Picture: 123RF/Hyejin Kang
Picture: 123RF/Hyejin Kang

Ad industry salaries have largely remained static in the past 12 months as the sector fights to hold on to accounts, faces diminishing marketing budgets and has in some cases been forced to retrench staff.

This picture emerges from specialist recruitment agency Ad Talent Africa’s Salary Survey 2021: Who Earns What in Adland & Marketing in SA.

An agency MD with over five years’ management experience can expect to earn a minimum of R150,000 a month in Joburg and about R130,000 in Cape Town. An MD with two to five years’ experience will earn R100,000-R150,000 a month and between R90,000 and R150,000 in Cape Town.

These salary scales for the 2021 study are much the same as last year’s, and are not at all surprising.

"Last year was brutal, with salary freezes and even reductions," says a veteran midsize agency owner. "The next year is going to be much the same as the marketing spend pipeline begins to open slowly. The ad industry right now is not a place where a young, ambitious leader is going to make a lot of money. We are all in for a long, tough haul."

Ad Talent points out that its survey is not prescriptive but a report on its own placement work over a year. The figures are based on monthly cost to company.

Another agency boss tells the FM it is the two-to five-year band for an MD that is worrying. "It’s long been a trend that many successful agency leaders eventually find a home in the client space, which is much better paid. That means people leading agencies these days do not necessarily have as much experience as the job demands. If that two-to five-year tier is not seeing high salary growth potential, then the upshot is a vacuum in the C-suite of agencies, and that has an impact on growth and profitability."

The beating heart of any successful agency is its studio and the people who lead it. Again, there has been little if any salary movement over the past year at chief creative officer (CCO) level. In Joburg, negotiations start at about R108,000 and in Cape Town at R100,000. In recent years, many top-flight CCOs have gone the independent route and hired out their services on a project basis, both locally and internationally.

As more advertising migrates online, digital creative directors and digital copywriters are coming into their own, with the former looking at a salary of about R82,000 in Joburg and R65,000 in Cape Town. Good digital copywriters in Joburg are asking for R70,000 per month.

"This is the one sweet spot for many in the industry. It is a scarce skill and one in demand, and if the person has a strategic brain there is more money on the table," says a digital agency head. "I suspect R70,000 is an opener; if they’re good they can write their own ticket if they haven’t been snapped up by clients already." In that respect, data analytics is a skill in high demand and agencies are prepared to pay a little more these days than the R70,000 per month survey numbers.

Ad agencies should also be looking more closely at what they are paying the "suits", or client-facing staff. A business unit director’s salary in Joburg is about R66,000 a month and R60,000 in Cape Town. It is often a thankless job, balancing the expectations of brand managers against the output skill of agency creative and strategic staff. The reality is that many good client service staff find better-paid jobs with their clients and can then deftly exploit agency deficits because they have been there.

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