MARKET FOCUS HEADHUNTERS: PR powerbrokers - The job market hasturned, but headhunters say that's no bad thing

What aspect of the US economy hasn't been affected by the tech

spurt of 1999/2000? Certainly not the executive recruitment business,

which became an accomplice in the frenzied market, as emerging Internet

companies scrambled to find top talent for high-profile positions, and

ordered headhunters to dangle exorbitant salaries in front of anyone

with five minutes of experience.



But much like the PR industry as a whole, executive recruiters

specializing in communications say their business is beginning to come

back to earth, and several actually welcome what they term a 'return to

sanity.'



'Even up to the fourth quarter of last year it was very much a

candidate-oriented market,' notes Larry Margolin, VP of Forum

Associates. 'Now it's become more of an employer's market. Companies

feel they can approach hiring more thoughtfully and really fill their

needs, rather than just plugging a hole.'



Margolin acknowledges a decline in demand from both the agency and

corporate side, but quickly adds, 'there will always be jobs out there.

Even companies that are laying people off because of head-count issues

are at the same time hiring people for positions that need to be

filled.'



Retainer vs. contingency



Executive recruitment firms primarily have two business models:

contingency and retainer. Contingency firms usually cater to

mid-management jobs and below and receive, as compensation, 20% to 30%

of the first-year salary for a filled position. In many cases, a company

may have several contingency firms competing to find the right candidate

for a job.



Retainer-based shops, on the other hand, have exclusive contracts with

companies to fill high-end positions paying dollars 100,000 and up. On

average, the headhunter gets 30% to 40% of the first-year salary -

one-third up front, one-third after 30 days and one-third upon

placement.



By and large, executive recruiters who work on retainer are more

national and international in scope and work with a company or agency

for months, and in a some cases years, to find the right person.



Leading recruiter firms such as Korn/Ferry, Russell Reynolds, Spencer

Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles have broad reaches, looking to find top

executives across the board. In recent years, however, many of these

search firms have focused more attention on PR and communications,

recruiting their own PR specialists to compete against a bevy of PR, IR

and marketing-only firms.



PR, IR and corporate communications were definitely a top priority last

year and in 1999. Many companies put executive recruiters under

tremendous pressure to find people quickly. And the pressure does not go

away.



'The industry has a different feeling than it did a year ago, but the

perception that there's a flood of available talent and not the

positions to put them in is not the case,' says Susan Flesher, president

of San Francisco Bay Area-based Flesher & Associates. 'Last year was

incredibly tight with too little supply to meet the demand. This year

there's a better match-up, where the number of people match the number

of jobs, so we're able to run our business like we should.'



Ted Chaloner of Boston-based Chaloner Associates agrees. 'The war for

talent in PR hasn't changed. If you're looking for someone great, it's

still hard to find them.'



Roger Van Remmen, president of Brown, Barnardy, Van Remmen in Los

Angeles, says the last few years have been good and bad for the PR

industry. Among the negatives are clients complaining that many

candidates for high-level communications jobs have rushed through their

careers with little guidance.



'It's very tough to find talented people because of the lack of training

that has taken place,' he says.



Job title inflation



Compounding the problem for headhunters is the need to cut through the

inflation of job titles. 'We have people who have gone from director of

PR or account supervisor at XYZ agency to VP of marketing at a dot-com,'

says Bill Heyman, president and CEO of Heyman Associates. 'And the fact

is, that job wasn't really a marketing job.'



Heyman says the good news is that most of these candidates now realize

they can't get a similar title at a more established firm. 'If anything,

people tend to come to us with their tail between their legs saying,

'Look, I know the title and income prospect I had there was not

realistic,'' he says.



While the tech revolution has been an exciting time for many PR

professionals, most are now looking to settle down and focus on their

career paths. According to Pamela Rolfe, president of Bellevue, WA-based

Career Specialists, which averages 20 to 30 top-level placements each

year, about 80% of former tech candidates are pleased they had the

dot-com experience but are now seeking security.



The dot-com dabble



Most headhunters agree that companies aren't likely to hold it against

you if you jumped to a dot-com. And if the dot-com was successful in its

approach to communications, the move may even be considered a

positive.



'It's not a stigma,' says Marie Raperto, president of The Cantor

Concern, a leading New York recruiter. 'It really depends on what people

think of that dot-com. Some were quite good in their communications and

some weren't.'



What really hurts a candidate is two or three job jumps in a short

period.



'When you see someone who worked a year here and a year there, there

will be questions,' says Toby Clark of Toby Clark Associates.



But even if a PR professional has only one dot-com failure on his

resume, the return to the stable corporate environment may not be

entirely painless.



'I see our clients today negotiating tougher when it comes to people who

have come out of hi-tech,' Heyman says. 'They tell them, 'You've

gambled, and it's not our fault, so we're not going to make up the

difference for you.''



Indeed, salary is where headhunters notice the biggest change.

'Particularly people who got on the dot-com roller-coaster early in

their careers received ridiculous salaries,' says Forum's Margolin. 'Now

that they are part of the unemployed pool, they have to come to grips

with a new world order.'



But compensation isn't the only area where there is newfound

flexibility, says Judy Cushman of Judith Cushman & Associates.

'Candidates who would not even look at an agency position say that if a

top firm came around with a top client, they would consider it. This is

an amazing sea change.'



'Agencies have become more like consultancies,' explains Jean Allen,

senior partner at Heidrick & Struggles. 'It's easier for a corporate

person to make the transition to consultant than to agency person.'



One positive that has come out of the last two years is that agencies

have streamlined recruitment and hiring, says Cushman. 'They have

fast-tracked their process to two weeks, which gives them an edge over a

corporate situation where it can take three to four weeks to hire

someone.'



Ultimately, Jean Cardwell, president of Cardwell Enterprises, suggests

that the cooling off in the PR job market may end up being good for many

professionals in that it is finally getting them to think beyond just

the compensation package when picking a job. 'The two most important

factors that anyone should look at before taking a position are

chemistry and learning,' she says. 'If anybody puts money before those

things, they're making a mistake. I think the smart ones have always

known that.'



LEADING EXECUTIVE RECRUITMENT FIRMS

Headhunter HQ PR Specialist/Contact Telephone

Alexander & Company Dallas Penny Alexander,

president 214-495-8998

Arnold Huberman

Assoc. New York Arnold Huberman,

president 212-545-9033

Berkhemer/Clayton Los

Angeles Betsy Berkhemer-

Credaire, president 213-621-2300

Bloom, Gross

& Assoc. Illinois Karen Bloom, principal 312-751-3490

Brookman Assoc. New York Geoffrey Brookman,

president 212-213-5666

Cantor Concern, The New York Marie Raperto, president 212-233-3000

Cardwell Enterprises Chicago Jean Cardwell, president 773-273-5774

Chaloner Assoc. Boston Ted Chaloner, president 617-451-5170

Charet & Assoc. Cress-

kill, NJ Sandy Charet, president 201-894-5197

Forum Assoc. New York Larry Margolin,

vice president 212-687-4050

Fry Group, The New York John Fry, president 212-557-0011

Goldman + Bell New York Peter Bell, president 212-685-9311

Goldman Group, The New York Elaine Goldman, president 212 685 9311

Heidrick & Struggles Chicago Jean Allen, senior partner 312-496-1200

Heyman Assoc. New York Bill Heyman,

president & CEO 212-784-2717

Howard Sloan Koller New York Janice Rutka,

vice president PR 212-661-5250

Judith

Cushman & Assoc. Issaqah,

WA Judith Cushman, president 425-392-8660

Korn/Ferry

International Los

Angeles Bob Woodrum,

managing director 310-843-4100

Laurie

Mitchell & Co. Cleveland Laurie Mitchell, president 216-292-6001

Marshalls New York James Wyckoff, senior VP 212-628-8400

Noble & Sander Denver Megan Lemieux,

senior consultant 303-825-3646

Repovich Reynolds Los

Angeles Smooch Reynolds,

president 626-585-9455

Russell

Reynolds Assoc. New York Hobson Brown Jr.,

president & CEO 212-351-2000

Shulman Assoc. San

Francisco Barry Shulman, principal 415-383-7094

Spencer Stuart New York David Daniel,

managing director 212-336-0200

Spring Assoc. New York Dennis Spring, president 212-473-0013

SRI/Strategic

Recruiting New York Gary Platt, president 212-465-8300

Tina Lane Personnel New York Jennifer Goldberg, AE 212-682-1333

Toby Clark Assoc. New York Toby Clark, founder

& president 212-752-5670

Travaille Wash-

ington Ben Long, founder

& president 202-463-6342



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