Across the country, ad agencies are scrambling for a limited pool of experienced talent. There are bidding wars for people; business is brisk at executive recruiters; and several shops in particularly tight markets -- such as Chicago -- are going so far as to double the financial incentive for workers who bring in new employees.
"You're seeing a full-employment situation. The pool of talent as a whole is being depleted," said Roy Bostock, chairman-CEO of MacManus Group, parent of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and N.W. Ayer & Partners. "As business increases, you have to add people and its difficult to do that, because it is a full-employment economy."
"I think there just aren't that many people to choose from," said Don Maurer, president-CEO of McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C. He said he had looked for four months before signing on David Baldwin as senior VP-executive creative director last week.
The hiring situation has become particularly acute in the Windy City.
"Chicago has had an amazing year, pulling in lots of new business," said Mary Baglivo, president of Euro RSCG Tatham, which hooked Red Lobster this year. Adding to the strain is a new agency coming to town, Ammirati Puris Lintas, which is trying to staff up a local office to service its Ameritech Corp. account.
"Ammirati is throwing tons of money" at potential staffers, said one Chicago agency executive. Others said the agency has been canvassing the market assiduously; "Who hasn't been contacted by Ammirati?" joked another.
EVEN BURNETT IS HIRING
Even Leo Burnett Co., which lost or resigned hundreds of millions of dollars in business within the past two years and which let go 74 people last September, is in a hiring mode. A spokesman said the agency in particular will beef up its media department.
The market right now is "huge, huge, huge," said Cyndi Simon, president of recruiter Encore Group, Chicago. "There's more business than recruiters."
Agencies, mindful of the difficulty in replacing better people, are more frequently matching offers in order to hold on to their own, said recruiter Judy Wald, chairman of Judy Wald Agency, New York.
"I'm in bidding battles with my friends," said Michael Colacchio, exec VP-general manager, Hampel/Stefanides, San Francisco. For example, this year he offered an account supervisor position to a candidate at a 30% premium to the usual salary. But the prospect took a job at Black Rocket, which offered even more.
Mr. Colacchio, whose office has 25 employees and currently has nine vacant slots, said he's having the most trouble filling jobs in the midmanagement level. There, salaries range from about $55,000 to $90,000 in account management; $60,000 to the low $100,000s for creatives, and $35,000 to $60,000 for media employees.
Some of those young people, he said, are asking for things like "signing bonuses."
Draft Worldwide, Chicago, has doubled its financial incentive to $2,000 for employees who bring in others, in an effort to fill its 80 open positions in Chicago and another 40 in New York.
"The market is particularly tight for professionals with eight to 10 years of direct and promotional marketing experience," said Howard Draft, chairman-CEO.
Chris Shoemaker, director of human resources at Chicago's Frankel & Co., filled 270 jobs this year because of more business from existing clients including the U.S. Postal Service, General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile division and Visa International. She said the shortage of talent for promotional agencies like Frankel is caused by mainstream agencies looking for specialists.
"The Needhams and the Thompsons are looking for more general marketing folks . . . and are competing with us" for talent, she said.
Frankel, which has always offered $750 to employees who help recruit, has added a new incentive this year: $1,500 to those who help locate upper-tier executives.
The talent squeeze in Chicago has "been building" said Allan Winneker, president/North America, Wunderman Cato Johnson, Chicago. "The early '90s were the famine. Now marketers are upping their promotional, database and relationship marketing [budgets] and I don't see it changing. If anything, it's getting stronger."
Some agencies are even using more clever means to stockpile resources. Mary Maroun, president of TBWA Chiat/Day, New York, said every new hire is asked to name "'three of the smartest people you've worked with in the last two to three months' -- to build "a database of smart, good, talented people."