Some comfort in blanket of gloom

The picture drawn by this year’s salary survey is a sober one, revealing pay increases struggling to keep ahead of inflation and widespread job insecurity, though there are signs we are turning a corner on job cuts. No wonder, then, that marke

If most marketing campaigns produced in 2004 lacked ambition, the explanation might be found in marketers’ own restricted career paths. Facing a tough economic climate and difficult marketing conditions, most appear to have opted to stick with what they have got, rather than risk all with a career change. Steady as she goes has been the watchword, in jobs as much as briefs.

This attitude of safety first is understandable when looking at the findings of the Marketing Week/Ball and Hoolahan Salary Survey over the past five years. Pay rises have ticked along at between five and seven per cent. But at the same time, reported salary bands have been flattening.

Opportunities knocked

The effects of low economic growth and low inflation mean there are fewer chances to achieve substantial pay rises internally. Even moving to another company may not offer the big opportunities that existed through the Nineties, right up to 2000. Since 9/11 and the Iraq war, there is clear evidence of employers reining in budgets and overheads.

Even as they keep salary increases to a minimum, employers appear to be clawing back some of the ground lost during previous years, when skills shortages and economic expansion combined, forcing companies to be more flexible in the packages and working conditions they offered.

Flexible working is now offered to 58 per cent of marketers. For this group, 69 per cent can now work flexible hours, compared with 55 per cent in 2001. Part-time working is available to 46 per cent and 24 per cent are able to take career breaks.

But there has been a drop in the proportion working from home, down to 65 per cent from 74 per cent two years ago. And 28 per cent have to accept “hot desking” as employers look to limit the unused internal resources they deploy.

Marketers are also working in conditions of great uncertainty, where job security is no longer guaranteed. Restructuring in marketing departments in the past 12 months was reported by 68 per cent. For the past five years, restructuring at this level has continued almost unabated, and 47 per cent expect it to continue over the coming 12 months.

No safety in numbers

The continuing expectation is that personnel numbers will be reduced, according to 30 per cent, while 27 per cent foresee reductions in marketing spend, although this is sharply down on the 36 per cent who expected budget cuts in 2003. A general sense of uncertainty appears pervasive, since 29 per cent do not know what form the restructuring might take.

Despite this downbeat outlook, there are signs of improvement. For the first time in three years, there is a positive balance between the number of marketers expecting their department to see staff increases and those expecting decreases. The 11 per cent expecting to see staff hired should result in new job opportunities in 2005 for the first time this decade.

The fall in marketing director salaries may be in line with the increased control being exercised over marketing departments. Although ten per cent earn &£90,000 or more, six out of ten fall into the &£50,000 to &£80,000 band, either side of the average.

As well as the clear wage discrimination against women, age appears to be a big influential factor. Salaries peak for the 41- to 45-year-olds group and tail off for the older age groups. Culling of older marketing directors may well have taken place in recent years to help bring down overheads.

Nearly half of marketing managers are earning below the average, but salaries hit this mean point among the 31- to 35-year-olds, suggesting a relatively fast-track career option for this post. A similar profile can be seen among marketing services managers, although 55 per cent earn below the average for their job title.

The best paid industry sectors are health care, alcoholic beverages and IT. This is not where marketers most want to work, however. The most appealing sectors for those thinking of changing jobs are leisure (43 per cent), packaged goods (37 per cent) and retail (33 per cent).

Significantly, general marketing remains the most attractive discipline, with the majority of job movers intending to stay in this function. Advertising, strategy and management are most appealing to about one-quarter, and direct marketing attractive to one in five. Sales promotion was the least appealing option.

The overall package, including salary and benefits, has historically been a key factor for marketers when choosing their next post. But the years of uncertainty appear to be eroding that holistic view. Instead of looking for a rounded package, 88 per cent now say that a high basic salary with fewer benefits is important or very important to them.

This might help to explain why participation in pension schemes has fallen. Just under eight out of ten marketers are part of a contributory pension plan. This falls sharply to 62 per cent among those under 26. The Government’s concerns about shortfalls in pension provision have obviously not registered.

It is hard to criticise this scepticism about pensions, however, when non-contributory pension benefits have collapsed to just three per cent of marketers from 32 per cent in 2003. The high turnover of marketing staff will not be allayed if there are few long-term benefits such as these in place to make it worth staying in the same company.

Even short-term benefits are moving more towards cash than kind, with car loans, car allowances and petrol allowances all on the increase. There has also been a major rise in guaranteed bonuses, which 17 per cent of marketers now receive, adding an average 5.5 per cent of their annual salary.

High rises fall down

One effect of the dampening down of big pay increases has been to make marketers less adventurous with their careers. In the 2004 survey, 17 per cent were expecting to change jobs by the end of the year. This has fallen to six per cent. Although 45 per cent expect to move during the next 12 months, for 40 per cent a career change could be two or three years away.

There is little taste for moving around in an industry that is not as dynamic as it once was. But this does not mean marketers are satisfied where they are. Two-thirds think their employer does not have a clear vision of their career mapped out and only 12 per cent express very high levels of personal satisfaction, compared with ten per cent who are very dissatisfied.

Even worse, while 11 per cent are very motivated, 14 per cent are not at all. The drive and passion for the work that has traditionally been central to marketing is under threat because marketers can no longer be entrepreneurial about their careers or professional work. The more that marketing becomes a science, the fewer artists it will attract.

To thrive in this changed climate, marketers have to be able to deal with a continued state of uncertainty. Yearly changes to the structure of the marketing department are now the norm, even if the end result may be a slightly higher, rather than lower headcount.

Marketers are always looking for new challenges and if these are not available in their current job, many are willing to change. But conditions have not been right to offer them dynamic opportunities over the past five years.

While employers have responded by offering more flexible working, they are also returning to more formal working conditions, with less remote working and reliance on contractors. For both sides, stability and security have become critical given the turbulent economic and political times.

All of this is reflected in the things marketers say are most important to them. The opportunity to advance, challenging work and a friendly environment are rated highest, with high financial rewards running a close second. But there is also now a much stronger interest in job security and internal training, as well as the opportunity to progress without having to relocate.

For marketers who have been in the industry for more than five years, it is easy to think back and wonder where all the fun has gone. Marketing directors were once a buccaneering crew, with the salary, perks, car and career opportunities that went with that.

Slowly, their discipline has become more professional, answerable to more measurements and controls, and sailing on an even keel. To that end, pay and packages have become flatter.

For younger marketers, especially graduate trainees, the perspective is entirely different. Marketing is now a career option to be considered alongside law or accountancy. Their career path is one of steady pay increments working towards eventual board membership. Whether as a result employers will get the marketing output they want – or simply the campaigns they deserve – is an open question.

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