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Conversations with executive headhunters: the market's hot for high level pros.

Across the U.S., at least, high level communication professionals are in high demand. The search for talent has executive recruiter Judy Cushman, president of Seattle's Marshall Consultants/West, so busy she's had to turn away business - for the first time ever. Robert Woodrum, vice president of Korn/Ferry International in New York, reports that his company posted a record year for 1994 followed by another in the making for 1995.

It appears, ironically, that the very downsizings depleting corporate communication departments are creating a corresponding demand inside agencies serving those corporations. And even within shrunken companies, there's a need for new positions to deal with the demands placed on leaner staffs. In addition, converging technologies and the clamor to exploit new media are contributing to a critical need for top level people who are not just seasoned pros but who also are technology savvy, as well. All in all, say headhunters, executive level communicators with the right combination of skills and experience can expect better salaries, better benefit packages and more access to the CEO.

From in-house to agency

Although staff positions have been reduced, work loads have not. "Where corporate staffs are becoming leaner, we're seeing larger public relations firms develop fairly defined specialty areas," says William Heyman, president of Heyman Associates in New York City.

That's because when a large company sheds staff, the agency taking on its "outsourced" work needs a team of professionals with related experience in the industry.

"We are getting it from both sides," says Larry Marshall, president and CEO of Marshall Consultants, Inc., in New York. "Companies are creating new posts or retooling them to meet current needs as opposed to what was needed in the past. As they turn to outside agencies to handle certain work, we're getting requests from the agencies to help fill those positions."

John Poynton, president of outplacement specialists Clarke, Poynton in Chicago, reports a related phenomenon. Taking on overflow work from their former employers, displaced employees are becoming consultants or are starting up their own agencies. He says, "Their first client is their last employer. It's the basis of a nice consulting practice." And as these new firms take on more work and add more clients, they are looking for more staff members as well - all of which increases the demand for communication professionals.

Layoffs: Jobs available?

"It's a part of headhunter folklore that we find potential opportunities when companies announce layoffs," observes Heyman. "We know they'll be looking for people better at juggling a lot of things at a time .... There's also a faster pace required these days - a need to disseminate information faster."

Marshall agrees. "In general we're seeing a growth of new posts as opposed to replacements," he says. "Companies are saying 'we don't need this kind of a position because we can outsource.' So they reconfigure the work load and identify a different kind of position than anything needed before."

Smaller in-house staffs and a shift in work to outside firms mean companies are seeking versatile candidates, says Susan Elion, president of Elion Associates in Bedford, N.Y. "They're looking for people who can take on responsibility for a variety of communication functions - not just editorial services, for example."

Many mid-range positions, observes Carolyn Paschal, president of Carolyn Smith Paschal International, are being eliminated as companies continue to cut back. Based in San Diego, she is working with clients across the U.S. and in other countries who "are crying for strong senior people who can cover more bases, who are strategic, who are flexible and adaptable - and in all industries, whether health care, financial service or consumer products."

Technology is more than word processing

Beyond the necessity to manage a variety of communication tasks these days, flexibility is critical for another reason, as well, suggests Korn/Ferry's Woodrum. He says that behind closed doors, many CEOs admit they don't know exactly what business they will be in 10 years from now - or whether they will even be in business.

The impact of rapidly changing technology and the profusion of media alternatives is not limited to high-tech companies. What will multimedia mean in 10 years - CD-ROM, interactive television, or something still in some engineer's mind? Will your telephone deliver TV programming to your computer screen? Or will your TV set be a computer with a telephone? Will there be such a thing as a daily newspaper? Is the explosive growth of the Internet a flash in the technology pan? How will you get your information? Perhaps even more important, how will that mass audience out there get its information?

So while recruiter after recruiter notes a demand for communication talent among high-tech companies and agencies that serve them, relatively traditional businesses also are scrambling to figure out where technology fits into their overall strategies. They want to know how best to invest their resources to exploit the new media - and they're looking for communication pros who can help decipher the puzzle.

Financial service companies, for example, are exploring the use of technology to communicate directly with investors and thus circumvent brokers; other companies are exploring high-tech alternatives to traditional print publications such as catalogs for external audiences or newsletters for employees. Anyone who thinks technology is word processing, says Paschal, "should just pack it in."

High expectations

If there's one consistent observation among recruiters, it's that while the jobs are there and salaries are up, so are expectations. Companies are seeking top-flight generalists who are skilled, flexible, strategic thinkers. The successful candidate for top dollar jobs - from U.S. $120,000 to more than $400,000 - will have finely honed writing skills, high-level experience of 15-25 years, and will have made the technology leap, says Heyman.

Paschal points out that her clients are looking for the professional who can produce - and they're much less open to selecting someone from another industry. "They want people with experience in a similar company, and they're willing to pay top dollar."

To a person, the recruiters say that for a high level position, the CEO is looking for a capable business partner. You may not have to have an M.B.A., says Elion, for example, but you'd better understand how to read the balance sheet and how to implement the organization's executive mission. You'll need to do more than write a great news release or manage a publication.

"Candidates who are limited to internal or external communication tend to hinder themselves," agrees Heyman. "Even someone who's done employee communication needs to understand how the media think. They've got to understand business, be financially oriented. At a minimum, they should be taking accounting or other financial courses for non-financial people.

"They're dead in the water if they can't talk to the business press," he says.

Frankly, says Woodrum of Korn/Ferry, of all the things you should know how to do and be prepared to do, effective media relations is the most critical skill for a successful high level communication executive - the kind of executive who will interact with the CEO at the same level a chief financial officer does, for example.

"I conduct about 40 searches a year probably two-thirds initiated by the CEO," he says. "In their world, the one thing they cannot control, cannot manage themselves, is the media. 'Old Joe or Jane does a fantastic job on the annual report or on internal communication,' they tell me. 'But there was that unfavorable profile Fortune magazine ran ....'

"When you really strip it down, peel away the layers, CEOs want someone who is sophisticated with the media," Woodrum continues. "That's why you're there. It's the principal reason they'll keep you, and the reason they'll fire you, as well."

It is with media relations, Woodrum contends, that the "partnership" between the CEO and the communication executive is so crucial. And it is media relations, he observes, that communication pros are most eager to jettison as they reach the top. Feeling that they've paid their dues in dealing with journalists, they let junior staff handle calls and research answers to questions or, perhaps, they fail to involve the CEO in stories early on.

"I see it again and again," Woodrum observes. "But it keeps us in business."

A matter of geography

At least from what this diverse group of executive recruiters has to report, it appears that things are hopping from the East Coast of the U.S. to its West.

In the U.S., says Cushman of Marshall Consultants/West, high-tech candidates are so much in demand on the West Coast that some positions are going unfilled. Particularly hard to find, she says, are pros with five to 10 years' experience who can march into high-tech agency positions and start producing.

Even the moribund California market has seen a turnaround, says Paschal, who finds that her Los Angeles clients are on the lookout for "good, credible PR professionals." One problem she sees is that a lot of seasoned pros who didn't adjust to technology have been let go. Finding the right mix of experience and technology savvy is the challenge.

Finally, says Elion of Elion Associates, "There's not a huge number of really talented people out there. Really good people who know they have talent and are in demand are not making job changes unless the jobs are significantly better."

Betsy Brill is owner of Creative Connections, a San Franciso-based custom publisher of corporate magazines, annual reports and newsletters.

RELATED ARTICLE: Recruiters from Canada and the U.K. Respond

By Kyle Heger

In Canada, overall, demand for communicators has been up for the last year and a half, according to David Bell, whose Toronto-based company, David Bell Executive Search, specializes in placing PR professionals.

In particular, demand is high in PR agencies, which are looking for senior communicators with agency experience, according to Bell.

"Senior agency people are in demand as clients seem to be willing to pay more for the experience and expertise they offer," he explains. "In particular, senior individuals with issues and crisis management experience plus investor relations expertise are at a premium."

Prospects for junior and intermediate level positions at agencies are also good, he says. At these levels, he explains, agencies are looking for people with agency experience in certain areas, such as healthcare and high technology.

The picture is less rosy on the corporate side. "Senior communicators who have spent their entire careers on the corporate side are experiencing increasing difficulty in securing appropriate positions," he says. "Many ... are attempting to develop consulting practices and some have reported, at least, some initial success."

The future market for communicators looks good, Bell says, because "public relations and corporate communication positions have become an integral part of virtually all business and marketing plans."

In the U.K. and ASIA, demand for communicators also is up, says Vicky Mann, managing director of Vicky Mann & Associates, a London-based firm specializing in the placement of people in PR and corporate communication positions.

Unlike Canada and the U.S., these geographic areas are experiencing an equally high demand for communicators in the agency and corporate sectors, according to Mann.

Hot markets include the financial, pharmaceutical, information technology and telecommunications industries, Mann says.

Employers are looking for "good media relations skills ... interpersonal skills, youth, brains and strategic skills," she explains.

Kyle Heger is managing editor, Communication World
COPYRIGHT 1995 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Heger, Kyle
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1995
Words:1891
Previous Article:Survey of Dallas-area executives identifies communication priorities.
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