Trying to recruit a director of analytics who had been making $125,000 at another agency, Andrew Swinand offered the candidate $140,000 to lure him to digital-analytics shop Cardinal Path. It wasn't enough: Accenture snagged him with $160,000 and a $20,000 sign-on bonus.
Such is the market for data roles, which is driving big salaries at shops.
Mr. Swinand -- an advisor to Cardinal Path and co-founder of Abundant Venture Partners, an investor in Cardinal Path -- is among the agency leaders and industry execs who told Ad Age that the going rate for analysts and data scientists is up to 30% higher than other agency talent at the same levels. The comparisons aren't always apples to apples, given the education and skill sets unique to the minds that know how to glean, analyze and use data. But it's clear that talent equipped for these roles is in high demand and low supply across a number of industries as more agencies turn to data to inform creative and media strategies.
Mr. Swinand was president of media agency Starcom MediaVest Group prior to co-founding Abundant Venture Partners. That venture group is associated with Cardinal Path, which conducted an analysis of salaries based on its own staffers' experience and past gigs, mostly at agencies and consultancies. It found that entry-level salaries for data-related jobs at agencies tend to start at close to $60,000 compared to around $30,000 for standard entry-level agency jobs. Staffers with data experience and jobs also move up more quickly than others, jumping from $60,000 to $100,000 in just two years and reaching up to $150,000 after five years, he said.
By contrast, it takes an entry-level person in account management, planning or media five to seven years to grow their $30,000 to around $75,000, said Tom Finneran, exec VP-agency management services for the 4As. When the 4As gathered salary data on a position called digital-analytics strategist -- someone who analyzes data and delivers regular reports and recommendations to improve results --for the first time in 2011, there were 72 salaries reported, and the average salary was $52,700, said Mr. Finneran. When it gathered the same data in 2014, there were 204 positions and the average salary was closer to $65,000.
Maria Gianoutsos, managing director of recruitment firm The Talent Business, recently placed a head of analytics at what she describes as a hot creative shop in New York for a salary north of $100,000. At a large network-owned agency that number "could start with a four," she said. In those top roles, salaries for heads of analytics are comparable to those with lead creative positions, she said.
"When an agency lines up levels by title -- media planner, account exec, strategic planner and then analyst -- and starts looking at salaries, there's usually a discrepancy that can range anywhere from 20% to 30% and sometimes even higher," said Patrick Acosta, senior VP-director of analytics at Mullen. That premium is for "hard-core analytics" roles that often mandate MBAs or Ph.D.'s and a few years minimum consulting, as well as niche experts like someone who may have spent the last five to 10 years running tools like Nielsen NPower, he said.
"It's a limited talent pool, and that makes it highly competitive," said Peter Movesian, global director-talent acquisition for Omnicom Media Group. The media-agency network often recruits talent from masters programs focused on statistics and economics at the University of Texas, New York University and Columbia.
Skills and degrees aren't the only salary boosters. Prospective agency talent often comes armed with higher salaries from higher-paying industries like consulting. "Agencies are trying to pull the same talent who are interested in working for companies like P&G, Accenture or McKinsey, who are offering even more competitive salaries," said Mr. Acosta.
The demand for people who can not only read but interpret and present data is unprecedented, especially from media agencies and their fast-growing and data-heavy programmatic-buying operations, said Juel Consulting Partner June Blocklin. She looks to fill analytics roles at agencies with people who have worked in CRM-heavy environments as well as in media and strategy agency roles, she said.
"Data drives strategy," she said. "Clients and agencies want their own data perspective. They don't want to turn it over to Google and Microsoft and Facebook. That puts an additional premium [on these people]."
Still, salaries for data and analytics roles aren't necessarily growing as fast as others, according to the Creative Group's 2015 Salary Guide. Salaries for marketing analytics specialists are projected to increase 3.2% for those with more than three years' experience and 2.9% for those with one to three years, according to the survey. That's slightly lower than the 3.5% increase for all creative positions, while digital and interactive jobs, such as mobile designers, user-experience professionals and front-end web developers, will see the greatest increase in salaries in 2015, according to the report.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article described Andrew Swinand as CEO of Cardinal Path. He's no longer CEO, but serves as an advisor. He's cofounder of Abundant Venture Partners, an investor in Cardinal Path.