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Digital and direct marketers are planning a major ramp-up in hiring this winter and 46% of those in a recent survey say that they will add staff in Q1 2010, according to Bernhart Associates‘ latest Quarterly Digital and Direct Marketing Employment Report.

“All of our major indicators are showing significant improvement,” said Jerry Bernhart, principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, who oversaw the research. “As far as hiring goes, digital and direct marketers are back on a growth trajectory.”

Major findings from the Q1 survey:

  • 46% of the respondents say they will add to staff during Q110, rebounding from 30% in Q409. The biggest hiring surge will be among suppliers, while marketers plan the least amount of new hiring.
  • Companies reporting Q1 hiring freezes plunged to 26%, compared with 45% in Q4.
  • The percentage of companies planning layoffs in Q1 dropped slightly to 7%. Not one agency or supplier who responded to the survey said it expected further layoffs.
  • Among employers who imposed pay cuts last year, 37% said they plan to either partially or fully reinstate those reductions in 2010. Only 20% said pay cuts will remain in effect for this year, and 43% said they are unsure when salaries will be restored to previous levels.

“While Q1 survey results clearly indicate that digital and direct marketing is outpacing the overall US economy in terms of recovering lost jobs, marketers continue to feel the economic strain,” Bernhart said.

Hiring Freezes Still in Place

Though things are looking up in general, about half of the client-side marketers who participated in our first-quarter survey said they still have a hiring freeze, the survey found. Hiring on the supplier side, by contrast, is on a fast track, with more than 60% saying they plan to add to head count this quarter. “We haven’t seen numbers in that range for more than two years,” Bernhart noted.

On the agency side, 37% of survey respondents plan to add to headcount this quarter.

B2C Stepping Up

Business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers are stepping up hiring plans slightly more than their business-to-business (B2B) counterparts as B2C recovers from deeper job cuts last year, according to Bernhart. “Among B-to-C marketers, 50% said they’ll have positions to fill compared with 46% for B2B, and more B2B-ers still have hiring freezes compared with B2C,” he said. “B2B jobs were less impacted by the recession, so B2C hiring is now staging a sharper rebound.”

Analytics in Greatest Demand

In terms of which specific positions will be in greatest demand during the current quarter, Bernhart said analytics jobs dominate the list, both online and offline. Second on the list is internet marketing, which was followed by sales, creative, technology, and campaign management.

“We’re seeing some newer job categories emerge,” Bernhart added. “A couple of companies will be looking for senior-level social media strategists and online video experts.”

What Works, What Doesn’t

Participants also weighed in on the challenges they face finding, compensating, and keeping their best digital and direct marketing talent. Comments and observations were received from more than 200 hiring managers at all levels across the digital and direct marketing employment spectrum, including marketers, agencies, and service providers.

A summary of the comments received is detailed below.

On Hiring:

  • Quality of applicants: Many are unemployed. The quality and skill level tends to be low with digital, healthcare, and mobile. The good ones are hunkering down where they are. Some employers say they’re challenged trying to match candidate’s skills with organizational needs.
  • Uncertainty: Many employers are waiting for a consistent flow of new business before pulling the trigger on new hires.
  • Creativity and execution: This remains a difficult combination to find.
  • Temporary hires: Mixed results-some found high- quality temps, others did not.
  • Rising cost of benefits: This is posing challenges for smaller digital and direct marketing employers to add to headcount.
  • Multichannel skills: Demand is strong, and growing, for digital and direct marketing talent who understand DM in a cross-channel environment, knowing how consumers interact with content, and building relevant, meaningful relationships with them.
  • Younger hires: Respondents reported seeing a lack of strategic insight, a lack of solid direct response testing and analysis, and seeing a sense of entitlement.
  • Financial savvy: Respondents want marketers who understand how decisions impact the overall business.
  • Training: Companies expect employees to work smarter and advance their knowledge, but there seemingly is a lack of industry training by competent, experienced subject matter experts to help them do that.

On Retention:

  • What works: Keeping the company transparent, providing an atmosphere of collaboration, encouraging innovation, rewarding success, investing in current technology, and making the work place fun is a motivating factor for employees. Also, solidifying relationships with top performers, paying them top dollar, and challenging them.
  • Turnover concerns: Many companies said they are currently evaluating talent to identify and keep top performers. Employers are concerned that they will face much higher churn as the economy recovers and good talent bolts.

According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), in 2009, direct marketing advertising expenditures as a portion of total US advertising expenditures grew to 54.3%, and generated 8.3% of US gross domestic product. Also in 2009, there were 1.4 million direct marketing employees in the US. Their collective sales efforts directly supported 8.4 million other jobs, accounting for a total of 9.9 million US jobs.

About the survey: Bernhart Associates’ first-quarter survey was emailed to more than 9,700 senior executives and hiring managers, HR officials, and other key participants in online and offline direct marketing during the first two weeks of January 2010. The Bernhart Associates Employment Survey is now in its 10th year. Since 2001, the firm has been issuing quarterly reports that track employment trends with digital and direct marketers, agencies, and industry service providers. There were 544 responses to the survey, which is available for purchase by clicking here.

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