Public cuts trigger creative staff exodus

Whether they are leaving behind their traditional marketplace, industry, skill or even employment status, an exodus of creative professionals from the public sector is underway.

Signalling that two months of state-ordered spending cuts are biting the jobs market, most creative recruiters contacted by FreelanceUK said candidates were on the move.

A swathe of freelance marketers are leaving government posts for the private sector, said Reed, the employment agency, provoking a fight for in-house and agency roles.

Some public sector marketers on the agent's books show new offerings, such as, say, a PR adviser bolting on a branding service. Other candidates are "leaving marketing altogether."

Even senior communications executives are moving towards third sector work, particularly where it's full-time rather than freelance, agreed creative recruiters at Xchangeteam.

For the firm's Maggie Maupin, director of events, editorial, marketing and comms recruitment, the cause of the mass movement in the freelance jobs markets is obvious.

"Public sector recruitment freezes and recent budget cuts have certainly affected the number of freelance vacancies we've received across the board in all of our sectors.

"We have seen a 50% decrease in the number of new or incoming briefs from central government organisations when compared with this time last year," she said.

KPMG, the professional services firm, gave an even more downbeat assessment when it released its Summer 2010 outlook for public sector workers early last week.

More than just merely "weak" demand, the group's report with CIPD shows a "substantial reduction" to public sector headcount is planned during the coming months.

At present, the "painful but inevitable" job cuts are most acute in local government, the report says, yet the bulk of the 600,000 job cuts deemed necessary are still to be made.

Already though, out of 600 surveyed in June, the number of employers planning to make redundancies climbed for the second quarter in a row, to the same level as a year ago.

That means that, over the past three months, the volume of new or planned redundancy programmes doubled, "driven chiefly by public sector organisations," KPMG said.

"[Our public sector] clients are looking to cut costs and secure savings," confirmed Reed's Marketing & Creative recruitment manager Dhana Gossain–Markanday.

"Many marketing professionals in the public sector are having to operate with no (or a greatly reduced) budget".

She warned that newcomers to freelancing who are chasing PR and marketing work for the first time would therefore find it "incredibly difficult".

"In the current climate, the public sector is really looking to try and secure as much 'value' as it can from its limited resources," said Gossain–Markanday.

"In most cases, this will mean that when a job opportunity does arise they will...[want] an experienced marketing / PR freelancer on a reduced contract size and/or pay rate."

As well as 'temps' being more cost-effective than full-time recruits, the Reed manager says there is another plus for freelancers, particularly Web-savvy marketers, when public sector budgets tighten.

"One upshot is that [public sector organisations] are making much greater use of social media, as well as digital and website marketing to drive their campaigns forward.

"This approach is less expensive, and also allows them to effectively track how successful a campaign has been using web-based analytic tools."

Similarly at Xchangeteam, Maupin says it is digital and social media marketers who are among the candidates best-placed to migrate to the private sector, alongside change managers and internal comms workers.

And in line with the recruitment and redundancy patterns, the pay outlook in the private sector is more promising than in the public sector, according to Reed, Xchangeteam,  KPMG/CIPD and Skillfair, an online provider of consultants.

Skillfair's founder Gill Hunt said: "Many suppliers are being asked to reduce their prices - which I expect will result either in lower day rates for freelancers who are working for larger organisations - or that people will be expected to do more work in the time available.

"Either way, and as usual, it's the freelancers who can manage to win direct contracts who are in the best position."

Over the next three months, the mean pay award at private firms is expected to be growth of 1.9%, compared with 0.7% at public employers - representing a fall of 1% on the spring, the KPMG/CIPD report said.

Potentially explaining the thinking of those senior comms executives, the average pay award in the third sector is set to break the 3% mark, yet the report authors urged caution with this figure owing to a small base of respondents.

Perhaps the more auspicious finding, for both freelance job candidates and their agents, was that nearly one third of employers' new hiring decisions are expected to be temporary which, the report notes, is "far higher" than the current make-up of the jobs market.


18th August 2010

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