Digital Agency Salaries Fell in 2012 for C-Level Execs

Lower Exec Pay Reflects Dropping Marketing Budgets

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Average salaries for executives in all sectors of the digital media industry declined in 2012, according to a survey conducted by industry group SoDA, also known as the Global Society for Digital Marketing.

Despite digital marketing continuing to be in demand, the senior most staffers at digital shops are seeing their paychecks shrink. The survey revealed that compensation for managing directors, partners and C-level employees returned to 2010 levels, not a promising sign, since that was on the heels of the recession. Digital agency execs in the UK are faring worse than those in the US.

Less than a quarter (23%) of respondents earned $300,000 or more in 2012, down from more than a third of respondents (35%) in 2011. In 2010, 25% of executives reported earning that much.

Some other highlights--or, rather, the lowlights--from the survey include:

  • Chief technology officers earned 5% less in 2012 than in 2011.
  • Account directors suffered the worst salary decreases, with compensation down 16%.
  • U.S. art directors earned more ($87,702) than art directors in Europe ($75,127), on average.
  • Likewise, North American CTOs earned more (between $189,522 and $237,560) than their European counterparts ($142,894 and $167,027).
  • More executives are being paid with variable compensation packages that include bonuses, equity and stock (in which case they could potentially be earning as much or more as they were before, just not in their regular paychecks).

SoDA executive director Chris Buettner said the drop in pay reflected larger economic problems.

"It's tough at the top due to a variety of factors from shrinking client budgets to the macroeconomic implications of global economic health," he said in a statement.

The outlook for talent in other roles is more optimistic however. SoDA projects the labor market will tighten in 2013 and that there will be a shortage of talent in the digital industry. Salaries for the most talented agency employees could subsequently increase, the organization said.

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