Friday, November 13, 2009

The Response Meter

Where Have All The Circulation Professionals Gone?

It seems like each day I read about another publication folding and more circulators being laid off. There’s no doubt that the current economic crisis has hit the publishing/media industry like a freight train and circulation professionals have been directly in the line of fire when it comes to their jobs and resources being cut. I’ve lost count of the number of colleagues who have lost their jobs and who are currently pounding the pavement like a pack of rabid dogs all trying to compete for the same one or two jobs that happen to show up on the publishing/media job boards each month.

Many have given up on the notion that they could make a career out of being a circulator and are now working in completely different lines of work. Obviously, the state of our economy has played an enormous role and has forced companies to make a lot of hard decisions, but I began to see the exodus out of circulation/audience development by many even before the economy went into freefall and I dare to ask…why and how did this happen?

I think I speak for many when I say, that I didn’t go to school wanting to be a circulation professional. When I graduated from Adelphi University back in 1992, my original goal was to get a job in Editorial at a major publishing company. Unfortunately, the job market when I graduated was in a bit of a slump and because I had graduated with a French major (I had originally wanted to work in International Business, but found that it wasn’t to my liking) and a Communications minor, I found it hard to get my foot in the door because I didn’t have an English degree or prior experience working for my college’s newspaper. After bumming around and doing a couple of odd jobs here and there, I got my first taste of Circulation through a family friend that happened to work for CMP Publications in Manhasset, NY. CMP hired me on as a Circulation/Quality Control analyst. I spent my days making sure all of CMP publications were ready for their audits by doing dupe checks and mock audits. My original plan was to stay as a Quality Control Analyst for approximately a year or two and then make my eventually segue into Editorial.

Unfortunately, the Quality Control department at CMP was eventually phased out but I wound up getting a job as a Circulation Assistant at Miller Freeman Inc. Miller Freeman was where I received my Circulation education. I found that I liked Circulation because of its mix of the analytical and the creative. I also worked with a supportive staff and was given the ball to run with. If I stumbled a bit, I was given to opportunity to learn and correct my mistakes. I also found that I could make a decent living being a circulation professional. In my close to three years at Miller Freeman, I was promoted from a Circulation Analyst to an Assistant Circulation Manager and then to a full-fledged Circulation Manager.

Back in the early to mid 1990’s when I started my career in Circulation, magazines were plentiful, companies had lots of money to hire and train their staff, and employees would be rewarded for their hard work with salary and title increases. But as the years went on, a circulator’s role expanded to include not only the promotion of magazines, but of enewsletters, company websites, trade shows and eventually adding a company/brand presence on various social media sites. In many cases, this added responsibility came with little to no additional help and in many cases without an increase in salary. As the economy started to unravel, companies demanded that their circulation staffs do more with less.

Because of their increased workloads, circulators, myself included, found themselves having to learn new skills on the fly, and have even more responsibility without having the necessary resources to go along with the additional work flow. As the economy continued to spiral downward, pay freezes and pay cuts became common in many companies. Many circulators began to feel overwhelmed, underappreciated and burnt out. They also began to see their job descriptions change dramatically as the shift from print to digital and online caused them to have to learn new skills with little to no training provided by the company’s they worked for. Many began to feel disenchanted with the industry.

I began to see this trend occurring at the beginning of 2000. Pressure from upper management to increase revenue and decrease costs seemed to filter down to the group directors, then to the circulation managers and ultimately to the circulation analysts. Everyone became so consumed with just keeping their head above water and learning new skills on the fly that they didn’t have time to help the person below them. The recession was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I have colleagues and acquaintances that are no longer in circulation but are now teachers, running day care centers, firemen, writers or physical therapists. Others have been out of work for close to a year. Many are trying to ride out the storm, hoping the economy will right itself by early to mid 2010 and that job opportunities will become plentiful once again.

Some have become so disheartened and are so skeptical about what the future holds that they’ve decided to find new careers. Many wonder if they’ll have the necessary technical, web and online skills needed when or if the job market rebounds, or if they’ll be left in the dust. It will be interesting to see how many return once the storm subsides.

In the interim, for those trying to weather the storm and get back into the audience development industry eventually, it’s vital to keep up-to-date on company and industry trends. Going to industry events such as NTCFI (the National Trade Circulation Foundation Inc), signing up for industry webinars, and reading industry enewsletters (Audience Development, Media Business and Folio are my top three) and blogs on a daily basis is extremely important. With the move away from print to online, knowledge of web analytics, search engine optimization, HTML, social media and other online resources is essential. I would even advise taking a couple of courses in the above topics to ensure that you’re up-to-speed on the constantly evolving world of online marketing and technology. Keeping in touch with colleagues is also crucial and could provide the extra edge needed to get back into the workforce.

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