Thursday, April 9, 2009

OnlineSpin: Managing Your Digital Career In A Downturn

Last week Dave wrote "Attention For Sale."

B May wrote, "Dave: I actually think it's a bit scarier - and perhaps you do too, but don't want to come right out and say it when that would imply our working raison d'etre is about to evaporate - but I (think I) see technology evolving faster and faster in ways that permit consumers to find what they wish to find, while they avoid what they deem to be annoying at that moment.

Hypothesizing from there, I can imagine a near future in which a person who needs a car can avoid ALL car advertisements and mentally log into the ultimate Consumer Car Reports portal, with his most desired options instantaneously registered (cost, resell, mpg, seating), and within seconds CCR delivers the top 6 choices, along with the best 20 places within 50 miles to go finalize an already-negotiated, pre-approved contract.

And the same will be true of news and information - that is, more true than it is already with Cable and Satellite On Demand, RSS, and all the 'my-anything and everything' sites.

So - why will we need advertising? And if we don't need advertising (or the agencies and campaigns) how will we pay for free, or quasi-free, anything (network TV, radio). How can this become anything other than life by subscription? ..."

Thursday, April 9, 2009
Managing Your Digital Career In A Downturn
By Dave Morgan

I spend a lot of time these days talking to folks in and around the digital media industry about career choices they are facing. As a result of both the impact of the financial crisis as well as the secular declines in offline media, more media people are facing more career issues with more immediacy than probably ever before.

Like most other industries, the media industry took on too much leverage over the past 15 or 20 years, and not just financial leverage from too much debt. Many companies also leveraged up their staffs, adding more and more people with the expectation that their markets and businesses would continue to grow at double-digit rates. For many companies, it was easier to hire more people to handle the increased work rather than finding ways to increase  output per person. Hiring is almost always easier than reengineering. Unfortunately, as the growth stopped and then reversed itself, most media companies have found themselves this past year with many more folks than they need, and many folks working in areas that aren't critical to their core business. Thus, lots of folks are facing career choices. Here is some of the counsel I give folks in this circumstance:


  •          Prepare for the worst, particularly when it comes to your personal cost structure. It would be impossible for me to count the number of times I have talked to folks that want to change jobs to give themselves better long-term career prospects but can't, because of an outsize mortgage (usually combined with outsize private school fees). It may be the hardest and most painful thing you do, but folks that can manage their personal cost structures down will be in the best positions to make career moves for the right long-term reasons, and not find themselves handcuffed to jobs that they don't like and which could go away at any moment. 


  •          Make yourself essential; focus on core business value skills. When things slow down, it's the folks who are less essential that go first, whether they are in corporate or strategic roles, or whether they are low-producing sales or redundant product folks. The last people to lose their jobs are those who excel at "making things," "selling things," or "servicing things."  They control their destiny, and are not only last fired, but first hired. If you don't directly handle any of these kinds of roles, now is the time to consider picking up more-essential skills.


  •          Understand market recoveries; pick your spots. Many media folks talk about preparing for the eventual market recovery that we all want and hope will happen soon. For many, there is a general sense that the economy will come back, and business in the future will be much like business in the past.

    It never works that way. Some market sectors come back early. Some come back late. And some never come back. I grew up in a small mining town in western Pennsylvania. When the U.S. steel industry collapsed in the early 1970s, the town's economy did as well. We all grew up amid a constant dialogue about what life would be like when the steel industry came back. It never did, and neither did my hometown's economy.

    It is critical for everyone to understand the core drivers of the markets behind their businesses, and understand how those drivers are likely to recover, or not recover. Sitting, waiting and hoping is never a good strategy.

    I myself believe that once we are through this economic crisis (probably the end of next year or early 2011, we will see a very robust digital media market. However, I'm certain that it will look very different than it does today, and I believe that critical categories like exposure-priced advertising may never come back the same. Media will be a great business again, but it will be different. What do you think?

  • Dave Morgan is the CEO of Simulmedia. Previously, he founded and ran both TACODA and Real Media.

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