Looking for New Hires? Be Prepared to Pay Up

Those Who Took Salary Cuts Try to Make Up for Losses, While Job-Seekers Begin to Reject Idea of Settling

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With the recession thawing, a new attitude is sweeping Madison Avenue: Show me the money.

According to a survey commissioned by Ad Age with recruiting firm 24 Seven, agency employees are shaking off the mentality that a bad economy should make them hunker down and work, regardless of pay.

"The prevailing attitude is that people took salary cuts during the recession, but now they need to make up those dollars," said Natasha Lopoukhine, director-strategic marketing at 24 Seven. "This year, it's all about the money."

According to our survey, salary is the No. 1 factor influencing job satisfaction—an important jump from last year, when compensation ranked fifth on the list and the top consideration was work-life balance.

This year, 42% of agency employees are reporting salary increases of more than 5%—respectable, but not necessarily enough to make up for cuts.

"We think the majority of the salary increases reported at 5% are not enough to keep today's employees from looking for better and higher paying opportunities," said Celeste Gudas, CEO of 24 Seven. "They want double-digit increases."

Agencies, be warned: More than ever, paycheck size affects what jobs people take and why they might leave.

The mentality also seems to be affecting those starting out in the field, said Ms. Lopoukhine. The have the sense that they can be more demanding about what kind of positions they will accept, something that might not have been possible during the height of the recession. If new grads have a sufficiently strong portfolio, they may be able to command higher salaries than new entrants were getting the past few years.

According to the 24 Seven survey, agencies were paying new employees $40,000, about flat with 2011. Marketers had bumped up starting salaries from $38,000.

Based on a survey of 75% of VCU Brandcenter's class of 2011, an art director grad, on average, commanded a starting annual salary of $47,000, while a copywriter got closer to $50,000. Communication strategists, who research consumer insights, also fetched about $50,000. Creative brand managers earned between $48,000 and $65,000, with those on the client side earning the higher pay grade.

Not surprisingly, the best-paid grads were those with digital skills. Graduates of the creative technologist track in VCU Brandcenter's class of 2011 had an average starting salary of $61,000, the school told Ad Age .

Ashley Sommerdahl, assistant director of student affairs at VCU, said 75% of grads from that track go on to digital-copywriter or art-director positions, while 25% go into user-experience or information-architect roles.

A survey by The Creative Group, a division of staffing company Robert Half International, found that experienced interactive art directors can command between $77,500 and $107,500 a year. User-experience and information-architect positions can command up to $104,000 and $116,000, respectively.

Ms. Lopoukhine said a result of the strong focus on digital is that account positions are up 5.4% as agencies pursue digital work and need such account managers quickly. Anecdotally, she said she has noticed that the executives of agencies and marketers are under pressure to attract digital talent.

Cynthia Augustine, chief talent officer at DraftFCB, said she has found that newer grads are "looking for flexibility and quick movement up the ladder."

A junior account coordinator or media planner at Draft can make about $40,000, while a junior creative in both art and copywriting disciplines can earn between $40,000 and $50,000. Analysts, planners and digital people will all start at about $45,000.

Ad-school grads have a jump on those coming from more general-market schools because they come with a better knowledge of the industry and are already committed to the career, Ms. Augustine said. They can be discriminating, which is possibly the best sign that things are picking up.

"The truly talented get multiple offers and choose where they go," Ms. Augustine said.