Some media companies are still hiring through the crisis

The economic downturn, triggered by coronavirus, has led to belt-tightening at many media companies. In recent weeks, numbers of publishers have had to make difficult decisions, announcing layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, hiring freezes and rescinded on open roles.

Yet there are a number of media companies who remain staunchly in hiring mode. The New York Times continues to hire across the organization, with 174 roles open, 20 which were posted within the last week. The Washington Post has 54 open job roles — predominantly in product design and engineering — nine of which were posted within the last week. Bloomberg Media has been hiring across sales, product and marketing. Politico, emerging from record-revenue growth in 2019, has added new editorial staff. Time, backed by billionaire Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, is in expansion mode.

BBC News has suspended 450 job cuts in order to keep up with the demand for covering the story. Politico has made at least four key editorial hires to its 500-plus global staff since working remotely. Although other department heads are not extending job offers until they can interview in person.

“The world can change overnight, as we’ve seen these last few weeks,” said Brad Dayspring, vice president of communications and marketing at Politico. “As it stands right now, when we have an immediate need, or we have a great candidate eager to join Politico, or when it makes sense to move more quickly, we will do so.”

Naturally, whether companies are hiring or firing during the pandemic depends on the company business model and health of balance sheets. For a lot of media businesses, headcount is a large cost.

Over the last few weeks, all companies have faced tough staffing decisions. This week Bustle Digital Group and G/O Media Group both laid off 5% of staff. Streetwear publisher Highsnobiety has cut 25% of its staff. Digital media publishers, such as Vice, Group Nine Media and BuzzFeed announced last week pay cuts. In the U.K., news publisher Reach has furloughed nearly 1,000 staff while Daily Mail publisher DMGT has announced salary cuts.

Politico has a strong business-to-business division funded by corporate accounts and is required reading for many to do their jobs. The publisher surpassed its first-quarter revenue targets both on the business and consumer revenue lines, according to an internal memo sent by CEO Patrick Steele and seen by Digiday.

The New York Times has transitioned all recruiting efforts online, according to a spokesperson. The publisher is conducting interviews via phone and video calls. A newly-developed remote on-boarding program lets new hires get to grips with the company, people and practices from home. The publisher was unwilling to share details and how many new recruits it has.  

Remote hiring is not new for The Washington Post. “We have always leveraged the intersection of behavior-based interviewing with skills tests and have reiterated the importance of this combination to help to chip away at the barriers of not meeting people in person,” said Wayne Connell, vice president of human resources.

Broadly, senior media executives acknowledge that deep employee cuts are strategically unwise and a short-term business decision. When the economy rebounds, social restrictions relieved and the virus under control, media companies want to have enough staff to be in a position to capitalize on consumer and client demand. Unfortunately, not all publishers have the luxury of making that choice to protect long-term strategies.

“Everyone is cutting the cloth of short-term costs,” said Ashling O’Connor, head of European media practice at global executive search firm SRI. “The longer-term view is that media companies have been around for hundreds of years, the existential threat of digital has been around for the last 20: This is more of a hiatus. It will have accelerated direct-to-consumer and digital transformation.”

For the most part, the search for media leadership roles remains in play. While some of O’Connor’s searches have been put on hold until a company’s economic circumstances are more certain, none have been canceled. The average search for senior execs can take between four and six months, companies starting now could hope to interview in person when social restrictions ease. 

“The uncertainty is the difficulty. If it’s a business-critical hire, clients are forging on,” she said. “If this is the new normal, businesses cannot stop. If you need a chief commercial officer or a chief financial officer, this doesn’t change that. It’s a temporary disruption.”

In the U.K. the hiring growth for the media and communications industry is -8.7%, which is above the national average of -15%, according to LinkedIn data. In the U.S., hiring was down 1.1% across sectors during March compared with the same month the year before, although declines in specific industries were much higher.

“We’re seeing an awful lot of pragmatism and reflection,” said O’Conner. “It’s a good time to recruit CEOs for companies in times of transformation because there’s more time to think about the needs.”

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