Five months ago, Rick Boyko, director of VCU Brandcenter in Richmond, Va., began an aggressive national agency tour. The economy was souring and he knew things were only going to get worse. His most important role, he realized, was to spread the word about his soon-to-graduate students.
"The reality is there [are] fewer jobs out there," explains Boyko from the road in Austin, Texas, one of five cities—and 30 agencies—he's visiting.
The national unemployment rate, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was at 8.5 percent in March, and the advertising industry is feeling the pain. Agencies of all sizes have been cutting staff, from global shops to boutiques and independents. To name just a few, BBDO cut 5 percent of its North American staff late last year, Crispin Porter + Bogusky cut nearly seven percent of its staff earlier this year, and the Ogilvy Group cut 10 percent of its staff across Ogilvy & Mather, OgilvyOne and OgilvyInteractive in January.
"It was in February or March that I realized [things are as] bad for the advertising industry now as they were after the dot-com bust and 9/11," says Amy Hoover, evp, partner at Talent Zoo, an advertising and marketing employment company. She estimates that the number of creative positions listed on TalentZoo.com saw a drop of 45 percent in January compared to the year prior.
And things, she says, have only gotten worse.
Recruiter Susan Friedman, of Susan Friedman Ltd. in New York, also paints a bleak picture. "The purse strings are tied and knotted," she says.
But there is some good news in the midst of the mess: Agencies want to hire, and there are openings. Crispin, for one, is adding staff to its interactive production department and continues to plan for overseas expansion.
"It's not dead out there," says Susan Kirshenbaum of recruitment firm Greenberg Kirshenbaum, "but it's very limited. We used to be at a rapid boil, but it's simmering. At least the gas is on."
More importantly, demand has remained high for digital creative talent at all levels.
"There's always room for people who have good ideas," says Rob Schwartz, ecd at TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa Del Rey, Calif., which this month cut about 5 percent of its staff. "We are trying to keep as many jobs as possible and there is [still growth] opportunity in the digital space."