Lament for 'Underpaid' UK Agency Staff

02 September 2004

Are UK advertising agencies losing graduate talent to other more highly paid occupations?

Brand Finance thinks so. Self-described as the 'world's leading independent brand valuation consultancy', the Richmond, Surrey-headquartered firm this week published Rewarding the Advertising Profession 2004, a report commissioned by Britain's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

According to the report's author David Haigh, the earnings gap between advertising people and those in other well-heeled professions -- such as accountancy, the law [and plumbing] -- has widened since the last report in 1991.

In those heady, innocent days when ad budgets seemed destined to soar forever and marketing directors thought ROI was a French monarch, the report recalls that "ad men and women were often characterised as Ferrari-driving, expense-account-living, lounge lizards who vacationed with their wallets in the Caribbean at the client's expense".

And thirteen years on? Amazingly that perception still prevails despite the universality of astronomic self-awarded pay rises in boardrooms across the industrialized world.

Haigh is eager to shoot down this nineties myth. "I actually found that, while clients demanded the highest levels of creativity and professionalism, all agency personnel were relatively underpaid and their agencies made very low profits, on average."

Recruitment consultant James Davidson agrees. "Places like Credit Suisse are offering a starting salary of £30,000 to £40,000 for a banking job … that's what [agency] people are up against. People want to work in media so [the industry] can afford to pay lower -- it's a cool job, but there's a limit to what people will sacrifice."

Simon Woodford, IPA president (and chief executive of creative agency WCRS) said he found the survey results "depressing" but insisted that the imbalance will spur the IPA's efforts to level the playing field.

"Agencies, at their best, make a massive contribution to their clients' businesses through stimulating demand for their brands, and deserve to be at least as highly rewarded as those professions who operate primarily on the supply side," he said.

"Ever-higher professional standards in the industry are needed and the IPA is leading the way in this, via exam-based professional qualifications."

In a foreword to the report IPA director general Hamish Pringle Hamish Pringle reveals that work is already in hand to redress the pay imbalance via a five-year plan "designed to bring about a fundamental reappraisal of what IPA agencies are really worth and how best they might be paid".

To view the full report click here.

Data sourced from: Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff