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About a year ago, BBDO/New York set its sights on Bill Schwab and Joe Lovering, a creative team that produced eye-catching work for BMW, United Airlines and McDonald's at Fallon McElligott Berlin. The art director and copywriter were marked for the General Electric and Campbell's accounts -- and BBDO reportedly thought nothing of offering to double their salaries.

Did Schwab and Lovering jump ship? Yep. And they reportedly gained more free time to boot, although Schwab laughingly declines to deny or admit the particulars of his deal. He will say that "Salary in advertising is a totally misleading benchmark," by which he means two things: How much money you make is only moderately related to how good you are, and the sums creatives are offered turn out to be less important, in general, than how desirable the accounts are.

So what does salary indicate? How is it determined? Who's making what? And how do you get more?

Agencies dole out money in a variety of ways. Larger agencies tend to have set pay scales. Some shops, big to small, pay equally-qualified creatives disparate salaries. Small hot shops, or shops with sexy names on the door, tend to believe you are lucky to be working there and pay accordingly. And startups suck the lifeblood out of interns. In general, the bigger the agency, the bigger the billings, the bigger the pay. And vice versa.

Mad Dogs & Englishmen, for example, is a small shop famous for intern bloodletting, and its detractors wryly complain that it exploits child labor laws. But it's one of the few agencies that trains people who haven't gone through programs like the Portfolio Center and Creative Circus, and gives them a fighting chance in this business. And if you can manage to get a few hundred dollars in freelance fees out of it somewhere down the line, you've scored.

Boutiques like Core, Pyro and Black Rocket pay grads and interns more in opportunity and experience than in cash -- and that is exactly what a junior trying to build a career should be looking for, say industry sources. "Forget about making money for the first four years," advises Diane Cook-Tench, director of The Adcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Recruiter Miranda Chiu of Baeder/Chiu believes that money can be -- and perhaps should be -- a secondary concern. "If the market is tight and you need a job to pay the rent, I say ride your mule until you find your horse. But if given a choice, money should never be the first thing you consider. If the opportunity is there and you're doing work you're proud of, money will always come."

Of course, it could take a while, as Cook-Tench pointed out. A junior right out of the gate can expect to make $25,000 to $30,000 in the middle of the country and $30,000 to $35,000 on either coast. But some tiny places pay less than $20,000, and some megaliths have been known to offer as much as $50,000 to an experienced grad from a respected school who has superstar potential.

Even with talent being equal, one junior can make as much as $20,000 more than another. "It all depends on the agency and the negotiation," Dany Lennon, a recruiter at the Creative Register, explains. "Don't wait to be told what you're getting. Go in and tell them what you want. And do it with conviction. An employer will pick up on that. From the get-go, tell them what you're worth." Of course, self-confidence and panache shouldn't turn into bluster and arrogance. Lennon cautions that it's all too easy to come off as "ridiculous" if you overinflate your salary demands.

Figuring out how much you can make in a particular market is fraught with uncertainty. It doesn't always have to do with agency size. For instance, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners is reputed to not pay as well as Deutsch or Wieden & Kennedy/New York does. And W&K/New York, which reportedly pays a decent bundle for a small agency, won't pay at the level of the Portland mothership.

One thing to keep in mind as you move up the ladder: the more mundane the business, the fatter the salary. That's particularly true at larger agencies. Unattractive accounts become much more appealing when the paychecks attached to them are enough to make you do the Macarena. But where do you go from there? A year or two later you may find that you've priced your lackluster book and yourself right out of the market. Lennon dislikes the practice of offering large salaries for jobs on so-so accounts; she believes the talent brought in to manage tepid accounts should recognize the potential to build their own names as well as the brand. "It doesn't matter whether it's Reebok or Aetna," she says. "Both need rebuilding. Someone can build an identity for themselves on Aetna."

The salary spread at the mid-level ranges from roughly $35,000 to $125,000. The range is even larger at the senior level, where there's been a blossoming of job titles: There are senior copywriters and ADs, ACDs, GCDs, CDs, senior CDs, deputy CDs, ECDs and CCOs. Their salaries can be anywhere from $65,000 to $600,000-plus. "The categories run from mid-level to senior, senior to very senior -- but the lines really start to blur after the junior level," says Laurie Brandalise of Deschenes/Brandalise, Headhunters. Jill Schroeder, McCann-Erickson/New York's in-house recruiter, agrees. "I have a friend who got hired by BBDO," she says. "Here, I would have hired him as a CD at about $200,000. There, he's a senior AD making $225,000." Salaries tend to be quite a bit more modest in the Midwest. For instance, Jack Supple, Carmichael Lynch's president and CCO, reportedly has an annual salary of $250,000, a sum he won't confirm other than to ask, "What, that's bad?" No, a quarter of a million a year isn't bad by anyone's standards -- except, maybe, those of senior-level ad people on the coasts.

Stocks, bonuses, deferred compensation, profit sharing, equity -- these extras plus salary can lift annual earnings of an ECD at a large agency to more than 2 million.

Small-to-medium shops can't swing big stock deals like that, and they probably don't match profit-sharing dollars if they're stand-alone agencies. But they might give a CD equity in the company, or get his name on the door, which may be better than cash. Many small agencies also give bonuses to creatives who bring in clients and money. Sums vary. For how much revenue were they responsible? Who else was involved? What was agreed on upfront? Profitability and performance issues determine bonuses for creative groups at large agencies as well. Did a group take on more business? Did it help other groups? Does it have a good rapport with the client? Did it make money? A bonus is then often divvied up as a percentage of each person's salary.

"Very seldom are you going to get the perfect dynamite job where you get the reward upfront and down the line," says Miranda Chiu, the recruiter. "There's always a tradeoff."

What about signing bonuses? They are determined by your level of experience and the type of agency. They can be a small token sum, or as much as $75,000. But not everyone gets them or even knows about them. "You could be handed $15,000 on the day you start and told, 'Go buy your husband that new car he wanted,' " says Catherine St. Jean, a headhunter with Judy Wald Partners. "That says to an individual, 'You're appreciated.' "

These days, it's no longer unheard of for juniors fresh out of school to be offered signing bonuses. "I had a student who went on an internship last summer get an early signing bonus from an agency, because they didn't want to lose him to anyone else," Diane Cook-Tench says. "They gave him $5,000. That's not huge, but to someone still in school it can make a big difference."

Beware: there can be strings attached. You might have to pay a portion of the bonus back if you leave the agency before a year is up. The same, by the way, goes for moving expenses.

After the money's been settled on, how about perks? What would you like? A health club membership? A company car? A bottle of Veuve Clicquot on your desk every morning? (Just kidding -- Evian or Chateau Giuliani will have to do.) Everything is negotiable, but don't overdo it. Since the IRS clamped down, clothing allowances and things that vary in cost don't get figured into packages like they once did. And agencies have started putting their foot down, too. "When I worked at an agency, I did an expense report for someone who had been on the road for three weeks," says Cathy Wolajeski, a recruiter with Sandy Wade. "This person had gotten herself a brand new wardrobe and expected the agency to pay for it. When I called her on it, she was like, 'But we live like dogs on the road!' And I said, 'Excuse me, when you're spending $200, $300 a night on dinner, I don't think that's a dog living on the road.' Things like that just

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