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
'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
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
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
'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
'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
What really hurts a candidate is two or three job jumps in a short
'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
'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
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
LEADING EXECUTIVE RECRUITMENT FIRMS
Headhunter HQ PR Specialist/Contact Telephone
Alexander & Company Dallas Penny Alexander,
Assoc. New York Arnold Huberman,
Angeles Betsy Berkhemer-
Credaire, president 213-621-2300
& Assoc. Illinois Karen Bloom, principal 312-751-3490
Brookman Assoc. New York Geoffrey Brookman,
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
Cushman & Assoc. Issaqah,
WA Judith Cushman, president 425-392-8660
Angeles Bob Woodrum,
managing director 310-843-4100
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,
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
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
ington Ben Long, founder
& president 202-463-6342