Online Ad Job Market, HOT or NOT?

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jobs_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE – How easy is it to get a job in online advertising right now? It’s no secret that, overall, the economy is headed off the rails – but news about venture capital influxes, new hires, new ad networks and product rollouts keeps coming out of the interactive ad world, so it’s hard to know whether to hit the panic button or smugly pat yourself on the back for making such a wise career choice.The number of job cuts in the U.S. jumped 26% in July (to 103,312 from 81,755 the previous month), with airlines and financial institutions taking the lion’s share of the loss, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consultancy firm. The current unemployment rate is at a four-year high of 5.7% according to the Labor Department. Grim news for anyone in any industry to swallow.

Recessions generally force companies – even companies in healthy industries – to do some serious re-ordering of their priorities. And sometimes, re-thinking priorities isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s time to whip out the knives and cut that extra fat. Yahoo’s chief, Jerry Yang, practically said as much, warning analysts recently that the online advertising sector is weakening. Other big players, including Google’s DoubleClick and AOL have taken direct action slashing budgets and staffs in the wake of darkening forecasts.

There’s always room for talent though – and in times of uncertain economic weather, there’s nothing like having an old hand on deck to bring a sense of security to everyone on the ship.

“Young, tech-savvy workers are a dime a dozen in the industry right now,” said a senior executive in ad sales, who preferred to remain anonymous. “What my company, and other companies, seem to be missing is middle managers with MBAs. But I still haven’t heard of anyone looking around for a job for more than a month or so – there have been many rounds of layoffs, but people are landing great positions at other companies if they have a strong knowledge base. My company is hiring right now as well, but we’re taking a longer look at candidates. The vetting process has been more thought-out because filling job openings isn’t the priority it may have been a few years ago.”

Others say that while their hiring standards haven’t necessarily changed, the competition is definitely fiercer.

“I wouldn’t say our hiring standards are any stricter,” said Mason Wiley, senior vice president of marketing at Hydra Network. “We have always sought the best talent. However the slump in the overall economy definitely seems to be having an effect. We have seen an increased number of candidates apply for openings so we have more to choose from. So in that sense you could say it has become more competitive for a candidate to land a job.”

Several executives ADOTAS spoke to expressed frustration about some of the younger candidates’ resistance to corporate culture (while all ruefully rolling their eyes at the classic complaint about Generation Y). In an industry where creativity and brains get top-billing, a certain level of eccentricity and a tentative relationship with grooming and presentation used to be overlooked. Not so anymore.

“I think corporate culture is coming back,” the ad sales executive said. “I know, I know – anything goes in this industry. The unkempt, slouching man in gym shorts standing in front of you chewing on a huge wad of gum at the next trade show you attend may be a multi-millionaire and a genius, but I’m seeing the tides slowly turn. People are starting to realize that clients, co-workers – everyone – will respect you and your product more if you look the part.”

It’s definitely more competitive out there and employers may be looking for older, or at least more mature, workers. But the actual employment numbers and projections are important to look at to.

Some Hard Data:

Traditional advertising is continuing its downward spiral, but according to some findings, there is some hope for online advertising. Total communications spending is projected to increase by 5.4% this year – to about $923.91 billion, according to recent research from Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a private equity firm. VSS attributes the gains primarily to strong gains in the institutional and alternative media sectors. Consumer spending on media is expected to spike 6.1% this year, to $218.37 billion – good news for those in the “alternative” advertising biz (alternative includes all forms of interactive of course).

While major advertisers in the auto and finance category are understandably hacking away at their budgets, many brand marketers haven’t cut their budgets as aggressively as expected, instead shifting dollars around to alternative media that more efficiently reach target audiences, provide stronger return-on-investment metrics and generate immediate responses, VSS reports. Spending on alternative media will rise 21% to $81.67 billion this year, accounting for 17.7% of total ad spend. Spending on traditional advertising is only expected to climb 0.4% to $378.48 billion, VSS reports.

Online advertising alone, while not mushrooming, is expected to grow to about $25.9 billion this year, up from $21.1 billion last year, according to eMarketer. Certain sectors of online advertising – primarily display, which was responsible for 21% of online ad revenue last year – is expected to suffer though.

Industry Buzz:

Numbers and industry observers are telling us that for now at least, this is one of the safest industries to be in, which granted, isn’t exactly an ironclad guarantee. Many companies we spoke to are hiring – but they may be pickier about their candidates. And while certain companies are downsizing, solid workers are quickly landing on their feet. The people who may have the toughest time landing and retaining a job are recent grads.

And while caution is ruling the day, no one seems overly concerned about the online ad industry as a whole – while admitting that certain sectors are definitely being hit harder than others.

“Despite declines in advertising overall, online is still growing strong. Our performance-based advertising space – because it only charges for results – is in fact benefiting from the tight economy,” said Wiley. “Search is still huge and such a key part of online strategy that it will continue to grow. I also expect to see growth in online video delivery, behavioral targeting, and ad networks and exchanges.”

Ad networks have always been a subject of debate. Currently, there are several hundred – and while some are confident that the industry can support them, others aren’t so sure.

“I’m predicting that there’s going to be a lot of consolidation – along the lines of the bubble of yore,” said a top executive at an online marketing agency, who didn’t wish to be named. “There are so many ridiculous ad networks and companies peripherally involved in the industry right now. They’re not all going to survive this downturn, especially as funding starts to dry up. In the end, the online industry is very measurable and if clients aren’t getting bang for their buck right now, they’re going to bail. The companies that do survive are going to have core technological strengths that their competitors don’t offer. Some people say relationships are everything in this industry – but if you can’t deliver, you’re screwed.”

Other executives are saying that what keeps them up at night is privacy legislation that could adversely affect the industry.

“We’re not seeing much of a slowdown in hiring from our perspective,” said Mark Zagorski, chief revenue officer for eXelate, a behavioral targeting data exchange for ad networks and targeted publishers. “But what really concerns me is the real possibility of misguided legislation from Washington that could cripple online advertising industry growth with privacy regulations which could lead to thousands of jobs being lost in the industry. The reality is that online behavioral marketers are doing considerably less than what offline direct marketers have been doing for 20-30 years in terms of the impact on consumer privacy. Because of a lack of understanding of technology and the no-lose political position of ‘fear of big brother,’ the government is attempting to regulate that which can be self-regulated. Personally, I believe that the potential for aggressive legislation is a greater threat to the online advertising industry jobs-wise than the general economic climate.”

If you’re a job searcher these are the things to look out for and keep in mind, if you’re a job provider this is what to expect and hope for. The industry is slowly maturing and those who want to succeed have to bring real value to the table. And don’t forget to check out ADOTAS’ job board for hot new leads!

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