Marketers, agencies face midlevel ‘brain drain’

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Marketers and agencies trying to beef up staff to handle increased business are faced with a stark reality: There is a lack of midlevel advertising and marketing people out there.

This "brain drain," as Business Marketing Association Chairman Kirby Strickland calls it, is the direct result of the stock market crash in 2001 and the resulting downturn in the economy.

"We are definitely seeing it on the client side," said Strickland, president of Strickland & Co., a Charlotte, N.C., advertising agency. He said the recession led to the cutting of marketing staff and the consolidation of job functions.

"The jobs that would be going to midlevel marketing managers are being shifted to people in other positions," Strickland said. "When companies have to narrow down their staff, they are not going to get rid of the sales guy, so they try to give him additional responsibilities.

"A junior marketing coordinator is now answering to a sales manager or a product manager—someone whose primary skill set is not marketing communications."

Strickland said a case in point is one of the agency’s clients, which he declined to name, that shifted its primary sales channel to a product catalog during the recession to cut costs. "Now, the catalog department reports to a guy in human resources," he said.

"What happens is the big-picture marketing suffers. When you start looking at lowest-common-denominator sorts of things, like putting together catalogs and limited-time promotions to help move a product line, you suffer on the brand side as much as anything."

There’s another problem as well, Strickland said. "There’s no career path," he said. "If you’re an entry-level marketing coordinator, there is nowhere for you to go."

Karen Jones, VP-advertising, brand and promotions at DHL Express USA, said, "I would agree 100% that there is midlevel talent missing."

"The skill set that is critically important is being able to sell ideas in, from the agency side to the corporate side, and there is a real lack of talent to do that," she said. "A lot of kids are educated from school, but they don’t know how to develop real marketing plans and sell them within the organization and externally, and execute them."

Kathy Jaques, senior VP-marketing and product management at SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based network security company, has been in her job for just a few weeks and is trying to fill two marketing positions-one in PR and one in product marketing.

Her current marketing team is made up of only six people, handling product management, vertical marketing, public relations, events, lead generation and online marketing.

"Ideally, I’d like to find people who have worked in these jobs for two or three companies," Jaques said, noting that she’s looking for people with between five and 10 years of experience. "One of the risks of hiring people who have been doing it for more than 10 years is that they have more traditional marketing backgrounds and may not have learned the electronic side."

However, Jaques is beginning to see things change. "A few years ago, a lot of people were available and out of the job market, but no one was hiring. Now there are people who are thinking of moving but just haven’t done so," she said.

Craig Leclair, senior director of online marketing at Altera Corp., a semiconductor and software company, said it is taking longer to find the right people.

"We are looking for people with built-in product knowledge in semiconductors," Leclair said. For a recent marketing position, Altera hired someone from semiconductor manufacturer AMD, which is not a direct competitor.

The brain drain is even worse on the agency side.

"Midlevel talent is just not there," said Ragan Jones, associate VP-recruiting at TalentZoo, an advertising recruiting firm. "People with four to five years of experience would have been starting their careers in 2000 and 2001, and agencies just weren’t hiring. We are feeling the sting of it now."

Jones said agencies are looking to fill midlevel jobs across all disciplines, but particularly in media, where spending was cut so drastically during the recession.

Mediaedge:cia, a New York-based media agency, is having a tough time finding qualified people to fill several media planning positions, said Kim Graffagnino, human resources consultant for the agency.

"There were no jobs after the downturn," Graffagnino said. "Now there is an upturn, and there is a shortage of midlevel people."

She said Mediaedge wants to add media planners to manage new business the agency has recently won, including media planning for Cingular.

"It’s a very important level. We can’t even look at assistant planners coming out of college," Graffagnino said. "When you put your client teams together, you want the planner to have some supervisory experience."

One of the issues faced by employers because of the short supply and high demand for jobs is salary expectations that are out of balance with experience, Graffagnino said.

"Their expectations are pretty high," she said. "You can’t just bring in someone with two to three years of experience with compensation higher than other [midlevel] positions. We have to think of our budget, and our clients’ budgets and the big picture. It has to be balanced."

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