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Direct and digital job market sunnier than other industries

Direct and digital marketing job seekers will fare better this year than prospects throughout the rest of the US economy, industry experts said.

Direct marketing staff increases are expected this year at both clients and agencies, according to two surveys released last month. More than half (52%) of the 395 companies surveyed by Bernhart Associates Executive Search in January are planning to add digital and direct marketing staff in the first quarter, an 11%
increase compared with last quarter. Only 4% of respondents plan to lay off employees, and a mere 15% are planning hiring freezes — a 20% decrease compared with last quarter.

Reardon Smith Whittaker (RSW/US), a lead generation and business development firm serving marketing organizations, found in a survey of 100 agencies that 63% expect to increase headcount in 2011.

These statistics contrast with the more capricious national employment numbers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a small gain in nonfarm payrolls last month, but the increase was smaller than expected. It also noted that the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8% to 9.4% in November.

“A lot of the jobs in the US have been shipped overseas,” said Jerry Bernhart, principal at Bernhart Associates. “But digital and direct marketing jobs can’t be shipped to China. That sets our industry apart from the overall economy.”

The US economy has improved since 2009, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment was at a 16-year-high. However, industry experts are not ready to rapidly expand payrolls just yet.

“We should be cautiously optimistic,” said Lee McKnight Jr., director of business development at RSW/US. “Unemployment is starting to go down, but it is still in the early stages. Companies still need to be careful about scaling up headcounts.”

Lawrence Kimmel, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, said he expects new opportunities in mobile and social marketing to increase headcount. He added that the direct mail sector, which the DMA said will see a 3.9% spending increase this year, will also grow. “There is definitely a greater demand for the skill set we represent than there is supply,” Kimmel said. “Marketing today is data, customer-centricity and accountability. These are skill sets direct marketers have always had.”

The past few years were tough on boutique firms such as PWB Marketing Communications, a branding and demand-generation organization, said COO Sean Hickey.

He added that his firm got “smaller and smaller all the time” but declined to provide specific numbers. “In the past, if someone even got sick or went on vacation we really felt it,” Hickey said.

However, he added that his agency recently hired a director of social and interactive media. Hickey also plans to hire more staff to provide overall depth and mobile services.

“We’re being asked by clients to provide services like social and search,” Hickey said. “Today we’re able to provide those services — in the past we had to turn clients down and walk away.”

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