feb. 1, Bisceglia hired Marty Brennan as COO to help run the burgeoning company. Brennan is a former exec VP-CMO of WPP Group’s 141 Marketing.

With Brennan’s help, Bisceglia is looking to grow revenue again this year with a service that extends beyond interim staffing. Bisceglia calls the practice "insourcing." With insourcing, CPRi takes over an internal unit of the marketing department and runs it with its own employees, usually cutting staff and payroll to help the marketing department trim its budget. Currently, CPRi has an insourcing contract with AT&T Corp., handling the telecommunications giant’s department that produces direct mail, which has about 35 positions. The employees report to the AT&T offices in Morristown, N.J., but they’re employed and paid by CPRi.

"As AT&T has made its overall employee base smaller, we need some ability to have flexibility in our workforce that could go up or down with the needs of the business," said Tim Omaggio, VP-marketing communications in AT&T’s consumer division.

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