Sliding Wages And The Reasons Behind Them

I often harp on here about the relative wages of creatives and their incessant slide towards those of a deformed rent boy or indolent corpse.

In the early 80s there was a copywriter called Geoff Seymour whose raise to £100k was so famous, that amount of money was then termed a ‘Seymour’.

Now, I might shock a few of you here, but £100k is what many senior creatives are on now. Hell, some are on less than that. Fuck, many are on much less than that.

But just to put that in perspective, in 1982 £100k could buy you a house that would be worth almost £1m today (house prices have gone up 824.24% since then).

That means, by one spurious measurement, senior creative wages have declined by 824% in real terms (obviously there are millions of other factors involved, but I think we can all agree that £100k today will not buy you as much as it did in 1982).

Now, I’m not going to go into whether creatives deserve to get paid anything like that, especially when nurses and firemen are on blah blah blah… that’s for another post. But, as a species, we are getting paid much less than we used to (imagine if senior creatives were generally on £1m today, with ECDs on closer to £4m. Fucking hell.)

The reasons for this are manifold, so I’m going to have an unfounded guess at a few:

1. Creatives were overpaid back in the day. Clients and agencies worked this out and tightened the screws accordingly. This makes some sense and no sense, both at the same time: a great idea could transform a client’s business, putting it on the map and increasing sales by millions, but what’s that worth? Good question. Leading us to…

2. Great creative work is unaccountable. If a product flies of the shelves after its launch, you could thank the ad, the distribution, the pricing structure, a heatwave, the retail positioning etc. The ad is very much detached from the actual process of money through the door, and if enough people think that then why pay more for a good one?

3. There’s less money sloshing around in general. Clients wised up to the profligacy of the industry that took place in the 60s-80s (and beyond), so they got procurement motherfuckers in and turned the tap off. I can’t really blame them for that. I mean, if I were paying for a helicopter shot that hit the cutting room floor I might be a little miffed. Also, I can’t speak for wages in other departments. Have they stayed high across the board or are planners and suits as fucked as we are?

4. Clients and people in charge of agencies generally care less about the brilliance of creative work these days. They don’t think it’s worth stumping up hundreds of thousands for 9/10 (not guaranteed) when they can 7.5/10 from the juniors down the corridor for a quarter of the price.

5. Massive oversupply. Creative jobs have always been tough to get because so many people want one, that’s why the exploitation system known as ‘placements’ still exists. And though there are fewer people the higher up the ladder you go, there are still far more than the industry needs, hence the relentless ageism and the need for an ‘out’. As anyone with even the slightest grasp of economics knows, increased supply pushes the price down, so until half the industry simultaneously agrees to go and do something else, the wages will continue to be fucked. The oversupply also extends to agencies themselves: with so many battling it out for any client worth a fiver or more, the margins get reduced and there is less money to pay staff, leading to even more 7/10 ads.

6. Holding companies. They, as with any publicly-listed company, have to meet certain targets to please shareholders (which could be you or me through our pension schemes). This means that money is the bottom line imperative and the chances of Omnicom/WPP etc spunking loads of cash to get better ads is tiny.

7. Much of what we do is cannon fodder bullshit. In order to sell work quickly and avoid losing money on an account, a client is often given eight routes and asked to pick a favourite. This means that around 85% of work done by you and your department is utterly pointless and ultimately worthless. It creates nothing but opportunities for people to have their arses licked a little more tenderly, and who would pay for such a thing (don’t answer that)?

8. This one is the real shitter: we don’t do ourselves any favours. Every time you do a chip shop ad you devalue what we do for a living. You give away your best shit for a pittance just for the chance to win a shiny bauble. This makes us, as a department, look pretty pathetic because none of that is related to the real money or business of advertising. Yes, I know that because of the way the system currently works, we are rewarded for meaningless awards over ads that might solve an actual business problem for a big client, but that has been fucking us over the years. Would you pay a footballer for their ability to do supercool keepy-uppy tricks on the training ground? Or a musician to play to his mates in his bedroom? Of course not, but that’s what our promotion system is mainly based on. Yes, you can win awards on proper accounts, but these are the same awards that are won for the bullshit ads: a Gold Lion is a Gold Lion, so the currency gets devalued and the proper ones start to become meaningless. Then, when they’re all meaningless, what are we supposed to do?

Suck up our shitty wages, that’s what.