When it comes to senior communications practitioners this question is a no-brainer.

The 401K destroying recession of 2008/2009 gave employers/hiring managers the definitive upper hand when it comes to hiring and firing senior communicators. It’s a classic seller’s market that’s for sure.

And what about those who are skilled in corporate positioning, product marketing, executive counsel, thought leadership, employee communications, public affairs, crisis communications and social media? Are they now a dime a dozen?

Regardless of the answer to this question, there is no hard evidence that this equation will be turned completely on its head anytime soon. What does this mean for three groups? 1.) Executives and their hiring managers/recruiters; 2.) The fortunate professional communicators that have jobs and 3.) The huddled masses on the sidelines representing an incredible amount of underutilized talent.

Many executives looking to cut and/or contain costs are simply not investing in strategic communications and that means they are not hiring or keeping hiring to a minimum. That leaves company PR pros essentially trapped for at least the time being. Regardless of whether corner suites are investing or not investing, hiring or not hiring, executives need to realize that the ground is shifting beneath their feet.

Even though the NYSE once again pierced the 10,000 mark (albeit the wrong way), the economy is no longer in actual recession. The next six-to-nine months will be critical for the retention of the best and the brightest and for laying the ground work for capitalizing on an improved business climate.

Are the pre-recession branding messages going to work in an expanding economy?

Will a competitor usurp thought leadership in a company’s area of expertise?

 Are competitors gearing up for a customer, media, analyst, social media push in 2010?

Executives should be sure of two things in particular: The regulators, including the SEC, (and the plaintiff’s bar) are watching. And social media is not going away.

The cases of Bank of America, Intel, Toyota and others point to the need for talented PR counsel, both internally and externally sourced. Harnessing the social media tools to effectively communicate to restless internal populations and to external revenue sources will require PR pros that not only talk about social media but actually embrace it in their daily lives.

For PR professionals with existing jobs, whether in an agency, corporate, association, NGO or public sector setting, this is not the time to get comfortable. The threat of layoffs has not gone away. Most are doing the work of at least two people, maybe more. The pressures on your bosses to reap benefits from an expanding economy, enhance thought leadership and to harness social media tools are definitely being thrust upon you. Your career is hanging in the balance.

For job seekers, this is precisely the time to remain encouraged. This is the time to adopt and project a positive attitude. If you have an opportunity to compete for a position, fully expect that you will have to become proficient in the phone interview. In a seller’s market, employers have the luxury of inexpensively screening candidates through 19th century technology, the humble phone. Securing that much sought after in-person interview is simply getting harder and harder.

And if you do not succeed, don’t be surprised if you are told simply by means of a terse e-mail. Is it fair considering the time and effort you put in preparing and participating in six or more interviews? Nope, but e-mail is the easiest and most painless way to convey bad news.

Just like real estate, the neighborhood never remains the same. Ask the folks who thought that California, Arizona, Nevada or Florida real estate would never go down. In far too many cases that cash-cow house is now worth less than the unpaid balance on the mortgage. Yep, the buyer’s market did not go on forever. And you can be sure that at some point  the employer seller’s market will come to an end as well.

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