Moving jobs in a recession

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

It’s September: the kids are back in school, the holiday in Cornwall seems a distant memory, and you are back at your desk. Again. Writing captions on unfunny photographs of minor celebrities. As every year before, you start to think “there must be something better than this”. You log on to to look for new media jobs.

Except this is September 2009. If you are lucky enough to have a job, the last thing you are going to do is look for a new one. The economy is shot, advertising revenues are in freefall, and the world has suddenly gone risk averse. Why on earth would you think of moving jobs in a recession, when nothing is certain and the worst position to be in is “last in”?

And yet, there have been a number of high-profile recent moves: Sarah Sands to the ES; Gill Hudson replacing her at Reader’s Digest; and Ben Preston replacing Hudson at The Radio Times. At the same time, Lisa Smosarski has left More to join the new launch Stylist and Conor McNicholas has moved from NME to Top Gear.

It may seem that these are pretty safe moves: but in most cases, the Editor is walking away from something very secure (in several cases, from brands on the up in a downward market) to new entities. However well established these new berths are, there is always a risk for an incoming editor: they live or die by their circulation. Worse, they live or die by the rise or fall relative to their rivals. If your rivals start to buck the trend, and you lag behind, you will be out. In short, there is no more exposed position than that of Editor. So why move in a recession?

“If you want to be successful, you have to find the opportunities in any situation. There are opportunities in a downturn if you can make it work for you,” says McNicholas. “I would personally much rather be somewhere new and reworking things in advance of the markets warming up rather than looking to move once things have recovered.”

But changing jobs in the middle of recession is a judgement you can only make based on your specific circumstance. For him, the timing was right. “I knew in myself, and speaking to people in the industry who are unofficial mentors, that if I wanted to be perceived as having a career, rather than as just being the editor of NME, I had to move.”

It is not just magazine editors who face these decisions. Quentin Bryar recently joined Dow Jones after 28 years of service at Reuters, albeit by way of a voluntary redundancy. So was it the right thing to do? “Absolutely,” he says. “After so long, you get institutionalised – like a prisoner, you become afraid of what’s on the outside. Overall, it has been a tremendous sense of liberation.”

Careers continue to move forward, in good times and bad. There are so many factors that make a move right or wrong; the current state of the economy should not override all other factors. If the opportunity feels right, and the proposition is compelling and makes financial sense, this is just as good a time to move as any. And if you don’t seize the opportunity, someone else will.


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Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work in the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) space, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.