Move Over, Mr. Gekko

lab 14 Move Over, Mr. GekkoWall Street is dead. So says The Wall Street Journal, which declared on the front page of the Sept. 22 edition that the longtime epicenter of American capitalism “will cease to exist” as we know it. With the demise of the investment banks and the collapse of the financial services industry, so died the gilded dreams of so many aspiring Gordon Gekkos, who believed conquering Wall Street (or at least climbing to middle management) would be the shortest path to that New York version of the American Dream—a non-infested place in a not-awful building.

But with Mr. Gekko and his Learjet for now relegated to the sidelines, is it time for an updated map to that dream? A man, perhaps, like Mad Men’s Don Draper? It’s difficult to say what the New York economy will look like in two years, but it’s certainly permissible to speculate on which industries in the city can still fund the envy-producing lifestyles that provide the ambitious young worker bee enough liquid cash for a one-bedroom apartment or a no-frills condo in Brooklyn.

The median entry wage for an advertising and promotions manager in New York City was $63,780 in 2007, not far off from the $76,230 entry-level wage for a financial manager in the same period, according to State Labor Department figures. At $166,400, the median wage for an experienced marketing manager is identical to the median salary of an experienced financial manager, and far better than the $114,120 median wage earned by an experienced financial analyst.

All of which is to say that there is good money to be made in advertising these days, and at a time of rampant layoffs on Wall Street, good jobs are harder than ever to find in financial services. The starting salary at digital advertising firm Avenue A/Razorfish can range from $50,000 to $80,000, according to senior vice president Pete Stein.

In August, average monthly rent on a one-bedroom apartment in a non-doorman Manhattan building was $2,770, according to a report from the Real Estate Group New York; and although it would be a stretch, the $33,240 annual rent would be doable for an advertising wunderkind making over $60,000.

However, there are uncertain times looming for the industry, especially considering that marketing budgets are common victims in fiscal belt-tightening. Alison Fahey, publisher of Adweek, expects cutbacks in automobile advertising and similarly struggling industries, but a steady market for pharmaceutical and health care advertising. As bad as conditions get on Madison Avenue, they are certain to be better than the apocalyptic situation on Wall Street.

Earlier this year, the city’s Independent Budget Office predicted that Wall Street would shed around 30,000 jobs as a result of the credit crisis. The recent collapse of Lehman Brothers, a company with over 25,000 employees, including 12,000 in the New York area, makes those estimates look woefully optimistic. While traditional advertising companies may see some job losses, digital and new media advertising firms are expected to continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace.

“We are still hiring,” said Mr. Stein of Avenue A/Razorfish, “and we are still seeing lots of work out there.”

Advertising and marketing firms leased more office space than any other industry, including financial services, from June through early July, according to The Real Deal magazine, accounting for over one-fourth of the freshly leased space in Manhattan that period.

In some ways, the demise of Wall Street will only help the young ad executive. Wall Street employees have always been an integral force in the Manhattan housing market, making up approximately 25 percent of its buyers, according to industry analyst Jonathan Miller. The dramatic Wall Street implosion and a severe reduction in year-end bonuses will surely push apartment prices downward.

Suddenly, mad kids, that $80,000 salary will go a lot farther than it did two years ago.

ohaydock@observer.com