As time goes by

Senior creatives are feeling the pinch, but the current climate is ripe for the good and ambitious to do well. Clare Dowdy investigates

There may be a few consultancies that are doing pretty well at the moment, but many are suffering, and the knock-on effects – both positive and negative – are being felt throughout the design industry.

Tough times mean tough business decisions, and redundancies have been in the headlines for the past 18 months. The latest big name to admit to lay-offs is Wolff Olins, which is getting rid of about a dozen staff (DW 5 September), while this month, Basten Greenhill Andrews folded completely.

Redundancy at senior level poses its own peculiar issues, for the individual and the consultancy they are leaving. For the individual, there is the difficulty of finding work in your 40s or 50s, and the possibility that you may be forced to change career direction or take a pay-cut. For the consultancy, there’s dilemma of how, if at all, to fill the gap, and the sometimes long hunt to find the right person.

Tough times can also mean a dearth of challenging projects coming in, which is enough to drive some courageous individuals to leave the safety of their consultancies and go it alone. It’s the senior roles that are most under threat at the moment. ‘If you are a senior designer, your job is at risk because you are expensive,’ says management consultant David Jebb.

Ian Cochrane, management consultant of TiceGroup, agrees: ‘If you are earning more than £50 000, the spotlight is on you to perform. If a business is struggling, there can be some finger-pointing around the board table.’

Former C21 creative director Franco Bonadio left his role at C21 this month (DW 5 September) to act as a consultant for the group on a project basis. The nature of C21’s work changed, says managing director Rebecca Collings, with a major project at the delivery (rather than creative) stage, and this arrangement better suits Bonadio’s skills. If senior people aren’t doing what they are good at, they won’t be happy or comfortable, she says.

Unsurprisingly, the highest turnover is in new business roles. ‘This market has picked up for us in the past four months,’ says Periscope recruitment consultant Michèle Jacquesson.

And recruitment at a senior creative level in the branding and packaging sector is reasonabl

y buoyant, according to Fiona Watson, consultant at Periscope.

But not every job made vacant through redundancy is being filled. Cochrane estimates that movement at senior level is currently about 80 per cent out and 20 per cent in. So gaps are being filled with a bit of internal shuffling, with the second tier expected to fill the shoes of those departed.

If handled well, this can offer well-earned opportunities for some employees who have been waiting for a new challenge. Otherwise, it can put increasing pressure on an already stretched team.

But at least there’s currently little stigma attached to being given the push. Both Andy Paul, client services director at Design Bridge, and 20/20 managing director Rune Gustafson agree that they would not be put off interviewing candidates who had been made redundant.

And even liquidation can have a silver lining. Tim Greenhill and John McCarron, whose consultancy Basten Greenhill Andrews has folded, have been scooped up into director roles by Citigate Lloyd Northover. They’re there, says CLN chairman Jim Northover, ‘to bring some fresh thinking to the business and increase our firepower’. Rather than replacements, Greenhill and McCarron are viewed as additions to the CLN line-up.

While there are higher level jobs around, they are taking longer than usual to fill. There seems to be a mis-match at the moment, between what consultancies are after and what these job hunters are looking for. Candidates are being encouraged to be more flexible in the type of work and remuneration, but this is actually slowing the recruitment process down.

It has taken Design Bridge all year to appoint two account directors. ‘We’ve found it really difficult to find the right people,’ says Andy Paul. This process was drawn out because of the variety of people who came forward for the positions. There were candidates from the client-side, interactive groups, even sales promotions. But the feeling at Design Bridge was that such experience wouldn’t transfer. ‘We have seen a lot of people without packaging and branding experience,’ comments Paul, ‘but we were concerned that the learning curve would be too steep.’

After a four-month search for work following his redundancy from Ziggurat, Nigel Ritchie has landed on his feet. He was appointed creative director in April of S1, a small print and corporate design group, with the remit to build the design team. Ritchie, who is 40, accuses the industry of ageism – again this might be tied in with salary expectations. ‘People were looking for someone younger than me for creative director,’ he says.

If the job-seeking talent out there is too expensive, there are ways around this, says Karina Beasley, managing director of Gabriele Skelton – consultancies can take on people on a temporary basis, or give them extra holiday.

But not every senior who leaves their job has been pushed. This climate is ripe for brave, experienced people to make a go of it on their own. Consultancies where morale is low and the chunky projects are thin on the ground are no place for the ambitious. Start-ups tend to be founded by ‘the ones who jump rather than the ones who are pushed’, says Willott Kingston Smith partner Amanda Merron.

Glenn Harrison left his position as creative director at Tango to set up cross-discipline group Next Big Thing in June. ‘We wanted to put the passion and freshness back into our work,’ says co-founder Jennie Withers, who had been freelance for a couple of years, having been account director at Tango. And things are going well, ‘mad busy’ in fact, according to Withers. She puts this down to clients being less worried about taking on small consultancies and wanting to work directly with senior people. So the options are out there, particularly for the really good people.

The new seekers

Not every senior job is made vacant by a redundancy, some people are moving on of their own accord

Your job is most at risk if you are expensive

There is little stigma to being made redundant

Some consultancies are still “window shopping” and will see good candidates, even if there is no immediate job prospect

Finding freelance work as a senior designer is hard – you are seen as expensive

There are accusations that ageism is creeping into the industry

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