Thought Leadership

A ‘radical rethink’ on salaries needed to stem talent drain

New research from the Advertising Association underlines that the industry needs to increase its focus on attracting and retaining talent.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


When the creative industries discuss whether advertising pays, more often than not that conversation is centred on the return on investment of campaigns. Yet what if that same scrutiny was applied to careers: does an advertising career pay enough to attract and retain the best talent?

Salary stagnation is identified as a key issue for the industry to address in a new research report, Investing in Our Talent’s future revealed at LEAD today (Wednesday 25th January). 

After inflation, ad spend has increased by 42% since 2011 while average annual advertising and marketing salaries have decreased over the same period; down by 4% and 10% respectively. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, this is an important reflection point for leaders. The research underlines that “uncompetitive salary levels and salary progression” are impacting the sector. 

In 2019, there were an estimated 3,500 hard-to-fill vacancies across advertising and market research companies. This number is likely to have increased significantly since the pandemic. The report warns: “A radical long-term rethink on salaries is something that will need serious consideration if we are to compete with other industries for talent over the next 10 years.”

Salary stagnation needs attention

The report warns that the industry needs to have a ‘serious conversation’ about salary potential. “Current salaries within the industry are not high enough to persuade potential talent to join the industry. With the cost-of-living crisis placing a greater emphasis on salary, our approach towards employee pay will need re-evaluation.”

The report points to the challenge of ambitious people leaving to join higher-earning adjacent industries. “Some may find it difficult to shake the fact that as workloads increase, many remain on the same wages. 

When you scratch the surface of many of the UK’s advertising agencies, the top of the business agenda is boosting staff morale. For while headlines might point to the headwinds of the recession as a natural full stop for the talent crisis; a creative crisis of confidence is afoot.

The importance of investing in talent was top of the agenda for Advertising Association President and Tesco Chief Customer Officer, Alessandra Bellini, at LEAD today. Revealing a new talent report, Investing in Our Talent’s Future, Bellini highlighted the industry’s need to address its talent shortage in two key areas. Firstly through better attraction and recruitment of new talent and secondly through better development and retention of existing talent.

Talent shortages are widely reported across the industry. We can get better, both at attracting and recruiting new people, and at developing and retaining our talent, to the benefit of all who work in our industry.

Alessandra Bellini, President, Advertising Association, and Chief Customer Officer, Tesco

Tackling the advertising industry’s talent drain

The Advertising Association is urging the industry to support this mission with practical actions (see box below). Plans already afoot include a campaign to promote advertising as a career choice to young people, a central industry hub for professional skills training, increased successful uptake of the apprenticeship scheme and support on best practices around hybrid working. 

The report includes data from Credos that underlines this problem is only set to intensify.  The number of people working in advertising and marketing fell by 14% between 2019 and 2022, while HR leaders advised skills shortages were most acute at entry-level and at mid-level (people 3-5 years into their careers). With fewer people entering the industry these skills shortages will only increase over time unless tackled. 

Digital and data skills are most in demand, a problem faced by the wider UK business sector.

Alessandra Bellini, President, Advertising Association, and Chief Customer Officer, Tesco, explained: “Talent shortages are widely reported across the industry and this new report highlights two major areas of focus for collective effort. We can get better, both at attracting and recruiting new people, and at developing and retaining our talent, to the benefit of all who work in our industry.”

She continued: “We need every organisation to support these goals, and to also put the fullest weight possible behind the cross-industry workstreams. These all serve to improve the industry’s proposition to talent, new and existing, to come and work in our industry.”

Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive, Advertising Association, added: “Working with our members on our new three-year plan to make our industry more trusted, more inclusive, and more sustainable will be key to attracting and retaining the very best talent. People want to be proud of the industry in which they work and to be confident that they can learn and grow throughout their career. This report demonstrates how much collective ambition and opportunity there is to improve our performance, from entry level through to every stage of career development.”

Bellini also unveiled the trade body’s updated mission, which is: The Advertising Association unites the UK’s advertising industry to promote the role and rights of responsible advertising – advertising that is trusted, inclusive and sustainable – and its value to people, society, businesses, and the economy.

Bellini renewed the Association’s commitment to making the case for advertising through its work on Public Trust, Inclusion, Climate Action, Exports Growth, Media Literacy for Young People, and support for the industry’s key policy areas with government and urged all organisations in the industry to give full support. 

As the cost of living crisis continues to take both an emotional and economic toll on employees progressive creative companies are embracing the opportunity to offer their staff greater flexibility and control of their careers. From Publicis Groupe’s much-copied ‘work from anywhere’ policy to AMV BBDO’s industry leading ‘Life Changes’ policy, smart companies increasingly recognise that ‘business as usual’ approach to attracting and retaining top talent simply isn’t an option.

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