Digital Shops Face Talent Shortage

They're used to hawking products for clients but Friday, they came to New York City to sell something different: A career in digital media. Facing an extended talent shortage at all levels of experience, major media and creative companies sent top executives to New York to tout careers in the industry to several hundred college students and recent grads Friday at an event organized by 212, New York's interactive advertising club.

A panel including Gordon Crovitz, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, Jim Warner, president of Avenue A/Razorfish's East Coast offices, and Betsy Morgan, senior vice president at CBS Digital, John Montgomery, and CEO of MindShare Interaction, all touted the fast growth and new innovations in the interactive space.

Warner told attendees that agencies like Avenue A/Razorfish are hurting for qualified candidates. "We're growing so fast we can't find capable people to help us meet that growth potential," he told an audience of roughly 50 students and recent grads. Other panelists echoed that their firms were looking for entry-level applicants who were passionate about the interactive media space.

At the event, companies including MSN, Atlas, the New York Times Company, Experience, a recruiting firm, Avenue A/Razorfish, Beyond Interactive, Carat Fusion, Ogilvy, OMD, and IAC/Ask.com had set up tables to woo potential hires. Organizers from 212 said more than 600 students had registered for the event--the second annual career day and recruitment fair put on by the group--but attendance appeared much lower early in the day.

Ben Finkel, the interactive creative recruiter for Roz Goldfarb Associates, said job applicants at the mid- and senior-levels are in short supply as well. "I've got open jobs at mid-to very senior levels that I'm working to fill," he said. "Three years ago, they would've had 12 candidates lined up for each of those jobs--they wouldn't have had to pick up the phone, they would've just had to put it in the wind."

Today's market for entry-levels is likely similarly bullish, Finkel said. "I would imagine that it's a very good time to be coming out of college," he said. "In the agency world, it's not that far from entry level to mid level. If they're really stellar, sharp people, after two years thrown into the mix at a busy agency, they're going to get seized upon in their third year."

But, Finkel said, this recruitment drive does not mirror the 1999 boom in every way. "Companies are much more careful--they're much more judicious about making hires," he said. "This is not 1999, when they were hiring everything with a pulse."