Editorial: Agencies deserve fair remuneration

It is a racing certainty the mickey-taking and mocking headlines that greeted the IPA's last survey on agency pay levels 13 years ago will be repeated with the publication this week of an updated version. The intervening years and the two recessions that separate now and then have done little to alter clients' perceptions of agency people as Ferrari-driving, Rolex-wearing dilettantes. So the new IPA research suggesting agency pay gaps have widened so much that comparable jobs in accountancy, marketing and law now offer significantly higher salaries than advertising will doubtless attract similar derision.

This is no surprise. The relentless rise of procurement departments has helped sustain clients' perceptions that agency staff are paid excessively on the back of the high margins made. But although the truth is very different, the myth of a vastly over-remunerated agency workforce refuses to die.

No matter that the industry is more collectively professional and accountable than it ever was. No matter, either, that agency profit levels, such as they are, have more to do with better financial controls than charging clients top dollar.

Clients don't expect their legal advisors and management consultants to work for peanuts. Why should they demand that their agencies continue to do so? Companies seem to have little trouble in understanding the contribution that intangibles such as brands make to shareholder value.

But when it comes to fairly rewarding the agencies that play a key role in sustaining those brands, it is a different story. Yet what danger will some of those brands face if agencies can no longer attract and lock in the best talent?

The IPA has done much to address the issue. Not only is it introducing more exam-based professional qualifications for agency staffers, but it is working toward a fundamental reappraisal by clients of what agencies are worth and how they can be fairly remunerated. The research illustrates not only the enormity of the IPA's task but the real danger of a relentless decline in the industry's influence at corporate level should it fail.

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