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For Thousands of Laid-Off Mag Employees, a Hard Road Ahead

Current Media Downturn Isn't Like Others Seen Previously

By Published on . 3

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In June, magazines' ad pages were running 7.4% below their levels a year earlier, and hiring freezes were creeping across big publishing houses. As it turns out, those were the good days. Back then magazines still employed 147,000 people, matching the high mark since the last recession. It had taken the industry until 2007 to reach that level. It took just three months to undo those gains.

By the end of September, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection and the Bush administration had started seeking $700 billion for Wall Street, magazines had eliminated 3,200 jobs.

Neither October nor November is reflected in Bureau of Labor Statistics data yet, but in recent days magazines have put many more magazine employees out of jobs. Time Inc. is in the process of cutting hundreds of positions; layoffs are rolling across Hearst Magazines; and Condé Nast has asked its titles for 5% budget cuts and let go web staffers at Portfolio.com and CondeNet. Magazines from CosmoGirl to Men's Vogue have closed. Publishing companies including American Express Publishing, M. Shanken Communications, The Economist Group and Rodale have all sent workers to join the parade of those laid off. Just last week, National Geographic cut 13 people from its editorial staff.

For those dumped on the street, even with decent severance packages, it's not clear where to look. "My general sense is that people are in a bit of denial about how bad it is and how much worse it will get," said one person recently put out of a magazine job. "Of course, once the severance checks stop coming in a few weeks, the freakout will really begin."

We do know that this downturn is exceptional. "I've been through four, maybe five of these," said Ed Koller, managing partner at recruiter Howard-Sloan-Koller Group. "It hasn't ever been like this."

Making do
There is no lifeline to grab in, for example, luxury magazines. "When Condé Nast starts to restructure and lay off people -- that hasn't happened in years," he added. "The whole climate ... has completely changed. The print business isn't going away. They're finding ways to do with less people."

How long this recession is going to last is anyone's guess, said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a national job-placement company. "We still don't know where we are in the transformation of media from the industrial age really to the information age," he said.

In the next six to nine months, as a safe guess, magazines will only make essential hires. The trick for those cast out will be ignoring their natural pessimism. "You have to get out, make a fast start, don't wait," Mr. Challenger said. "Certainly don't take the holidays off. Don't think there are no jobs out there and think, 'Why bother looking until this whole longer-term transformational age is over?' "

Some could land jobs in areas such as out-of-home advertising and direct-to-consumer marketing. "You now advertise at the malls, advertise at the gas pumps," Mr. Koller said. "Nontraditional media will not suffer as much as the magazine business."

Magazines' castoffs can't insist on jobs just like the one they've lost. "I would tell people if they're out of work to consider contract and consulting opportunities, to consider things outside their industry if they can get those opportunities," said Donna Naidich, VP and recruiter at Lynne Palmer Executive Recruitment.

But the best time to start looking, if it's not too late, is before you get laid off. "The time to call me is really when you're working and you want to establish a relationship with me," Ms. Naidich said.
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