To purchase this year’s Premium Career and Salary Survey, which includes ALL of the data in a sortable Excel file, please click here.
Hiring managers, get ready. A winter of discontent could be heading your way.
The annual MM+M/AbelsonTaylor Career and Salary Survey reveals a growing sense of dissatisfaction, shaped both by new financial pressures and the increasingly disconnected reality of remote work.
The average salary among our respondents fell a bit, falling to $173,000, from $175,700 last year. But thanks to inflation, most respondents are keenly aware that, relatively speaking, their salaries have declined a lot.
“I recently did the calculations. Even though I’ve gotten promotions and decent raises, I’m making less now than when I started four years ago,” reports one survey respondent, an account director at a large agency. “Inflation has been that bonkers.”
While the account director loves his boss, his accounts and his company’s culture, he says he’s likely to look for a new job soon, knowing that it’s the most likely path to a larger paycheck.
“That’s been my frustration with agency life since I started,” he continues. “You need to skip around to climb the ladder, rather than staying and doing well in one place.”
Another agency employee, also mulling a change of venue, agrees. “You’d think that instead of being all about hiring top talent, companies would learn that they should invest the talent they’ve already got.”
These individuals are not alone. In this year’s results, about 80% of respondents say they are thoroughly or generally satisfied with their jobs, down from 85% in last year’s survey and 83% in the prior year.
About 43% perceive their pay as worse than their peers — which explains why more people are likely to look for new work, with 31% planning a job hunt, up sharply from 22% last year. Among those working at agencies, it’s much higher: 44% say they’re tuning up their résumés.
That may indicate that job disenchantment in the world of medical marketing is more intense than in other lines of work. A recent survey from PwC finds that just 20% of workers (across all fields and in 44 countries) plan to look for a new position this year.
Their No. 1 motivation to leave is the promise of a higher salary. Benefits and company culture tie for second place, followed by job security and the possibility of advancement.
Even the latter possibility is seen as diminishing by Career and Survey Salary respondents, albeit slightly: About 19% describe the potential for promotion as excellent, down from 22% last year.
It’s important to note that, on balance, they like their employers. Respondents say they value their current company’s excellent reputation; it’s the trait that matters most to them. They also give their companies high marks for the training they administer, the way they support remote workers, the productive working environments they create and their development of meaningful corporate cultures.
But the reality of remote work, now made permanent by so many companies, makes it easier to move on. “We need more in-person interaction,” says a respondent based in the Midwest. He is fully remote, an option offered to 80% of survey respondents.
“I have no interest in having to go into the office regularly, although I do travel to accounts. But I’ve spoken to my company’s leadership about this. We need to find more ways to build in-person connections,” he explains.
Without those bonds? It’s just too easy to take the next recruiter’s call. And with a record number of job openings throughout the life sciences world and the widespread perception of an industry-wide talent drought, those calls come more and more often.
“I’m very happy here,” says a payer account manager at a large pharmaceutical company. He makes $195,000 a year and receives a bonus of 20%, stock options, hefty contributions to his retirement account and a car. He’s well aware that he is as well paid as his peers.
Even still, he admits that it’s kind of a thrill to know all those vacancies have given him the upper hand. “When recruiters contact me, if I click ‘Interested in learning more,’ I’ll have someone calling me back that day.”
Dollars and numbers
This year, more than 350 people gave us a glimpse at their paychecks. Their average age is 46.2 years, with the youngest 24 and the oldest 82. Nine percent identify as a person of color and 4% describe themselves as LGBTQ.
The vast majority, 78%, receive some type of bonus and 11% earn commissions. (Those who earn commissions have a slightly lower average salary, at $162,300.)
Of the respondents, 46% percent work at ad agencies, 24% at drug manufacturers and 5% in ad tech. By sector, 65% work in pharmaceuticals, 27% in devices and 25% in biotech.
Those working on products or accounts in the digital therapeutics space earn the most, at $197,100. Biotech workers come next, at $187,500, followed by individuals working in hospital supplies ($185,900), pharmaceuticals ($180,400), OTC ($177,800) and managed care ($167,400). People working in media or publishing, about 2% of our sample, make $121,800.
The largest percentage of respondents, 38%, work at the biggest companies, with annual revenue of more than $100 million. Some 26% work at $20 million to $100 million companies. The rest work in smaller businesses, including 21% at $5 million to $20 million enterprises and 14% at companies generating less than $5 million a year.
The bigger the business, the beefier the paycheck. Those at $100 million-plus companies average $188,200.
Rank translates to cash. Those with the most senior titles, including president and C-suite roles, make $261,100. EVPs and VPs average $223,600. Those at the director level earn $166,900 and sales and marketing managers earn $116,100.
While the opportunity to work remotely is the most common offered benefit (at 80% of respondents), 65% report that they receive company-paid medical, 53% company-paid dental and 55% mental health support. Unlimited vacation also continues to gain as a perk, now available to 27% of respondents.
On average, respondents have spent close to six years in their current position. About 34% have been promoted into their current position, while 19% found work through an executive recruiter, 30% by themselves and 10% through direct outreach by their company.
Those numbers stack up neatly against how they plan to find their next job. Most say they’ll use existing networks as the first avenue to more lucrative work, followed by recruitment agencies, job ads and contacting companies directly.
If national trends hold for the life sciences business, employees will likely have plenty of motivation to look. While inflation has topped 8% for much of the year, a recent survey of HR managers in multiple industries shows average annual salary increases have only been 4.8%.
The failure of wages to keep pace with inflation is exacerbated by the salary review cycle. While 74% of respondents receive annual salary reviews, 23% get them less frequently — some only every other year. That’s not much help at a time when the prices of a loaf of bread and pound of hamburger jump by the week.
It’s also evident to our respondents that the playing field is getting less level, despite all the talk about evening out gender and racial disparities. Men continue to out-earn women by the absurd sums of $194,400 to $156,000. Indeed, the pay gap widened this year by another $2,000. Not surprisingly, women, who accounted for 54% of respondents, are far more likely (48% versus 37% for men) to see themselves as underpaid.
Despite widespread industry efforts to foster diversity, Career and Salary Survey respondents see mixed results. While 84% report they detect general progress, 47% say they’ve seen no improvement in hiring people of color at the C-suite level. Eighteen percent say the same is true of adding women.
Interestingly, women are far more likely to call BS on diversity initiatives than their male counterparts. For instance, 50% of women say their companies have made no progress in C-suite diversity, compared to 28% of men. Similarly, 56% of women say their organizations have made little progress in hiring people of color, while only 37% of men agree.
The great contemplation
Quiet quitting. Work/life balance. Purpose-driven careers. All the respondents we spoke with say the pandemic era’s catchphrases have caused them to think about their lives and jobs differently.
For one thing, the national trend of career-shifting has made people in medical marketing and media aware that they have options beyond decamping to the next agency or pharma gig. A recent study from Pew Research Center reports that of all the people who quit their jobs during the supposed Great Resignation, 53% changed fields entirely.
Several survey respondents say that, at least theoretically, they can imagine that level of change.
“I feel a little frustrated at being underpaid,” one admits. “I’ve got a Ph.D., so compared to many people my age in the agency world, I already feel six years behind. I’m eager to catch up — even if leaving the field is the only way to do it.”
Another pharma exec reports that his company is dangling an early retirement package. He knows he could easily find work at another competitor or as a consultant; he has already turned down one job offer. Instead, he’s toying with the idea of volunteering or local politics.
Remote work has allowed many people to remain with their organizations and still find some level of reinvention. “I don’t have a mortgage, so I’ve spent the last year or so traveling, living in Airbnbs around the country. It works fine with my job,” one says.
Another moved to a state with lower taxes, putting him closer to family and, given the abundance of outdoor recreation, worlds away from midtown Manhattan.
“In a way, I gave myself a big raise just by leaving New York,” he says.
But even those who plan to look for work have developed a pandemic-forged sense of realism, aware that more money often comes at a price they’re unwilling to pay.
“I like my clients and my team, and the work/life balance I’ve got,” says a VP/medical director for a large agency network. He makes $190,000 plus bonus and is confident he could find a job that pays significantly more.
“But I’ve got small kids,” the exec adds. “I’m not willing to jump to a new job without being careful. It’s not worth it to me to make $30,000 more a year if it means I’ve got to start working 60-hour weeks.”
The loyalty link
One thing that seems to be anchoring people to their current posts? Commitment to their colleagues.
“It feels good to be part of a cohesive team,” says a survey respondent. “That’s what creates loyalty. People don’t want to stay with a company. They want to stay with the people they work with.”
And while it’s harder to build those personal connections and relationships while working remotely, respondents appreciate that it is possible, even if it takes more effort.
“People are the most important things in terms of overall happiness,” another says. “I’m lucky in that I have a good relationship with my supervisor and she’s a great advocate for our team.”
The respondent gives his company medium-to-high marks for working to make every employee feel connected, valued and recognized.
“We’re cameras-on for most meetings,” he says. “There’s a little time before and after for small talk. Those little things make a big difference along the way, because I feel like part of the team, not just a number.”
A total of 352 marketers (151 men and 193 women) responded to the survey, which was fielded in July and August. *
The average age of respondents was 46.2 years, with 82 the oldest and 24 the youngest.
Media/publisher – HCP: 1.4%
Media/publisher – Consumer: 0.9%
Media/publisher – All: 2.3%
Ad Tech: 5.1%
Drug Distributor / Wholesaler: 1.1%
Supplier / Vendor: 2.0%
Rx pharmaceuticals: 64.8%
OTC pharmaceuticals: 14.5%
Medical devices/Equip.: 27.0%
Hospital products/Equip.: 8.8%
Dental products/Equip.: 4.0%
Managed care: 9.4%
Digital therapeutics/digital medicines: 11.6%Other: 13.6%
Gross U.S. revenue
<$5 million: 13.7%
$5 – $19.9 million: 20.7%
$20 – $49.9 million: 13.8%
$50 – $99.9 million: 12.4%
>$100 million: 38.0%
Average years in position
Prefer not to disclose: 2.3%
* 8 respondents chose “prefer not to disclose.”
‘The clouds are darkening’
AbelsonTaylor’s Jay Carter analyzes this year’s survey data
I look forward to this time of year. I get the opportunity to opine about the best-read feature in our industry: the annual MM+M/AbelsonTaylor Career + Salary Survey. But honestly, it’s not the analysis where I spend the bulk of my time. It’s writing the headline.
This year, it would be “The clouds are darkening a bit.” And I must say that to me, this is a surprise.
In my mind, the past year seemed a bit brighter. Whether I talk to fellow agency leaders or to clients, the conversations have been upbeat, as our country and our industry have emerged from the shadow of the pandemic.
People seem happier, The Great Resignation has evolved into what Fast Company has dubbed The Great Realignment, and we’re learning to do business in a different and more employee-centric way.
After reviewing some of the topline results from this year’s MM+M/AbelsonTaylor Career + Salary Survey, that’s not what I saw.
In 2021, salaries grew by 7.8% … though they were still almost 5% less than they were in 2019. Salaries went down slightly in 2022, in aggregate about 1.5%. Women were hit harder than men, a drop of 1.8% versus a drop of 0.5%. Manufacturer salaries dipped 9.1%, while agency salaries lost an average of 3.4%. That’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not brighter.
Meanwhile, about 40% more people said that they were planning to look for a new job in the coming year, from 22% to 31%. Clearly, we are not fully “realigned.”
It’s hard to discern why there’s been this shift, as many of the underlying metrics are stable. There was a slight decline in people rating their chances of promotion as excellent, with a resultant increase in good or fair. The same holds true for job satisfaction, where a substantial decline in excellent job satisfaction offset increases in good and fair.
A bright spot in the survey: Women’s salaries versus pre-pandemic levels are dramatically improved, with the average salary 11% higher than pre-pandemic 2019.
The biggest bright spot I can see is this: While there appears to have been a decline in overall salary and morale, the portion of respondents who rated their chances of advancement as poor declined even more. And even in a darkening climate, still 92% of respondents reported that they have job satisfaction — a statistic that I continue to believe is better than most industries in our world.
I know that for myself, and for the many clients, coworkers and friends in our industry with whom I interact regularly, that’s the important part. We get to contribute to driving better health and well-being for people, and not degrade it.
To purchase this year’s Premium Career and Salary Survey, which includes ALL of the data in a sortable Excel file, please click here.