EDITORIAL: Attractive salaries draw the top talent

News that salaries paid to senior agency staff are no longer significantly higher than those of their client counterparts (Campaign, 9 January) will provoke both resentment and smug satisfaction. Resentment among agency managers who have long regarded the salary differential as compensation for the long and stress-filled hours now the norm in recession-battered adland. Satisfaction among those less enlightened clients who have always resented paying top dollar for what may be the creative lightning strike that will energise their business.

Matthew Hooper, the chairman of the Marketing Communications Consultants Association, whose research highlights the closing gap in pay levels, is right to warn of the risk of experienced agency staff asking "Why should I bother?" and leaving for equally well-paid jobs with less hassle. And while it is essential agencies keep staff costs under control, it's also important they pay decent salaries to bright graduates who may find the City or management consultancy a more enticing prospect when they have so much student debt to repay.

Many in the industry blame the penny-pinching influence of procurement departments not only for preventing agencies being able to reward their staff properly but for fuelling client resentment of agency ostentation.

Of course, many brand managers have always regarded agency Porsche drivers with envy. The fact is the fast cars driven by high-ranking agency managers are tangible symbols of their success at providing the magic that can make all the difference to a client's business. Would an outstanding heart surgeon face similar resentment for enjoying a comfortable lifestyle?

The client who prevents agencies being able to attract and reward the best talent merely cuts off its nose to spite its face.

One leading industry consultant already detects a curious contradiction.

Instead of reducing staff numbers, cash-strapped agencies are being tempted to increase them in order to get clients to pay more for the privilege of a larger account team, he says. It's hardly the best way to deliver the most effective client service and the dangers are obvious - well-paid experience will end up making way for cheaply hired youth.

Just fewer than half the staff working in IPA member agencies are below 30 and less than 20 per cent are over 40. If this trend continues, agencies' ability to continue to deliver added value to clients' business is bound to diminish and clients will have only themselves to blame.