The best paid sectors and the persistent pay gap: What 20 years of Salary Survey data reveals

The marketing industry has changed significantly since Marketing Week launched its Career and Salary Survey in 1998, but when it comes to the best (and worst) paid sectors and equal pay, the results are fairly consistent.


Those working in marketing over the past two decades will have witnessed a huge number of changes, from the rise of technology and digital disruption to changing consumer attitudes. But when it comes to the best paid sectors, key categories such as FMCG and financial services have consistently offered higher salaries than others, according to 20 years worth of data from Marketing Week’s Career and Salary Survey.

Looking at the three best paid sectors over the past two decades, financial services appears most frequently, followed by FMCG and alcoholic drinks, though it should be noted that Marketing Week stopped separating out alcoholic drinks as a sector from 2015 onwards.

Kristof Fahy, chief customer officer at Hostelworld, attributes the high ranking of finance and FMCG to the solid structure and established pay grades of FMCG portfolios and long-standing financial brands. “There is lots of room for movement and they are always trying to acquire the best talent,” he notes. “Potentially they have good structures in place and good remuneration packages.”

Although they did not appear often when Marketing Week began doing the salary survey, telecoms and gambling/gaming have both risen to prominence as two of the best paid sectors in recent years, with gambling/gaming consistently appearing in the top three since 2015.

Fahy, who is a former CMO of Ladbrokes Coral Group, believes the emergence of digital has had a massive impact on the gambling industry. It was once a struggle to get marketers to consider a role in the sector as it wasn’t seen as “a progressive industry”, he told Marketing Week earlier this year. “Now it’s such a competitive industry … the only way to retain [staff] is to keep them well remunerated.”

It’s shocking really – it’s still a half-conversation because we are all so awkward when it comes to talking about pay.

Zoe Harris, Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror Group)

In the first survey in 1998, the highest paid sectors at marketing director level were financial services (£68,333), food (£65,263) and pharmaceutical/healthcare (£63,888). Move forward a decade to 2008, and marketing directors earned above average in financial services (£98,750), leisure/travel/sports (£87,500) and tech (£85,833).

This year’s survey reveals marketers working in FMCG are the best paid with an average salary of £57,196 when looking across all levels of seniority, followed by consumer electronics (£56,510) and gaming/gambling (£56,271), closely followed by financial (52,361).

Looking specifically at marketing director level, those working in FMCG take home an average of £101,296, while finance marketing directors earn £97,738.

Although Amanda Newman works in the consistently high paying finance sector as marketing director at M&S Bank, she argues that money should not be the key driver of a marketer’s job choice.

“We should look far broader than just financial reward,” she says. “Offering colleagues a range of benefits that support them in ways that matter to them is really important, whether that’s flexible working to support family or a sabbatical to pursue a passion, it’s important to know what matters to them.”

Established businesses and brands in these top-paying sectors are theoretically more lucrative places to work but Fahy believes marketers have to look at remuneration in the round. “You need a happy job in a good place with the cash and benefits,” he says. “So, if you are in a brilliant place with a brilliant culture and a company is six months old but it’s got a great future, you are probably not going to get paid the same as if you go into a Unilever, but the opportunities might be immense.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest paid sectors in 2018 across all levels of seniority are charity/not-for-profit (£37,871), construction/property (£40,348) and education (£41,490).

Over the years, publishing, education and charities have consistently been the worst paid sectors.

READ MORE: Why marketers change job so often and what will make them stay

The persistent gender pay gap

While many things have changed since Marketing Week first published it Career and Salary Survey in 1998, sadly one thing has remained frustratingly persistent.

Over the past 20 years, the data has consistently revealed a stark difference between what men and women earn. Looking at marketing director level specifically, the gap has varied from 4% to a massive 23% over the years, with even bigger discrepancies when looking within specific sectors.

salary survey

When Marketing Week first did the survey in 1998, there was an 11% pay gap between male and female marketing directors. Figures show the gap rising and falling throughout the years but a decade later in 2008 the gap had widened to 19% with men earning £16,746 more than women at marketing director level.

In 2016, the average gender pay gap for marketers across all roles stood at 21%. The gap worsened with seniority though, with male marketing directors earning £79,683 on average compared with £61,507 for women – a 23% gap.

There does seem to be a glimmer of improvement this year, though, as the pay gap at marketing director level has reduced to 4%. However, the 2018 survey data shows female marketers still earn less than their male counterparts in every sector and in every role, except that of marketing assistant.

Despite the persistent pay gap, Zoe Harris, outgoing group marketing director at Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror Group) who will join GoCompare as CMO later this year, believes part of the problem is that people are only now starting to speak up.

“It’s shocking really – it’s still a half-conversation because we are all so awkward when it comes to talking about pay,” she says. Perhaps only when we are comfortable talking about how much we earn can we properly address this issue.”

gender stereotypes

While it’s not something that’s come up frequently, Alison Esposti, marketing director at storage company LoveSpace, says she can recall one conversation.

“I asked one of my managers if I was at a level with one of my peers because we were of similar seniority. I was assured [there wasn’t a gap] – and then reminded that they had a bit more experience than me. But I do wonder if that is a valid answer because sometimes it is not about what you have done but what you can do, what you bring to the role and the results you are getting, which links very much into the performance management of the business as well.”

Part of the problem stems from the fact women are less confident than men when it comes to self-promotion and being vocal about their achievements.

“What I have observed in my teams is that women get their head down and work hard and they think that will get them noticed,” adds Esposti. “The number of females I have had to coach on stepping up and talking about what they’ve been doing – almost running an internal PR campaign – just so senior managers actually take notice of them, has been considerable. It is not their default position to put themselves out there.”

While it is unlikely companies set out to pay women less, unconscious bias and the fact women often undersell themselves is doing nothing to level the playing field. Tackling the issues, cultures and structures that are getting in the way of closing the gap is where much-needed change can come from.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has a 36% female representation at board level and puts a focus on diversity as a key driver of company success. Vice-president of brand management for Europe Mike Greenup believes having strong and successful female leaders is vital to instilling a culture whereby everyone feels they can excel, regardless of gender or background.

“Change starts by getting businesses to make it as easy for a woman to work their way up through an organisation as it is for a man. I have seen how important it is to give women who take time off to have children the flexibility and support they need to return to work and continue to thrive,” he says. “It’s also crucial for organisations like IHG to lead from the top.”