Darling, I know just the person for the job

Recession over, media sales headhunters are back on the warpath, says Nick Walker

More than most, media sales is a profession that revolves around contacts. Small wonder. The recruitment consultant - the "head-hunter" - is usually a former practitioner turned professional networker, and an increasingly important player in the more "hidden" areas of the media sales job market. This is especially true now that the market appears to be on that long-predicted upwards swing, after the boom of the Eighties and the Nineties collapse.

"Eighteen months ago, we would get one vacancy every two weeks," says Nicki Hill, partner in Media Place recruitment consultants. "Now, we would be unlucky if we didn't get eight to 10.

"Not only are people increasing their sales staff, but there is also more confidence to move around. During the recession, people were inclined to hang on to whatever job they had. Now, they want to move on - and up."

Enter the recruitment consultant. A consultancy such as Media Place would be approached by clients, generally more mainstream publishers and sales houses, to fill positions up to, and including, business director and publisher.

"We tend not to deal with the lower end of the market, the classified ads sales, the trade press ... Most of those positions are dealt with in-house. In 85 to 95 per cent of cases we approach people who don't want to leave their jobs."

But this is not just the easing of the recession. The growth in the use of the headhunter by the 8,000 to 10,000 who work in the world of media sales reflects the changing nature of the industry.

"More and more want to move across media," says Hill, who identifies a strong move to radio among key players. "Many are attracted by the challenge of a new medium. Although it's not true that someone is simply going to take their clients from publication to publication or medium to medium."

Julie Salamon, whose consultancy has recently placed international sales staff with Time magazine and an advertising sales controller with IPC, is also confident. "I think post-recession advertising managers have got more on their plate. The consultancy is simply the easiest route for a bigger slice of the industry."

Still, there remains resistance. One advertising manager at a large consumer publishing house in London would never consider approaching a consultant: "Media sales is about contacts. Look, if we didn't know of someone ourselves, it wouldn't be likely they would be the right person either."

"I don't like headhunting," says Simon Watters, business manager at Lipton Flemming recruitment consultants. "As the industry comes out of recession and begins moving again there is a shortage of people with certain skills, say those with two to three years' experience. A lot of consultants are headhunting for the wrong reasons. Like poaching someone they placed a few months back. That kind of headhunting is on a hiding to nothing." Or maybe not: only time - and the market - will tell.

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