Weakening economic signals are having their effect on the employment outlook for digital and direct marketers in the third quarter (Q3), according to (pdf) the latest quarterly employment report by Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC.

"The numbers have turned slightly lower for Q3, which is no surprise given growing uncertainties about the economic recovery," said Jerry Bernhart, principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, which has been conducting quarterly hiring surveys in digital and direct marketing since 2001.

Among the key findings from the Q3 survey:

  • 39% of respondents said they will add to staff during the third quarter of 2010, down 4 percentage points from Q2.
  • 23% of respondents currently have a hiring freeze—a slight increase from 20% last quarter.
  • The percentage of companies planning layoffs in Q3 is 6%, compared with 3% during the spring quarter.

In each of those indices, B2B is better positioned than B2C, Bernhart found:

  • 43% of B2B companies are planning to add digital and direct marketing staff.
  • 17% have a hiring freeze.
  • 5% are planning to reduce staff.

That is a reversal from the first half of the year, when the employment/layoff/hiring-freeze outlook for B2C was more positive than for B2B, Bernhart said: "B2B is planning more hires, less layoffs, and has fewer hiring freezes than B2C. Those same indices for agencies, suppliers, and marketers all showed little variation."

About half of respondents said they don't expect their hiring plans to change this summer, and most of the hiring will be replacements rather than newly created positions, according to the findings.

But for some digital and direct marketing job categories at certain levels, opportunities are not scarce, Bernhart said: "There's a huge demand for skilled analysts, and we're also seeing a solid comeback in lower-level online marketing-related positions, including SEM and SEO managers, affiliate and relationship managers, and email marketing managers."

Media buyers also appeared high on the list of positions expected to be in short-term demand.

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In general, however, the latest survey points to a setback from the progress recorded since the beginning of the year, according to Bernhart: "We took two steps forward in Q1 and Q2 and now we're taking one step back, pretty much paralleling the overall US economy."

"This report has been proven to be a pretty reliable lagging indicator: When the overall US economy weakens, employment in digital and direct will sag in the coming quarter. It also works in reverse," Bernhart said.

"We've been tracking these numbers for 10 years. The indices bottomed out during the first half of 2009 and have been slowly climbing back since, although as mentioned...these latest numbers were a bit weaker."

According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), in 2009 direct marketing advertising expenditures as a portion of total US advertising expenditures grew to 54.3%, and generated 8.3% of US gross domestic product. Also in 2009, there were 1.4 million direct marketing employees in the US. Their collective sales efforts directly supported 8.4 million other jobs, accounting for a total of 9.9 million US jobs.

About the survey: Bernhart Associates' third-quarter survey was emailed to more than 10,000 senior executives and hiring managers, human resource officials, and other key participants in online and offline direct marketing. A total of 417 organizations responded between June 29 and July 12. Companies interested in participating in the Bernhart Associates Quarterly Digital and Direct Marketing Employment Report may send an email to survey@bernhart.com with "Opt-In" in the subject line.

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