Pharma marketing salaries veer off track, dropping 2.6% in 2016

Illustration credit: Mattias Mackler

In conversations with HR execs and office heads at companies all over the pharma, device, and healthcare spectrum, a picture is painted of an industry that can't hire qualified people fast enough. Even as they rhapsodize about their existing personnel, those HR execs speak in reverent tones about poaching social media aces from the consumer world and masters of mobile and digital from Google, Facebook, and the like. They do everything but overtly come out and say, “If you're good, you can name your price. We'll meet it.”

This would suggest an industry in the throes of an imminent salary spike. It all comes down to simple supply and demand, right? The more vacancies and needs, the better the professional (and financial) fortunes of anyone who can fill those gaps.

Thus it comes as no small surprise that, per the 953 respondents to MM&M's exclusive 2016 Career and Salary Survey, sponsored by Sudler New York, the average salary for healthcare marketers declined during 2016 — to $139,200 from $142,900 in 2015, a drop of 2.6%. More troubling, for all the industry chatter about plans to combat the discrepancy between men's and women's salaries, a huge gender gap persists. While the average salary for women nudged upward by 0.6% in 2016 (from $123,800 to $124,500), it remains considerably below the average salary for men ($154,100, down 2.4% from $158,000 in 2015). (See Fig. 3.)



Alas, nobody has much to say about the ongoing gender disparity in salary. When asked about it, corporate and holding company higher-ups tend to respond with a panicked “uhhh …” before mumbling something along the lines of “that's not the situation here” and changing the topic. It's probably a good thing that the gender gap has become the conversational equivalent of a live wire, but good luck getting anyone to go on record about concrete initiatives.

Beyond that, HR heads and placement execs describe the current career and salary environment as one that's rife with opportunity, for employees and employers alike. “It's crazy and wonderful at the same time,” says Julia Missaggia, director, human resources at CMI/Compas.

Read what the respondents to the 2015 Career and Salary Survey had to say.

“Maybe at some point the talent pool in this industry was so large that everyone thought they could get what they need,” Missaggia says, “but now the competition has ramped up. If you're going to be an employer of choice, you'd better embrace change fast.”

FCB Health's chief talent officer, Lisa DuJat, agrees, adding that the current “hot market” for talent is forcing companies to reorient their approaches, especially as it pertains to entry-level employees. “College grads who want to go into advertising will say that they're not interested in healthcare, that they don't find it sexy enough. [The industry] can't do enough to address that,” she says.

From the Editor's Desk: Five-Figure Salaries. Big Hair. Pharma, 1987

At the same time, Sudler New York MD John Marchese believes that these personnel challenges are hardly insurmountable. “In terms of finding talent, the tough decision is not to look in the same places where you've always looked,” he says.

Marchese points to his firm's recent success in attracting account-services staff from other lines of work as an example: “Are you willing to admit that there may be people in other industries who could be great at this? We can teach somebody our industry,” he points out.


That context duly provided, the results of the 2016 Career and Salary Survey, sponsored by Sudler New York, suggest more than a few pockets of strength. You have to gaze past the big flashing “Salaries Down!” headline to find them, of course, but they're there for anyone who looks closely.

See also: Sudler New York's John Marchese on the New Talent Pool

It's worth considering, for example, whether the big jumps in average salary in 2013 (when it rose from $132,600 to $143,600) and 2015 (from $135,700 to $142,900) might have been statistical hiccups. Otherwise, as evidenced in Fig. 1, there's a consistent upward salary trajectory starting in 2011 ($129,000) and continuing through 2016. Are there consistent double-digit percentage leaps of the sort seen in, say, the tech industry? No, but neither is there the depressing downward grind seen within any number of other businesses.


The news is similarly of a mixed-bag nature when one looks at the results for average salary by type of employer (see Fig. 2). MM&M's survey base leaned heavily toward manufacturer- and agency-side employees (respectively, 378 and 290 of the 953 respondents), both of whom reported taking a salary hit. The former saw average salary decline by nearly 10%, to $152,000; the latter experienced a decline of 1.6%, to $137,300. On the plus side, media-HCP and consumer workers enjoyed a 6.7% boost (to an average salary of $119,600) and service suppliers saw a 5.8% bump (to $129,800).

There were no such winners within the average salary by market sector (see Fig. 4). The salary decreases ranged from 2.1% within Rx pharmaceuticals (to $146,000) to 12.4% within diagnostics to 30.5% within dental products. If you look at it from a certain angle, perhaps you can see a correlation in and around the data for average salary by company revenue (see Fig. 5). 

See also: The industry's winning — and losing — job titles, based on 2016 salaries

The only increases were seen by respondents who toil at companies that generate less than $5 million in revenue (up 1.9%, to $135,300). Their average salaries, in fact, trump the $122,100 (down 5.3%) reported by employees at $5 million to $20 million companies and the $132,400 (down 3.4%) reported by employees at $50 million to $100 million companies. Not surprisingly, workers at companies with more than $100 million in revenue fared the best overall — an average salary of $151,700, even as that sum tumbled 5.4% from 2015 levels.


As usual, C-level and other high-up execs reported the most lucrative salaries, as well as the greatest gains against the year-ago period. CEOs saw their salaries rise 11.1%, to $223,000, while presidents enjoyed a 9.6% spike, to $264,200. Similarly large increases went to VPs, marketing ($227,500, up 7.6%), and EVPs ($267,500, up 9.1%). Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.


Whatever issues survey takers have with their current paychecks, they don't mirror perceived job advancement prospects (see Fig. 6). Across all types of employers, respondents are decidedly optimistic about their professional arcs: Nearly 80% ranked their advancement prospects as either “excellent” or “good,” compared with 15.4% who ranked their advancement prospects as “poor.” This general trend held for employees on the manufacturer side of the business (51.4% excellent/good, 18% poor), at agencies (60.6% excellent/good, 11.8% poor), and within the service supplier realm (53.3% excellent/good, 18.2% poor).


Finally, most respondents can't be too upset with their current state of professional affairs, given that a majority plan to stay put for the next year. Queried whether they would seek a new job during the next 12 months (see Fig. 7), 39.4% of respondents said they wouldn't and 31.7% said they would. The yes/no breakdown was only close among employees who work for manufacturers; 35.7% of those workers plan to seek a new gig during the year ahead and 36.5% don't. Perhaps this has something to do with the nearly 10% drop in average salary among staffers at such organizations?

Methodology and respondent characteristics

MM&M readers were invited to fill out the online Career and Salary Survey, sponsored by Sudler New York, in July 2016. Of the 953 qualified respondents, 378 were employed by ­manufacturers (pharma, ­biotech, devices, diagnostics), 290 by agencies, 129 by healthcare media, and 156 by suppliers or vendors; 196 classified themselves as “other”; 473 respondents were male and 480 were female; the average age was 44.3. Respondents' average time spent in the industry was 15 years and their average time spent in their current job was 4.5 years.