Rocky Economy Creates Deep Talent Pool

Though the recession has caused catalogers to cut budgets, it also has created a large pool of available talent for those companies able to hire, according to the heads of two catalog agencies.

“For a design agency or consultancy, you're in a talent business, and a recession can be the best time to get the best people,” said Andy Russell, president/CEO of AGA Catalog Marketing & Design.

Russell's full-service design and marketing agency specializes in the catalog sector and has 110 employees in New York and 30 in London. He has made no “reactive” cutbacks during the recession and has no plans to stop hiring off campus.

“Good designers are always in demand and now is no different,” he said. “We haven't been very speculative in our business practices. We've tried to be conservative, and in hindsight, that was a good strategy.”

Glenda Shasho Jones, president/CEO of full service catalog agency Shasho Jones Direct Inc., New York, said many of the best freelancers are looking for steady work.

“There are a handful of catalogers who are doing OK, but across the board it's weak,” she said. “There are a lot of excellent freelance people who had a list of clients who would keep them immersed in work. [Now] people in the industry are taking jobs just to have a regular paycheck.

“There isn't a day that goes by that I don't get a half a dozen to a dozen creative people looking for work. I get e-mails from people asking, 'Do you have any project work for me?' And they are willing to negotiate their fees. I could do the same amount of work this year at 25 percent less the cost, easily, in freelance labor.”

Catalogers also are eliminating copywriter positions to save money, she said.

“A lot of people are trying to do the copywriting themselves,” she said. “When things get tough, every company feels they have someone inhouse who can do the copywriting.”

Photography is another area where catalogers have cut back.

“Photography becomes a commodity where people are looking at how low they can get a shot priced at,” Jones said. “[Catalogers] will make a number of calls to different photographers, and they will make their decision on price more than ever before. You used to be able to pay for the esthetic bump up, but not anymore. Now the top-line photographers have to meet everyone else's price, or they will not get the same amount of work.”

Art directors and desktop designers also face a difficult environment.

“Desktop designers are having a terrible time,” she said. “They learned Quark Express and how to do desktop design, and now there's just not that much work out there. Art directors are affected depending on who their clients are. If the clients are doing OK, they are doing OK.”

Jones and Russell think catalogers will see their economic situation improve later this year.

“The good news is that there's an optimistic buzz about a turnaround, but it's anybody's guess when that will happen,” Jones said.

“People are continuing to believe that the latter part of this year should be better,” Russell said. “How much of that is wishful thinking? Time will tell.

“We're not seeing a drastic overreaction to the economic times from our client base. Many direct marketers, even in good times, have dealt with costs going up and down and have always been held accountable and are expected to produce results. Direct marketers are not rookies. They've dealt with postal and paper increases and dips in demand and have made corrections in response to those conditions.”

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