Agency Jobs: Where to Find One in the Recovery

Demand Seen for Connection Planners, Senior-Level Digital Talent, Globetrotters

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NEW YORK ( -- If you're an out-of-work advertising professional waiting for the economy to turn around, there's one thing agencies will be looking for when things start picking up: traditional advertising skills.

Those who know only the 30-second spot or who don't know Web 2.0 from "Charlotte's Web" shouldn't get overly excited; digital is still the way of the future. But after years of raising alarms about a dearth of digital talent, agencies say there's now a glut of candidates who get digital; what's harder to come by is senior interactive talent that gets traditional media, too.

How to help yourself get hired

Kem Sutphin, owner of Raleigh, N.C.-based ad recruiting firm T.K. Sutphin & Associates, offers five tips to help you land your next job.

  • Have a website, and make sure it is user-friendly. Recruiters and prospective employers need to be able to navigate your site easily."
  • Keep your résumé simple and current. If you became unemployed during the recession, be transparent about it; not showing dates infers you are hiding something.
  • Highlight your latest work. Agencies want to know how you think today.
  • If you lack digital experience, get some. If it's limited, get more.
  • Be prepared to relocate if at all possible. The likelihood of your finding an opportunity will increase exponentially if you're willing to move.
  • With 9% of U.S. ad-agency jobs -- some 17,000 positions and counting -- slashed since the recession began, it's no wonder the buzzword around the water cooler is "layoffs." There's no light at the end of the tunnel yet, but what will happen once the economy does bounce back? Where will the agency jobs be?

    Junior talent is in ample supply in the marketplace, and digital positions are becoming much more competitive. Social media will undoubtedly be hot, as will research and analytics -- but those number crunchers will need people skills. Connection planners also will be in demand, while job seekers with global work experience will have a leg up, say industry headhunters, though all roles will see shrunken salaries and dwindled perks.

    "Agencies have cut deeply, so when we do start to come out of this valley, they are going to be way understaffed," said Pat Mastandrea, recruiter and partner at the Cheyenne Group in New York.

    "The first phase of the market from a recruitment standpoint is going to be in the midmarket," she said. Candidates with global chops -- "that means people who are in the U.S. who understand global markets and people who are willing to move internationally" -- will see a lot of interest from agencies too.

    For all the emphasis that's been put on digital in the past few years, there is no longer a shortage of digitally savvy candidates. The problem now, said Zach Canfield, director of talent at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is finding interactive talent with a solid footing in traditional disciplines.

    "The young digital talent is really easy. Where you have a hard time is with senior digital talent; senior folks didn't grow up with it a part of their fluency," said Nancee Martin, worldwide director of talent for TBWA/Chiat/Day.

    According to Kem Sutphin, owner of Raleigh, N.C.-based ad recruiting firm T.K. Sutphin & Associates, longtime agency employees who are being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age won't survive in the changing ad business, but young folks will have to get up to speed on traditional topics to land the best jobs.

    Still, finding junior talent is a relative breeze for agency talent executives. "I'm not worried about hiring at the junior level. ... My favorite positions to hire for in some ways are the most junior," said Laura Agostini, chief talent officer at WPP-owned Mediaedge:cia. "Kids coming out of school today are so engaged with media as part of who they are that it's really easy," she said, adding, "An area that's obviously booming at the moment is social media."

    Not as bad as expected
    At the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter, 35 of 87 students have found jobs since graduating in May. In previous years, the school has seen between 60% and 70% placement after six months and 95% placement after one year.

    "It's better than what I expected," said Rick Boyko, director and professor at the VCU Brandcenter. "In November it was a pretty dire picture, with layoffs, and people were putting freezes on hiring. So the fact that after less than 60 days we have 35 of 80-some students hired, I would say, is a positive sign for everybody."

    Chances are that those folks who are getting placed are compromising on their paychecks. "Salaries are coming down, and candidates are happy to lower their expectations just to pay mortgages and college tuitions," said Susan Friedman, an ad recruiter based in New York.

    MDC Partners' Redscout, a small but growing brand-design firm with some 40 staffers in New York and San Francisco, is one of the few agencies that has been hiring in the recession.

    "We have someone from MIT, somebody from DDB, somebody from McKinsey," said Patricia Brennan, managing director-talent and client services. One thing she's struggled with is ensuring that an adept modeler can also be client-facing. "We don't have any account people here; our strategists also have to be great client people as well. "

    "Planning is my biggest challenge from a hiring standpoint," said TBWA's Ms. Martin. "For a while planning got so popular a couple years back that everyone called themselves one, and it diluted the field a little bit. ... I just don't see the quality and caliber of planning candidates that I'd like to."

    "Connection planners are going to become a hot ticket," Mr. Sutphin said. "That particular category of talent in an agency is still in its infancy."

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