Oh Downsizing… We Hardly Knew Ye…

imagesCorporate downsizing has left marketers in a bind: Their job is particularly vulnerable while employment opportunities have slowed considerably.

In the throes of downsizing, “companies always look at what they would call non-mission critical departments,” said Phil Weebler, principal with Destination Cherryfield, an economic development group supporting Cherryfield, Maine.

Support departments like marketing communications fall into the non-mission critical category. “If you’re not part of manufacturing, sales, etc., you are at risk,” Mr. Weebler said.

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement firm; corporate layoffs slowed from 1993 through 1995 – 615,186 jobs were cut in 1993; 516,069 in 1994; and 439,882 in 1995. But “since October 1995, [the layoff trend] has been accelerating again,” said John Challenger, executive VP. “There have been 306,560 job cuts just in the past six months.”

The firm does not break out how many jobs were marketing positions. Mr. Challenger said, however, “marketing has been harder hit,” than many other employment categories, including sales.

Data on marketers is hard to find. A number of broad-based marketing organizations – the American Marketing Association, Business Marketing Association, Advertising Research Federation, Association of National Advertisers, American Advertising Federation and American Association of Advertising Agencies – said their groups had not researched the issue.

Even without hard numbers, marketers know they’re at risk. Marketing communicators “in business today who have not been thinking about options for at least the last two or three years have been living with their heads in the sand,” said Carol Chapin Bocell, former VP-corporate communications at Ave International, a Dallas-based manufacturer of electrical test equipment. Downsizing recently cost her job.

David Perry, former director-offset marketing with Niles, Ill.-based A.B. Dick Co., lost his job to downsizing this spring. Mr. Perry was the last marketer in the offset equipment department in Chicago. A.B. Dick laid off several other marketing professionals before Mr. Perry joined the company in 1994.

“I think in a lot of situations downsizing is necessary. But you must distinguish between cutting down to the bone and cutting into the bone – between downsizing that hurts the company and downsizing that helps the company,” he said. “A lot of companies want to flatten the [organizational structure! so much that marketing is gone, and all you have left is top management and worker bees. That just doesn’t work.”

Mr. Perry, who also has worked as a marketing consultant, said companies’ emphasis on short-term return holds its own danger for marketing professionals. When that happens, “you’re dead. That’s what a lot of companies are trying to do, and it’s a pox on marketing people. The very nature of marketing is looking down the road, anticipating rather than reacting.”

In one sense, downsizing has created new realities, especially for experienced business-to-business marketers.

“With the more experienced people, their salaries stick out,” said Rick Kean, executive director, Business Marketing Association, Chicago. “In some cases, companies do get rid of experienced people and hire inexperienced people who work for less money.”

Added Mr. Bellack: “If you look around today at people doing in-house promotions and things of that nature [and compare them] to the people who were doing it 10 or 15 years ago, by and large you find a less experienced group of people.”

Corporate downsizing “has opened up an opportunity for people who were downsized from the company side or who, like me, came from the agency side for whatever reason. All of a sudden we become very valuable,” Mr. Bellack said.

A recent convert to consulting is Paul Sherrington, BMA chairman. Mr. Sherrington, a 23-year veteran with Equifax Inc., an Atlanta information services provider, lost his job as assistant VP-marketing communications when the company disbanded the corporate marketing communications department in January.

Mr. Sherrington started his consultancy, Atlanta-based Sherrington Marketing & Communications, the same week. He said his corporate job approach prepared him for the transition to consulting.

“I always viewed myself as an independent contractor renting my talents and abilities to the company or companies offering the best rewards,” he said. “For many years, that was Equifax. But once change hit, I had no problem moving in new directions. . . . My skills are highly transportable. A week after leaving Equifax, I was developing a comprehensive marketing strategy for one client, writing an annual report for another and starting on some product sheets for a third.”

AVO’s Ms. Bocell is considering starting a consulting practice. “I am actively looking for employment but I also am considering creating my own small agency.”

Running her department at AVO “was like running my own little company. . . . I liked that. And I think those kinds of jobs are getting harder to find.”

Ms. Bocell’s layoff did not surprise her, given earlier AVO cuts. “It’s kind of like when you have a 90-year-old grandmother and she dies. You’re surprised she died that day, but you’re not surprised she died.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics combines sales and marketing, estimating employment for this group will grow 18% between 1994 and 2005, down from 33% between 1983 and 1994. In comparison, the bureau said all occupations increased 24% from 1983 to 1994, and it projects a 13.9% increase through 2005.

The Labor Department attributes the slowdown to lower employment in wholesale and retail trade, areas that employ most marketing and sales professionals; it expects growth in the services industry, finance, insurance and real estate. In addition, a study by the Direct Marketing Association, New York, shows employment in this area is growing significantly.

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