Optimistic signs heading into Q4

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Not only is it Indian summer as I write this, but the Chicago Cubs are in the playoffs, where they won a post-season series for the first time since 1908. (In other local news: BtoB has learned that two prominent b-to-b agencies plan to open offices in Chicago; read Senior Reporter Sean Callahan’s story on Page 1.)

Chicago is in a good mood. But local events alone don’t explain this optimism. A slew of reports over the past month point to a recovery in the U.S. economy. The business community, two years after 9/11, seems to be growing accustomed to operating in a dangerous, unpredictable world.

Even the airline industry seems ready to make a comeback. As Senior Editor Kate Maddox reports on Page 1, American Airlines last month launched its first major campaign targeted at business travelers since the mid-1990s. And American wasn’t the only travel and hospitality company to launch a campaign in September.

You get a sense that businesspeople, having kept their tinder dry for two years, are at last ready to act—to invest, hire and acquire.

Among marketers, specifically, the hiring trends are telling. As we report in this issue, a survey of direct marketing companies found 51% plan to add staff in the current quarter, and the percentage of companies with hiring freezes dropped to its lowest point since this survey began in 2001. Other good news: Only 9% of companies said they would cut their head count in the current quarter, down 11% from the previous survey.

Also interesting is the high number of b-to-b marketers that plan to increase their outsourcing of marketing programs. Some 45% of the 650 marketing executives surveyed last month by strategic marketing firm Bright Impact plan to increase their reliance on outsourcing next year ( see “Outsourcing of marketing programs on the rise,” Page 35).

Of course, outsourcing is primarily a cost-control technique, so growth in that area can indicate flat or even declining in-house staffing levels. That’s not what appears to be happening, though. I think the strong outsourcing statistic indicates marketers are investing, ramping up and turning to outsourcing to handle new initiatives in advance of increasing their in-house staffs.

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