Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting A job in Marketing in the 2008/2009 recession

Job Hunting in 2009 for the Strathclyde University / business school MSc Marketing Graduate.

Okay there is going to be a recession ….in many business sectors at least this means slow growth, and in some areas downsizing. It means less recruitment and less marketing budget.

This is going to be a big recession in some sectors- housing for example and recruitment consultancy luxury ‘capital items’ (yachts, holiday homes, camper homes, flash cars) and premium mass consumer items because joe mortgage punter has been using his capital as leverage on loans. Now him, the bank and any given company which did the same based on it’s stock value are in the same boat. Fubar.

Given even a recession as bad as the early 80s, it is still vital that companies recruit competence in marketing at this time to capture share, retain customers and in fact use the opportunity to make their marketing even more cost effective.

For you people at Strathclyde's MSc Marketing course, it is going to be even tougher to get on the career ladder because the competition for jobs will get worse- fewer general graduate traineeships (milk-round), fewer people risking to change job, fewer people starting on their own, fewer people retiring early... and so on, the career ladder or tree is more locked internally and at its roots of entry level.

On the last point this means that there are in fact fewer experienced people out there applying for jobs FROM within a good job, but this doesn’t really help you against the masses of applications for advertised jobs. However it does mean that many companies with needs to recruit or expand in marketing, and other 'foot in the door' jobs of interest to you, do not get many open applications from experienced candidates . Also higher risk jobs, mainly in establishing new businesses, divisions, regional/country S&M attract less interest.

So now you will get the feeling that scouring the S&M pages and searches on your usual web sites will no longer be your prioritized, time weighted job searching activity. Instead you will turn the usual system on it’s head and utilize open approaches to companies, networking and new shaping.

First of All let’s talk about the most attractive market sectors and job types:

Attractive Market Sectors in a Recession

This is for your personal job market and not just by product / industry category. When I was graduating in the early nineties I would say most marketing graduates or oxbridgers looked upon the demigods in FMCG as being their future womb for APM to brand manager career.

Now I suspect there is a different attitude amongst you, post the dot com boom and “reboom” when google, yahoo etc sold out, and the years of down sizing and “euro marketing” which have ravaged the blue chip companies. Also there is far more public focus on the SME sector than in the early 90s.

In a recession, or economic slow down, there are actually companies which grow their top line, or just bottom line. These broadly split into:

· Gazelles

· Recession Opportunists

Gazelle companies are those young enterprises who have exhibited the highest growth in a given geographical area ( and to given top line targets in maybe achieving 100k GBP or euros or what ever in year 1 and growing more than 10% or twice the general company or GNP figure. ( see gazelle awards / competition from Scottish enterprise, the Scottish office or for other areas in uk or feks. Dagensnæringliv

Many of them have such sound business propositions and strong, hard working teams that they continue to grow in recessions. However many are very related to those areas hardest hit in the recession- retail, travel and housing/ building. Those that live outside a housing, consumer or IT bubble may well continue to out-grow the market and actually perform relatively much better, thus attracting more investment from the stock markets or hungry private investors starved for decent ROI.

Gazelle companies are always upsizing at the time you catch them as a gazelle!

Since the IT and internet revolution there is no longer the expectation that gazelles simply fall prey to acquisition by the big entrenched players. Often they move so fast and give such firm ROI that shareholders or VC do not see the need to sell out to the big companies and float on the stock market! Or they are better than that- privately held by entrepreneurs like bill gates or the yahoo / google boys until they float out as multi millionaires while retaining heavy interests and salaries!

Recession Opportunists:

There are of course ‘vultures’ out there or rather canny entrepreneurs or flexible divisions in larger companies who spot a new market sector or know that an area is going to be attractive.

For my money in 2009-2011 as we ride out the housing finance crisis, the best of these will be in rental accommodation. “loan sharking” be that illegal or barely legal may also grow but as a marketer working in rental property can be a very good career start for working in this hole area or just getting a portfolio or web pages, flyers, database marketing, customer/client handling, sales and administration behind you.

The building boom around Europe has left a lot of new properties unsold, and first time buyers have been locked out by the ‘ladder leverage earnings’ most people enjoyed over 2001-2007 or over a longer term. Now there is a new dynamic in the market and first time buyers will be a sought after quantity when credit stabilizes around the key western economies.

There may also be a return to ‘bucket’ supermarkets or other products or even services being sold at a premium. More people may travel by bus and rail or buy the super-budget Kia type cars. All areas fighting for peoples lower dollar. Of course in the EU and EØS lands so many people work in public sector or in unionised industries that they will be in a bit of a bonus time- finally affordable houses and a safer than most job! Recessions at their worst mean that two out of three people of working age are in work.

Personal services such as babysitting or stress counseling may well also show growth in 2009-11 as people work longer hours to make up for negative equity or just to keep their jobs. As things pick up, home improvements become attractive (DIY as it used to be) because people want to sell up while they can in a busy buyers market.

Other areas attractive under a recession can include management consultancy and venture capital- well known vultures in recession. VC an do quite well out of recessions because people have money and their ROI is much less on the “street” ( wall street) Shares are devalued and dividends slashed. The safe havens of bonds, secuirities etc are low ROI so any signs of recovery mean the “money” wants to jump ahead of the game – get high ROI and then go back to the stock market. Also in any VC fund there is a spread betting across industries or even competing emerging companies and so they act like a high growth hedge fund, defending at least in part one area by having investment in either complimentary areas or other sectors where the lead indicators and, erm bullshit is looking in double figures ( now an entrenched view of ROI / Top line and profit growth for it to be worth VC going into)

VC and management consultancies act like true vultures in terms of mergers and acquisitions- many of these are more attractive on paper than they turn out to be in reality. Talk of ‘reduced redundancy’, shared overhead and market-access are actually little proven in reality, but in the short term, firing a lot of people is good on the balance book. Eventually customers get pissed with crappy service and enough of the good former employees go out and compete in one form or another that the merged company looses share.

Recession opportunists also like to work cheap- fees are down, and they don’t want to pay 100K a year for people with a good CV from the city but no work in the last 6 months! See new shaping. So you are in with a shout. Many fresh MBA graduates go there without much work experience.

However recessions are good for real-world capitalists, if not bankers and stock brokers – dead wood can be cut out, some sectors can be exploited.

Job Seeking in A Recession

Networking, Open Approaches and New Shaping

These are all actually well trodden paths in the job seeking market, especially in a recession or downsizing time. However I want to give you a new spin on these. They relate to paths fought out by you, the individual, and should be the focus of your job “shaping” activity out over the next year.


I’ve written fairly extensively about this in a previous Freddie blogg. But now there is a new spin:

Your friends and family now have a far better excuse for unashamed nepotistic acts!

It’s a tough time, she’s really struggling to get work that is going to take her anywhere….anything you could do…......I want to pull in that favour you owe me Jim…do you know of anyone taking people on..….

To recap there are two things important in 2009:

1) Degrees of separation- there need only be one or two – everybody knows somebody who can at some point get you a job.

2) Plead desperation: use any family emotional levers, or favours owed to your family!

3) Personal branding- clever, hard working, reliable and fits in the team are enough for now.

4) Avoid the word ‘marketing’ necessarily ( more on that soon)

Snowballing will be less effective in the now “bear market” because you lose any emotional blackmail by being too many degrees of separation away! Combine any tenuous links now (and not in the good times as presented earlier) with open approaches.

Open Approaches

I choose to say ‘approaches’ very consciously over ‘applications’. Open applications are too easy to be lazy over. You can just fire them out.

If you aren’t really skilled at DM writing and execution then in a recession you will get no where, even locked out when they do recruit because you were so generic and blasé with your first letter.

Your objective in an open approach is to be a good marketer – listen to the needs in the market and adapt your communication to meet the customer expectation and close the deal.

Also another big door slammer if you like, is to approach a firm’s personnel division or for an SME their director or general manager and mention the word “marketing” in the first sentence. Why ? well for the larger companies they are inundated with people wanting to work in marketing while they only have maybe one graduate position a year. For SMEs they equate marketing with spending money and not making it - not good in a recession! -and may have had their fingers burnt with young, naive over spending marketing graduates before.

So don’t mention marketing, at least at first.

In fact be very coy. Go so far as to introduce yourself as a mere "business graduate". The focus is firmly not on you but on them! Take time to research who you approach and flatter them by showing interest in their company, then ask what areas they may need to recruit in over the next six months.

Okay, so now you have noticed I am moving you into the area of getting on the dreaded telephone and talking to people. I am myself very, very skilled at writing well targeted letters selling myself and have had good jobs on the back of this, they contacted me back in fact. But in a recession you have to work harder and raise your game to get the best hidden opportunities or even to get a job as a stepping stone out of shitty student jobs.

What you are doing is a classic open consultancy sale. You are flattering the person or corporate adoptive personality, and then establishing their needs. After establishing their needs you can match some of your competence to those in a well targeted open application. Management consultants get paid to define problems and needs and then of course are experts overnight in any given industry and market.

Your Approach > Be to the Point, Polite and Prepared to Walk Away and Come back later.

Foot in the Door Jobs

In a recession it can be the best thing to get into a company and spring board internally, because there are many factors in favour of internal promotion. Of course you may end up going down a completely different and rewarding career path: project management, customer services management, sales/Key account, etc But if you are able to be enthusiastic and motivated to work for a company which really interests you then getting in the door is better than sitting in a BS marketing assistant “gofer” job elsewhere getting demotivated in the company selling washers or washing powder or whatever.

BE thee the extrovert networker, the quiet hard working type or the assertive pedantic one - working in an entry level job can lead to a rewarding next move into marketing - that move being from a job in customer services, purchasing & logistics, business analysis, book keeping, IT (database and web can be integrated to marketing) delivery or last but not least of course sales or sales support.

What’s in it for the employer in Open Approaches?

As with any time, you save them money by avoiding recruitment costs in going direct. In a recession companies know that they will be inundated by applications and calls if they advertise and are pretty happy to get someone quick while the bosses\investors are willing to allocate that head count (people are dreadful empire builders and like more toy soldiers on their floors!) Also recruitment consultants can milk them under recessions just to survive on current customers.

It is well worth while contacting lots of local companies to where you live/ this saves them relocation costs or worries at least, you too, and in a recession you be offered less to get in the door. Don’t oversell yourself- in recession some rich parents were paying firms so that their law graduates to get their years practice instead of being unemployed!!!

In relation to getting a foot in the door job, there are other costs which are avoided because you have been there a while! For example general corporate H&S training, data system courses and learning curve, company wide quality initiatives etc.
Not in the least is that as far as personality, reliability and ability to work hard and affectivity goes they have had maybe six months to a year of test driving you while you have been avoiding the dole queue. Not to mention a graduate who can't egt out of their bed in the a of m.

Account Mapping and the DMU

Using a very open approach with personnel departments, in order to enquiring about future recruiting is the very best foot in the door to a company. After all it is their job to hire good people and do that quickly. Even if they have no jobs now, they may be interested in taking in an open letter and CV or if you have sent a letter (don't send a CV ever in the first place!) they will maybe remember you.

But in fact especially as far as marketing goes, quite often they are either blind or reluctant to tell about the forthcoming positions. Marketers by nature are ambitious and competitive and compared to say accountants or personnel people they change jobs far more often, either internally or by moving on to pastures green(er). So it is important to get in touch with the marketing manager or director to uncover any un mentioned acctual forthcoming percieved needs at least which personnel may not be savez to.

Furthermore, personnel are merely gate keepers for marketing recruitment. It is the marketing director or line manager who selects candidates for interview once need arises to employ. They then have the final decision or most influence if it is just rubber stamped by the CEO. Hence define your DMU/ decision making unit in terms of an actual job or potential.

  • This can be more torturous than you may think and there are often hidden agendas and nepotism along the way. But at the end of the day they will consider several people for any position most often. You just have to be in there and keen by that very presence.

    In contacting the decision maker, or strong influencer, once again the approach is the same> research, flattery, interest in the company either now or in their future and when with they may be recruiting.

    When the two doors of personnel and key marketing manager have for now shut with no fruit, then it's the time to put them on the back burner for a wee while. BUT if you really, really wanted to work for them or within that industry or job position then, now go and find someone else in marketingthere. Say at product manager or marketing comms level who is prepared to speak to you at a meeting to find out more about the job, company or industry.

    Now if you are working at this level we can move on to making your own luck so to speak, in talking about new-shaping.

    To summarise so far>

    · You have identified desirable companies you want to work for
    o Hand picked from gazelle companies
    o Near home for working cheap!
    o Relevant to your first degree
    o Relevant to your motivations and career goals
    § Pre/requisite that they have a positive view on marketing communications and maybe market research

    · You have made an initial approach expressing interest by letter or phone

    · At this point, or at the next, you have established ANY recruiting going on

    · You have found the key decision maker in marketing recruitment

    · You have built an open application and CV around THEIR current recruitment need

  • o or if they are not recruiting at all, you present your MOTIVATION and any USP in relation to their marketing department

  • · You have sent this targeted appplication and followed it up

  • o Focusing on getting a foot in the door, forget marketing if they aren\t hiring there.

  • o Ask if you can have a first brief interview for a specific job or recruiting area.

  • o Focused on working for them, that industry, that chance to work now!

  • o maybe asking for an opportunity to present yourself for their future reference

    New Shaping

    Now as a class you could just do a very basic thing to ring around the top 100 employers in Scotland and the top 20 gazelle companies in your home area to ask if they are recruiting into marketing. The productivity of even generating leads would be quite low and then you would be 30 or 40 people applying wouldn’t you!?

    Far better, as an extension to your open approaches, to really think about what motivates you and where you want to go.

    Marketing in terms of defining customer needs, shaping product and communicating benefits to those ends is a business fundamental. The world\s first marketing manager was probably a cave man pimp. At some stage all companies need to do marketing of some form.

    So your objective is to present yourself to companies, entrepreneurs, investors, technology transfer/new start agencies and find out what they are up to and then turn it all around to the basic need for marketing.

    For an SME, market communication is far more cost effective than sales, but it’s hard to pull off because people who can do it, like to have more budget. However todays SME is tomorrows Microsoft or Apple. Often their greatest need for marketing is market research at the very outset of what I call “decision to commercialise” a term taken out of just tech transfer.

    Many companies fail because of bad market research and a proposition to a niche which had no market size in it. In high tech arenas they are often ahead of the time when consumers or businesses will be comfortable to use the product and the technology would be better being sold into R&D boffins than people\s homes.

    In many cases what the new start entrepreneur believes is a totally unique spin in the market is just that to consumers/ a spin, a bluff, bullshit and not truly a unique differentiator. Often a new service, technology or style just doesn\t actual perform that much better in getting the consumer from A to B, so to speak. There are many pitfalls which can be avoided in start ups by having good market research and an awe inspiring, insightful and actionable bit of research can not only lead to success for the company but allow you to build a whole marketing empire!

    As a new masters graduate I was lucky to have some quality work experience in a graduate professional sales position prior to coming here. But it did trap me in the belief that some nice corporate in Scotland was going open it’s doors with a fan faire for the marketer with a sales track record. I would go into the womb of a major FMCG or medical marketing department and be born again a shining brand manager. I hope this belief is somewhat more balanced in your minds by working in gazelles, in the emerging industries and in new start ups.

    That’s not to say don’t apply to Guiness Distillers PLC or Baxters soups or the likes. Just be aware that you can often shape your own future more fruitfully and more satisfactorily by looking at alternative approaches to what creating a job and career step means.

    Everyone is unique, has a USP to say it in an acronymous way, and often the most rewarding job is one which is uniquely shaped by that individual.

    In intellectual businesses, like advertising or many internet bureaus, often new business development focuses on shaping something the customer has never even thought of. In going to customers locked into other agencies with fresh ideas or actually sources of marketing funding!

    Now I happen to have some examples of new shaping in my own career> firstly a very good demonstration of why the response to advertised jobs fails and secondly in working around the recruitment chain to get an open application to the key decision maker. I was able to present my USPs and what I could do, and had jobs either made for me specifically or had then matched around me and faced no real competition in landing the roles, all of them key in my career incidentally.

    Back in the early nineties I didn\t feel much like a new shaping, entrepreneurial type with a silver tongue and a nose for potential. I felt more like an expectant spoilt middle class kid who didn\t feel they should have to try to hard. At first in November 93 it went well for me with a little bit more than a practice place in RFM consulting on an interesting project. But through lack of savey and grasping all that I could maybe, I left behind that potential springboard to flounder for basically the next two and half years!

    I feel that new shaping is a likely consequence of my own need for control, variety and the impatience to move on to the next project. Also that until now I have had no choice in my relationships at work and now want to create those which are most positive and find those under workers whom most support the team and my visions. I do continue to feel that I need “one more meaty marketing job” and I have the luxury of piles of experience to make applications on. However do I really have the motivation beyond that usual, hee I am getting a pay cheque 30 november for this??

    In ten years time from today, some of the SMEs you will work in will be blue chips or remain very dynamic and stimulating companies to work for anyway! Conversely, many of today’s blue chips will have merged, some gone bust and yet others centralized European marketing to somewhere in Belgium!

A lot of you aren't going to get lucky on the blue chip marketing career chain and if you do struggle either there or in boring SMEs then please reconsider what you are doing...........> >> If after a couple of less than fully satisfactory years go by, find out who, where or what type of company culture you want to work for and try to shape your own position and future within that.

The last comment on new shaping is the obvious one in this topic- start your own company. I think this should be the practical experience unit of ANY business course. As soon as you take the initiative and start going to all these LEC and SE meetings and the universities initiatives you find sources of money to do most things like feasibility/ (read market research). Even if you don't get anywhere after a few months of establishing contacts with potential funders, grant & course providers and not in the least customers then you will be doing an apprenticeship in hard knocks and it will pay you in good stead later if you see the opportunity to start something good.

As a parting comment, think of this-

like an athelete you set your own goals, your own milestones to achieve and shape yourself to get there. No one else is going to jog five miles a day for your heart, and no one else is going to make your career happen and shape it into a stimulating and rewarding journey in those many working hours you have before you.