U.K. Grapples With Brain Drain as Talent Takes Off for U.S., China

Salaries, Tax Breaks All Contribute to Emigration of Ad Execs

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It looks like U.K. ad agencies are losing top talent to the former colonies as key players head for higher salaries in the States or the friendlier tax climes of Asia.

Recent examples include Chris Macdonald, who is moving from CEO of McCann London to president of McCann New York. Another Brit, Robert Harwood-Matthews, became president of TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, last fall, promoted from president of TBWA U.K. Group.

Whatever the career and lifestyle reasons for crossing the pond, one thing is clear: The money's better. According to global recruitment consultant the Talent Business, U.S. ad execs are paid significantly more than their British counterparts. A chief creative officer or executive creative director, for example, earns $700,000 to $1 million in New York, compared with $475,000 to $640,000 in London.

Salaries in Asia are similar to London salaries -- or even slightly less -- but the tax advantages, lower cost of living and expat packages (housing, school fees, etc.) make Asia an appealing opportunity.

The Talent Business met with more than 7,700 candidates in 2012, and from those interviews identified a growing desire to move to the U.S. and Asia, motivated by the march of global consolidation, the growth of opportunities in Asia, London's loss of creative appeal and the notion that fewer global clients are managed from Europe. (However, a significant number still lead client teams from the U.K.)

Examples cited by the Talent Business of the migration of top Brits to the U.S. are Ewan Paterson, chief creative officer of DDB Chicago; Tim Mellors, worldwide CEO of Grey; and Mark Tutssel, global chief creative officer of Leo Burnett. The consultant looked at the top 20 U.S. creative agencies by revenue, and found that 11 had global chief creative officers based in the U.S., eight of those (73%) non-Americans.

According to Maria Gianoutsos, managing director of the Talent Business in North America, "The U.S. tends to be a more integrated environment that allows creatives to evolve, and there is the increasing influence of Silicon Valley, making technology very much part of the discussion that attracts U.K. talent to this market." Brits, she said, are also more attracted to Asia than Americans for the tax breaks because Americans don't get the same tax incentives.

Ms Gianoutsos cited Graham Fink, who moved from executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, London, to become chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather China two years ago, as a "poster boy for Asia." She noted that China could be seen as the new frontier, "the place where young ... creatives could make a name for themselves."

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