Gabberissue #10: Money

Gabberissue #10: Money

Esther Clerehan interviewed by Siobhan Fitzgerald
GIF by Divya Singh

As the song goes, Money money money money…. Money. But creatives are often singing another tune when they’re looking for a job: Love, love me do? I would do anything for love? Is my love enough?

For people who spend most of our lives selling stuff, we’re notoriously bad with money, whether that’s saving what we’ve got, or knowing what we’re worth.

We turned to guru recruiter Esther Clerehan for the cold hard truth about… Money money money money… Money.


SF: Let’s start at the bottom of the food chain. Are unpaid internships still the norm in advertising, and at what stage should an intern be comfortable demanding a salary?

EC: Any agency that hires interns to do what is regarded as "productive work" without pay is at risk of breaching workplace laws, unless that work experience or internship is directly tied to a TAFE or Uni for credits.  

Not so long ago unpaid or underpaid creative internships were endemic in our industry under the guise of various “launch pads”.

I'm glad to see the back of them, mainly because it meant excluding talent who couldn't afford to work for free. 

All graduates and juniors should expect a salary to begin. At lowest it would be around $45K but if they have won early awards, or have relevant, billable experience, their starting salary can go quite a bit higher. The highest starting salaries I have seen are $75K+.

SF: Many creatives feel they need to change jobs to get a pay rise, unless they've recently won a swathe of awards. Do you think that is true?

EC: Well of course I am going to say yes ;) Seriously though, any good ECD keeps an eye on salaries, especially for juniors. Their pay should be a series of smaller bumps as they progress. The rule of thumb is cost of replacement; ie it is generally cheaper to look after existing employees than to recruit new ones.  

But if your money stalls and the agency doesn’t look like they are in a position to keep you at market value, then moving jobs is a good option. 

SF: What advice would you give to a creative wanting to request a pay rise? 

EC: Be discreet. Agencies will do anything to avoid a run on the bank, especially when there is a wage freeze on. And pick a good time. The agency should be in good financial shape (like after a successful pitch). Obviously you should have a rationale that makes it clear that you are underpaid.  

If you already have another job offer, be careful using it as leverage to get more money. Sometimes it works, sometimes it burns bridges at both agencies.

SF: What are the pay brackets you would normally work to for the various creative roles?

 EC: These are really, really broad. There’s a lot of variables.

1. Junior $45 - $70    

2. Midweight  $75 - $120   

3.Senior $120 - $180  

4. ACD   $150 - $200

5. CD $ 200 - $350  

6. ECD $ 250 - 500++

7. CCO $ 500+++ 

SF: What about the gender pay gap? 

EC: Creatives are generally paid according to their skills, experience, awards and market timing. 

But while I have seen plenty of men whom I would regard as overpaid over the years, I haven’t clocked many women.

One reason is when women try to balance family life with work. Historically agencies have not provided a ladder that allows creative women both advancement and flexibility. However, not all women have children or require flexible working hours.

Another theory I have has to do with the rise of award shows.

About 25 years ago, Cannes started adding categories and it triggered something of a nuclear arms race for networks and agencies.

Let’s just say that gaming the system turned into an art form that many men embraced. And for whatever reason, women have always been less likely to indulge in scam work.

Despite being every bit as capable and creative, to this day women win fewer awards than men.  

Salaries for award-winning creatives became inflated, and these same creatives were propelled into leadership positions entirely on the basis of their being “hot”.  Then like hired like. Until the proportion of women in creative departments and on award juries became an obvious problem.

Now we have Cannes cutting categories and agencies actively addressing gender balance. In this climate it’s far less likely for women creatives to be underpaid.

However if creatives do think that they are paid below their worth, it’s pretty easy to check via apps like GlassDoor and Fishbowl, or through job listings (including on the agency’s own website), and finally by talking to external recruiters, all will help to provide an accurate gauge. 

You should love your job, but you shouldn’t be in it for the love alone.

You should love your job, but you shouldn’t be in it for the love alone.

SF: At what stage do creatives start to get too expensive? Is there a figure we should be working to, in order to stay employable and enjoy career longevity?

EC: There’s not a $$ number which will keep you safe from cutbacks. But certainly having a very high salary will stick out like a stabilo whenever the numbers are being crunched. Salary will be weighed against things like output, client relationships, pitch skills, etc.  Having deep experience in the main categories such as telco, finance, big retail, pharma, etc should help build immunity.

Senior creatives who have clients demanding that they work on their business are the safest.

One reason for cutting back seniors is that agencies have not worked out how to charge for them.

Cost of replacement might mean that the ECD can get a team for the price of one salary. Yet the output of that senior salary might be more than that of a mid/junior team. ECDs, especially newish ones, might simply want to change their department. 

This article sheds some light on senior salaries and the antiquated way most agencies bill.

SF: Freelancing can pay very well, but it is often at the expense of your book. Is there any advice you would have for someone wanting to quit their full-time job for a freelance lifestyle?  

EC: Freelance rates have stagnated, and even declined in recent years. Agencies prefer to place freelancers on their payroll and baulk at paying much more than a salary. Thirty years ago freelancers could get $1000 per day and now it’s rare for them to get more than $800 per day, and never for a long-term stint.  

In some cases the freelance rate can even be lower than a full time salary and that’s pretty scary.

One trap to avoid is agreeing to a lower rate for a short stint and then getting stuck on that rate for an extended time. You need to be very clear upfront and work out contingencies for contract extensions. Also consider deals like offering a lower rate for pitches with a bonus if the pitch is successful.

Do your research. Talk to established freelancers about how they operate successfully. Get files of jobs you worked on in good time and keep your portfolio up to date.

SF: What are your thoughts on a remittance model that bills for ideas over hours? Do you know of agencies (or people) who have successfully implemented this way of working?  

EC: Value pricing or project fees usually work out well for everybody but it’s still not the norm. Most agencies operate on head hours, most freelancers on day rates or pro-rated salaries. Freelancers tend to agree to a day rate as a way of being given multiple assignments thus increasing their chances of lengthening the stint.

If you need a pay-rise at a new agency you can talk to Esther.

Responsible chats

Responsible chats

Gift of the Gabberer: Ben Lilley

Gift of the Gabberer: Ben Lilley