Marketing job opportunities hit by falling economic confidence

LONDON - The downturn is creating recruitment challenges in several key sectors.

With dwindling ad budgets and changing consumer behaviour, some sectors will undoubtedly find marketing recruitment a challenge.

The resignation last week of Katherine Whitton, British Airways' head of marketing communications, hardly came as a surprise, given the turmoil the airline is in. However, it poses the wider question of whether industry sectors such as aviation, which has been hit especially hard by the down-turn, will struggle to retain talent.

Grant Duncan, former Publicis chief executive and now head of media practice at recruitment consultancy Spencer Stuart, agrees that airline marketing is a tough business. 'Airlines are subject to macro-economic pressures, so it is hard for marketers to make their mark,' he says. 'The pressures are not really to do with consumers, and as a marketer you want to have an effect. Nonetheless, great marketers love a challenge, and these organisations must do business.'

BA is doing a particularly poor job at keeping talent, according to Guy Hepplewhite, managing partner at marketing communications agency Space. 'When you instigate a voluntary redundancy programme, the idea is to keep great people and let go of the average ones, but it usually works out the other way around,' he says.

Industries requiring specific skill-sets, for example, automotive and niche areas such as electronic gaming, are said to be finding it harder to recruit. However, according to Claire Owen, leader of vision and values at marketing recruitment company The SG Group, the worst-hit sector is financial services.

'A lot of people are on the job market, but there are also many staying put, especially in financial services, where there has been so much bad press,' she says. 'We may end up with a talent shortage in that area.'

James Boulton, marketing director at HSBC, adds that financial services marketing has become more cut-throat. He claims marketers are quitting Lloyds TSB and HBOS as they are concerned by the idea of a merger between two companies that are not 'natural bedfellows'.

Despite this, Boulton insists financial-services brands provide ample opportunities for talent. 'These are extremely exciting, if difficult, times to be involved with finance brands,' he says. 'Well-defined brands will prosper, so if you're capable in a recessionary environment, you could do really well.'

Another leading industry source claims that the public sector is also struggling to attract marketing talent, although it seems counter-intuitive given that such jobs are considered to be largely recession-proof.

'Public-sector roles are becoming more bureaucratic and risk-averse,' he says. 'As gatekeepers avoid early adoption, public-sector clients are finding it more difficult to access all those marketing innovations that are - particularly at the moment - at front-of-mind for industries that will have to compete more efficiently.'

Nonetheless, the downturn has bred some success stories, notably among low-cost retailers such as Aldi and Lidl. As these companies become able to increase their marketing budgets, they may find themselves able to cherry-pick top marketers from competitors traditionally considered more prestigious employers, argues Hepplewhite.

'It will be interesting to see if the discount retailers will attract the high-end marketers,' he says. 'With AB women now doing their supplementary shopping in places like Aldi, Iceland, Netto and Primark, these brands could end up taking marketing talent from the likes of John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.'

Even in troubled sectors, there are opportunities for marketers to make their names in roles that allow them to reverse downward trends.

Marketers within the rapidly growing Santander group, for example, which is reshaping the UK banking landscape following its acquisitions of Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, are well-placed to benefit from high-profile brand turnarounds. The question is simply whether they can stomach the high risk of failure, and the low job security that comes with it.

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