Size has sharp effect on how shops pay AEs

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Just as in the quality of the creative work, agency compensation is a game played on an uneven playing field.

While it is understandable that the largest agencies pay their upper echelons far better than agencies with revenue below $15 million, there are pay anomalies.

The Salary Survey's tabular set that most approximates a snapshot of the biggest agencies is the $15.1 million-$45 million revenue segment, a survey group that includes eight agencies.

There are 40 traditional agencies in the U.S. larger than $45 million in size, and two of those are in the survey (but not in the $15.1 million-$45 million column). Ad Age coupled these two with the other eight to measure the impact in salary averages (see adjacent chart).

Most salaries grew, and all except three-creative director, copywriter and media director-were within the sample tolerance range for the $15.1-$45 million set. There is one striking pay difference, for account exec: $42,000 for the 10, and $49,000 for the eight. All agencies peg AE pay at $47,000. The lower AE tally for big agencies may be traced to a large number of junior-level AEs at these shops. Survey respondents include all title levels (junior, senior, etc.) for each position.

Nonetheless, it is likely that a pay differential for AEs exists between the big and not-so-big. Executives say smaller agency AEs may have more longevity (hence, more raise periods) and more responsibility tied to serving multiple accounts, which gives them opportunities for more pay.

Several execs also note bigger agencies can pay less for AEs for the privilege of working for them, a "privilege" that should result in quality training and strong resumes.

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