Magazine article Communication World

Conversations with Executive Headhunters: The Market's Hot for High Level Pros

Magazine article Communication World

Conversations with Executive Headhunters: The Market's Hot for High Level Pros

Article excerpt

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. …

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