Five-Figure Salaries. Big Hair. Pharma, 1987

Dwelling on the past may not prove healthy or particularly instructive, but a look back at the state of industry salaries and job prospects, circa 1987, gives us perspective on areas of change and where progress is still needed.

When this survey made its MM&M debut, in November 1987, Eli Lilly's Prozac led the list of mass-market drug launches and AIDS therapy had taken a big step forward with the approval of GlaxoSmithKline's AZT, a year earlier.

Upstarts looking to pounce on brands nearing patent expiry, and flourishing therapeutic categories, led to opportunity. “Current conditions are positive in most segments, but favor product management and generic sales,” we noted.

The average salary in medical marketing and sales hit $58,100, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics says is today's equivalent of $123,077. (The average salary has now more than doubled, to $139,200.) President was the highest-paid job (average salary: $101,600), and group publisher was second ($91,900).

At the time, 37% of sample respondents were women. Fast-forward nearly three decades and that percentage has grown to around half (2016 isn't the first time it's crossed the midway point). Moreover, women held 50% or more of the positions in just 11 of the categories in '87, while now there are some 28 categories in which women hold 50% or more of the positions.

And what of the gender gap? Needless to say, it was quite yawning at the time. The job titles least likely to be held by women then included president, EVP, group publisher, and, most certainly, CEO, although the latter wasn't measured as part of the survey.

Virtually all of the media directors, media buyers, and assistant account execs returning the questionnaire were women, whose average salaries were among the lowest.

These days, the sales and product management roles still skew toward men, as do the C-suite positions of president, EVP, and CEO. Some women have come close to, or even pierced, the glass ceiling. It's encouraging that executive directors of marketing, marketing directors, and marketing managers are positions where we now detect an even gender split.

A lack of wild swings isn't always a bad thing. Overall job satisfaction, which hovered near 90% in 1987, hasn't changed much. Thus, over the past 30 surveys, job satisfaction and salaries have largely kept pace. How many other industries can claim that?

For insights from this year's survey, including the latest gauge on the gender gap, read the 2016 Career and Salary Survey, where you will find a range of graphics that give all the facts for a number of job titles.


If 20/20 hindsight is good, 50/50 is even better. Get ready for more commentary on this industry's rich history as we celebrate MM&M's 50th anniversary, beginning in next month's issue.

We'll look at some of the most meaningful moments in key marketing audiences, disciplines, and other topics as we invoke the past in a way that sheds light on the future. So for more perspective (and a little nostalgia), watch this space, both online and in print.

Marc Iskowitz is editor in chief of MM&M. 


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