As the traditional post-festive purge begins, many marketers will include securing a new job and, with it, a fresh challenge at the top of their New Year's resolutions. If the past 12 months have been characterised by marketers staying put and riding out the recession, many believe 2011 will bring far greater movement across the industry.
Online recruitment company Monster experienced a 47% year-on-year drop in the number of marketing roles advertised on its site in 2009. The decline in roles reflected the number of companies not replacing marketers when they left. In line with this, marketing teams became stretched, as fewer staff attempted to deal with the same amount of work. Crucially for those finishing university, many blue-chip organisations scrapped the traditional entry point of 'assistant brand manager' roles altogether and drastically cut graduate recruitment, making a skills shortage almost inevitable.
Historically, marketers - particularly in junior roles - have been criticised for jumping ship, on average, after just 18 months. Recruiters now report that this tenure has lengthened to between two and three years. However, this raises the issue as to whether this stability comes at the expense of marketers' career development.
Helen Moss, manager at recruitment consultancy Badenoch & Clark, points out that since the start of the recession, there has been a more cautious approach to changing jobs in all professional services, including marketing. 'Employees in a secure working environment have been less driven to leave their roles in an uncertain employment market,' she says.
With training budgets also under pressure, the recession has therefore put the careers of many marketers in limbo. Recruiters report that middle management has been hit hardest by this trend.
According to recruitment agency Randstad, although fears of job losses were most pronounced among 18- to 24-year-olds during the recession, they are now the most confident about finding other work. So while the height of the downturn was characterised by marketers staying in roles they had essentially outgrown, the fact that the number of marketing briefs received by recruitment agencies over the past year has increased significantly, suggests that fears over taking on a new role are subsiding.
Simon Bassett, managing director at EMR, a recruitment company specialising in marketing, expects a flood of applicants in 2011. 'Marketers (now) have higher expectations when it comes to bonuses and salaries, and we are seeing a lot of candidates who think they are underpaid.'
Indeed, many marketers believe the balance of power is shifting toward job-seekers, as brands face up to a skills deficit. In particular, marketing recruitment executives report a glut of vacancies in online marketing that are encompassing an ever-changing range of skills.
'Posts that previously specialised in just search have broadened into wider online marketing roles,' says Carlie Newman, head of the marketing team at recruitment consultancy Major Players. 'Candidates need experience and understanding of more hybrid roles - and that's a challenge.'
During the recession, however, many brands outsourced a large part of their marketing capabilities to agencies. With financial directors targeting headcount, consultants were hired to pick up the slack, with the result that for the companies in question, the internal marketing expertise is now no longer available.
This has left a conundrum in its wake. Ali Wallace, managing director of marketing recruitment specialist Dynamic New Alliances, says: 'With budgets coming back to the market, the question is whether brands invest more in agencies or increase their headcount.'
Anxiety about the strength and depth of the recovery remains, particularly in light of the substantial cuts hanging over the public sector.
The COI was the UK's highest-spending advertiser, but it is far from being Britain's biggest marketing employer. The planned 40% cut in its marketing department will nonetheless bring a subsequent reduction in its team of about 300 people. Moreover, the knock-on effect in terms of job losses at its suppliers and agencies should not be underestimated.
According to research conducted by Monster, the number of vacancies in marketing in October 2010 was up by 27% year on year. Monster's UK spokeswoman, Isabelle Ratinaud, says this finding should instil confidence in job-seeking marketers to 'shop around for the perfect role'.
Andy Bird, co-founder and managing director of marketing training specialists Brand Learning, says that while the market as a whole appears to be reviving, the challenge now lies in finding the right blend of skills for roles at a senior level. 'Top marketers need to understand the intricacies of segmentation, and the big challenge is that many candidates don't have this leadership experience,' he says.
This has led many in the recruitment industry to argue that brands can be too specific when it comes to the experience they are demanding, particularly in light of the clear skills shortage in disciplines such as digital marketing.
Dynamic New Alliance's Wallace contends that brands need to broaden their approach when it comes to recruitment. 'There are incredibly good people around the mid-market level, but businesses need to accept that they will need to train people,' he says.
While there is no doubt that, in part at least, the future looks brighter in 2011, the unwillingness of brands to take risks of this nature is proving a stumbling block for some.
Privately, recruiters confirm that a great deal of caution persists, which is translating into drawn-out recruitment processes and a continued tendency to opt for the 'safe' candidate over the one with the greatest potential.
Another key trend is the rise of freelance and flexible positions. Marketers looking to take the next step up are finding that they may have to forgo a long-term contact.
Mark Begley, head of recruitment for creative, design and digital jobs at Major Players, says companies' growing reliance on freelancers is not without its problems. 'The reason for the talent shortage in the recruitment sector is largely due to the boom in freelance work,' he adds. 'As a freelancer, it can be harder to continually develop your skills base; there is no investment in training or development from the employer as you're not a permanent member of staff.'
Years of cutbacks and the uncertainty of the recession have changed the make-up of many marketing departments irrevocably. Ironically, this has come at a time of seismic changes in media consumption habits. Critics argue that a lack of understanding of these changes - particularly of emerging digital channels - has led to a lack of strategic vision among marketers. In turn, this has ultimately been responsible for a wave of mediocre, short-term marketing campaigns.
Brand Learning's Bird claims that the industry is under no illusions that it is in a state of flux, but adds that change in itself is not a reason to stagnate in dead-end jobs. 'While there may well be a degree of uncertainty, there is also a massive opportunity for marketing to raise its influence and raise its game in the boardroom,' he says. 'We are certainly seeing an increasing commitment among senior marketers to raising the influence of marketing as a discipline.'
As the economic outlook continues to improve, it seems likely, then, that those marketers who feel that they are not receiving sufficient backing from their company's board will simply take their vision elsewhere.
BRIEFS RECEIVED 2009/10
Rise in marketing vacancies advertised via recruitment agencies year on year
53% on 2009 in first quarter of 2010
56% on 2009 in second quarter of 2010
40% on 2009 in third quarter of 2010
Source: Major Players