That is the verdict of a new survey commissioned by the IPA, which, the trade body claims, destroys the myth of an industry where exorbitant pay cheques are the norm.
In reality, the difference in salary levels between agency staffers and those doing comparable jobs in law, accountancy and marketing has increased in the past 13 years, the report says.
In the worst case, the pay between an agency job and its equivalent elsewhere differed by 63 per cent.
While the salaries of agency senior managers still compare favourably with their counterparts elsewhere, disparities at lower levels are huge.
At the most junior level, pay for agency beginners is between £16,000 and £18,000.
It is feared that the discrepancy will deter young talent from entering the industry. Neither are people in advertising being compensated for low pay by job security. The industry remains very sensitive to economic fluctuations and, the report points out, lost almost a quarter of its workforce between 1991 and 1995.
David Haig, the chief executive of Brand Finance, who produced the report, said the caricature of the adman as a "Ferrari-driving, expense account-living lounge lizard" was far from the truth.
"While clients demand the highest levels of creativity and professionalism, all agency personnel are relatively underpaid and their agencies make low profits on average," he said.
Haig blamed the widening gap partly on the excessive influence of client procurement specialists and partly on the fact that ad people felt uncomfortable at the idea of being part of a profession. This put them at a disadvantage.
Stephen Woodford, who has put the establishment of exam-based professional qualifications for the industry at the top of his agenda during his IPA presidency, described the survey's findings as "depressing".
HOW SALARIES COMPARE
Managing solicitor 57,068
Marketing director 97,355
Marketing services mgr 52,681
Senior management 105,840
Middle management 27,180
Source: Brand Finance