Industry's unemployment likely higher than reported data

WASHINGTON: Government statistics that place the jobless rate for PR managers at less than 1% for the second quarter of 2009 do not accurately reflect the difficult job market for senior industry professionals, according to managers at numerous communications staffing agencies.

WASHINGTON: Government statistics that place the jobless rate for PR managers at less than 1% for the second quarter of 2009 do not accurately reflect the difficult job market for senior industry professionals, according to managers at numerous communications staffing agencies.

According to data by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 0.1% of PR managers reported unemployment during this year's second quarter, which ended June 30. The previous quarter, 1.8% of PR managers were jobless, according to Karen Kosanovich, an economist at the bureau.

That data significantly undershoots the actual number of senior PR professionals who are out of work, said representatives from a number of staffing agencies. For one, Jim Delulio, president of communications staffing agency PR Talent, estimated that the industry unemployment rate is in the range of 5% to 8%.

“Some of the misclassification may be due to the fact that laid-off PR people quickly hang their own shingle and begin work as freelancers while they look for full-time opportunities,” he said via e-mail.

Laurie Mitchell, president of marketing and communications executive search firm Laurie Mitchell & Co., declined to provide a percentage, but said the jobless numbers seemed significantly low.

“There are a lot of victims,” she said, adding that many agencies and companies with internal communications staffs are not hiring.

Kosanovich cautioned that a low sample size of reporting PR employees could result in a tiny fluctuation in employment or a small error boosting the joblessness level noticeably. She added that the joblessness level for PR was 7.5% for the second quarter of 2008.

PR's unemployment level for this year's Q2 was also considerably lower than those of “advertising and promotions managers” and “marketing and sales managers,” which had jobless rates of 16.2% and 7.6%, respectively. The jobless rate for lawyers and financial advisers was 2.3%, while editors have a 3.9% jobless rate, and accountants' joblessness was at 5.3%, according to the federal government's statistics. The national jobless rate for June was 9.5%.

Within the industry, Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, DKC, Ketchum, Kaplow, Taylor, and Porter Novelli have all reported layoffs this year, as have service companies Cision and PR Newswire. In the past year, communications staffers were also let go at General Motors, PepsiCo, and Washington Mutual.

Agencies are also not filling the positions of employees who leave on their own accord. In one case, Matthew Harrington, president and CEO of Edelman US, said earlier this month that his agency was “not hiring for those positions as aggressively” as in the past.

Megan Slabinski, executive director of Creative Group, a staffing agency that places PR, advertising, marketing, and Web-focused jobs at agencies, said that her firm has recently seen an increase in demand for communications professional, though.

“I would say we've seen a significant increase in the past six months, and we saw an increase in the fourth quarter of last year,” she said. “We're placing people in corporate communications, PR, and marketing departments, which all fall under the same skill set, depending on how you classify that internally. Both internally and externally, they've become more important because of the economy. Companies have to share difficult news, and they're looking for people to help them with that.”

Slabinski also noted that there is a clear preference for hiring staffers with social media experience.

“Companies are also looking for people with extensive experience in social media, both to monitor a company's reputation and also to enhance reputation with both clients and customers,” he said. “And that's a new trend that we've seen, and part of what's driving focus in the PR world.”

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