2015 Career & Salary Survey: Dollar Signs

Average salaries are up—that's good! Salary gender disparity remains—that's bad! What other takeaways can be gleaned from the data revealed by respondents to MM&M 's annual Career & Salary Survey? Larry Dobrow gets inside the numbers

Illustration: A. E. Kieren
Illustration: A. E. Kieren

When confronted with the huge mass of data compiled via MM&M 's annual Career & Salary Survey, there's an inclination to look for an easy headline stat and a corresponding bit of color. You know, like “salaries across the industry surge 35%! Popcorn for everybody!” Or “industry-wide, 77.5% of employees anticipate that they will seek out a new gig during the next year. Barkeep, cancel that popcorn!”

Alas, in research exercises of this ilk, there are usually far more tinges of gray than bursts of black and white. And so, faced with the absence of an attention-grabbing finding, allow us to deliver the big-picture results from this year's Career & Salary Survey in rat-a-tat fashion. Per the 1,081 respondents, salaries have nudged upward. Employees are keener on their advancement prospects than they were last year. And the higher salaries and optimism about advancement prospects have apparently blunted employees' professional wanderlust, with a majority reporting that they plan to stay put for the next 12 months.

Each of these results comes with a caveat or eight, of course. Salaries are up … but not for product managers, who saw their average salary plummet 19% during the last year, to $89,300. What were some of the other titles with a double-digit dip, you ask? President (down 12%, per 39 respondents) and CEO (down 13.8%, per 33 respondents), to the moderately livable annual wages of $241,100 and $200,700, respectively. Similarly, agency workers buck the stick-around trend, with slightly more (31.9%) reporting that they plan to seek a new job than not (31.6%). In other words: Exceptions abound.

With that in mind, the obvious place to start is with average salary across all jobs and sectors, which increased to $142,900 from $135,700 in 2014, a 5.3% jump (see fig. 1). While the 2015 sum slightly lags behind the 2013 one ($143,600), nobody's going to complain about the upward macro trend. Too, the gains appear to be spread around: Marketing, media and biz-development workers all enjoyed increases, albeit from what can be interpreted from small sample sizes. VPs/marketing reported an average salary of $211,400, up 17.2% versus the year-ago period; media directors reported $115,200, up 16%; and directors, new business development reported $168,000, up 8.4%.

For the most part, healthcare and pharma employees are earning more regardless of the type of employer for which they work (see fig. 2). Manufacturer-side workers saw their average salary rise to $168,500, up 8.4% over 2014, while agency ones enjoyed a 7.8% jump, to $139,500. Media/HCP & consumer execs experienced the biggest increase (16.7%, to $112,100), with service supplier employees right behind (13%, to $122,700).

The two trend-buckers? Media/consumer workers (a 21% drop, to $86,800) and media/HCP ones ($114,800, no change year over year). The difference in average salary between media/HCP & consumer employees (up) and media/consumer (down) and media/HCP (flat) could suggest a trend away from specialization. Indeed, jacks-of-all-media-trades appear to be more rewarded and feel more highly valued than their single-discipline peers. At least for now, anyway.

One trend, sadly, that doesn't appear to be reversing itself is the pay discrepancy between male and female workers (see fig. 3). While women's salaries grew at a faster pace than those of their male counterparts—6% to 2.6%—the average man's salary still exceeds the average woman's salary by a whopping $34,700: $158,500 for men, $123,800 for women. For the math-challenged among us, that means men in the business earn 28% more than women do.

It's become an annual ritual to flag this shameful figure—or, rather, this continuing series of shameful figures—in the story that accompanies MM&M 's Career & Salary Survey results. And yes, it's not exactly an apples-versus-apples comparison: Many of the industry's highest-paying gigs—CEO, president, EVP and sales director—are inordinately male-staffed, with men occupying at least 75% of those posts. It's worth noting, too, that the same discrepancies exist in many other professions and industries.

That said, if there's a way to spin this that doesn't include the words “pharma marketing appears to have a gender inequality problem,” we don't know what it is. People in and around healthcare marketing are aware of the data and, usually following its late-September publication, get in touch to affirm that they're addressing it—honest, they are! And that's great. But let's withhold the pats on the back until the salary data reflect actual equality.

Breaking down average salary by market sector (see fig. 4) returns us to a more positive place. Last year, not a single sector posted an increase against the previous year; percentage drops ranged from 3.3% (for Rx pharmaceuticals) to 47.6% (for dental products). In 2015, however, nearly every sector recaptured much of what it had lost. Dental products rebounded with a 45% jump, to an average salary of $145,900, which is likely attributable to statistical quirks relating to sample size. The other gains appear more solid, whether the 9% growth in managed care ($133,000 average salary), the 7.9% surge in hospital products ($137,300) or the 9.9% spike in diagnostics ($145,400). Only OTC pharmaceuticals, with a 1.5% decline to $136,600, experienced a continuation of last year's downward trend.

As far as surprises go, the results offered few beyond the ones that emerged when analyzing the average salary by company revenue data (see fig. 5). At least according to survey respondents, it turns out that company revenue may not be the main determining factor in salary levels. Employees at companies with revenue of less than $5 million earn more ($132,800, up 14.8% over last year) than those at companies with revenue of $5 million to $20 million ($129,000, up 7.5%). Similarly, workers at companies with $20 to $50 million in revenue outpace their counterparts at companies with $50 to $100 million in revenue, $141,300 (up 0.7%) to $137,000 (up 7.9%).

Finally, it's worth noting that for all the tumult within the industry—note last month's Challenger, Gray & Christmas job data, which reported 6,632 pharma job cuts during the first eight months of 2015—respondents are largely a satisfied lot. 85.5% of employees said they were either “thoroughly” or “generally” satisfied with their gigs, up 3.5% from last year. For the first time since 2012, the percentage of individuals who plan to stay in their current job (40.7%) exceeds the percentage who plan to test the market (31.5%) (see fig. 7). And employees are exceedingly optimistic about their advancement prospects, with 52.2% ranking them as “excellent” or “good” and only 20.5% ranking them as “poor.” This holds across type of employer, size of company, you name it.

Does much of the cheery news in the previous paragraph have something to do with the higher salaries? Almost certainly. That said, in 2013, the year in which the Career & Salary Survey reported its highest-ever average salary figure, such numbers that reflect job satisfaction weren't anywhere near as high. For this, pharma employers deserve no small measure of praise; it's not easy to maintain a high level of employee satisfaction at a time when competitive pressures remain punishing. Good on them.

Methodology and respondent characteristics

MM&M readers were invited to fill out the online 

Career & Salary Survey in August 2015. Of the 1,081 qualified respondents, 347 were employed by manufacturers (pharma, biotech, devices, diagnostics), 356 by agencies, 83 by healthcare media and 99 by suppliers or vendors; 196 classified themselves as “other”; 594 respondents were male and 487 were female; the average age was 46 years. Respondents' average time spent in the industry was 16.2 years and their average time spent in their current job was 5.6 years. Within the PDF that can be downloaded at mmm-online.com, readers will find data sets for selected job titles. To access the full complement of job titles—plus hundreds of additional insights and data sets—download the MM&M Career & Salary Survey Premium Edition (available on this site).


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