career and salary survey 2018

If a fortune teller had suggested to you a year or two ago that the average annual salary for medical marketers was about to surge, chances are you would’ve dismissed the prediction without much thought. After all, the then prevailing political and economic headwinds suggested challenging times in store for the industry.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump had taken numerous shots at the industry. At his first news conference as president-elect in January 2017, he elevated his rhetoric, accusing pharma companies of “getting away with murder” on prescription drug pricing. As part of his vow to get prices lowered, he promised his administration would look at allowing importation of drugs from abroad.

Yet once in power, it became clear the new commander in chief was in no hurry to introduce restrictive new policy. When he finally did propose price-lowering measures — in May 2018 — they lacked the bite of his inflammatory campaign pronouncements.

It hasn’t hurt that the economy continues to chug along nicely: A decade after the 2008 financial crisis, GDP growth in Q2 2018 hit 4.1%, the highest figure since 2014.

So here we are — another survey, another milestone. The average salary in the 32nd annual MM&M Career and Salary Survey jumped to its highest sum yet: $164,479 in 2018, exclusive of bonuses and commissions. That’s up from $156,900 in 2017.

While the year-over-year increase of 4.8% easily outpaces inflation, it isn’t a monster jump. However, it comes on the heels of an unprecedented 2017, when the average salary roared past the $150,000 mark for the first time in survey history on incredible 12.7% growth.

Framed another way, average pay has risen an astounding 18.2% over the past two years. On top of that, about the same number of respondents as last year (67.6%) reported receiving a bonus — and the average bonus totaled $37,939.

Gender pay gap still a big issue

At the same time, the industry continues to pay women (average salary of $141,784, down slightly from $144,100 in 2017) less than it pays men ($189,440, up from $171,400). That’s a 33.6% disparity in 2018, versus an 18.9% gap in 2017.

Given increased awareness around the gender imbalance, one would think the difference might have started to narrow. Is there a reason the survey results don’t reflect this?

TBWA\WorldHealth managing partner Kristen Gengaro says there’s no single — or simple — explanation. “Undoubtedly, we’re seeing progress in terms of women in C-suite and leadership roles — with anecdotes of some respected industry leaders who are sourcing for these senior positions focused exclusively on female candidates,” she explains. “So it’s possible it could take a few years for the salary survey data to normalize.”

However, Gengaro adds other factors likely contribute to the ongoing disparity, among them “women who are negotiating for flexible and reduced work schedules versus focusing exclusively on salaries, or women who might have long tenure at a given organization and therefore are not seeing sharp salary increases that often come with moves to new companies.”

Publicis Health recruiting manager Matthew Dolce finds some reason for optimism. “Across the Publicis Health board, the gap is extremely close, if there is a gap at all,” he notes. “But I have my own philosophy [about why there is still a gap industrywide]: Baby boomers are still holding a lot of senior leadership spots. And many of them are male, because they started in the workforce at a time before it was big for women to get in. When we start to see baby boomers leave in the next five to 10 years, you’re going to see a big close in that gap, because these male boomers are taking a lot of the high-level salaries.”

Sitting pretty

The troubling and embarrassing gender salary disparity notwithstanding, a major takeaway from the survey is budgets are flush and healthcare marketing pros think their employers are teeming with capital. Salaries are trending accordingly to attract and retain top talent in a tight job market.

And respondents are feeling pretty comfortable about it. They expressed a high degree of contentment with their current professional status, with 30.0% (a percentage point higher than last year) answering they “thoroughly enjoy” their jobs. Another 50.0% characterized their jobs as “generally satisfying.”

Common sense and a wealth of research data tells us a host of factors combine to create job satisfaction, from environment/culture and job security to advancement and training opportunities. Still, salary was the top factor overall for healthcare marketers, with an average rank of 2.5 (with one being most important). That was followed by environment/culture (2.9), benefits (4.1), job security (4.3), and advancement and loyalty to staff (both 4.6).

In years past, no matter how the economy was performing or the direction in which salaries were trending, the MM&M Career and Salary Survey would show 30.0% to 40.0% of respondents were planning to find a new job. This year bucks that trend: Only 29.4% of respondents said they plan to put themselves in the job market, up slightly from 28.6% in 2017.

This year agency talent feels quite comfortable in their current roles. Typically this is where the industry sees the most movement, but the survey found only 26.4% of agency respondents had designs on looking for a new employer.

One survey result might explain that loyalty: Agency respondents netted out with the highest average pay among healthcare/pharma employers at $177,823. In 2017, agency positions averaged $130,500, so this represents a massive 36.3% uptick.

The tight market is likely forcing agencies to pay more for the best people, Dolce suggests. “I think what has been impacting salaries to a certain extent is job-hopping had become the norm. Every time someone left a position, they expected a much higher wage,” he says. “But as more and more companies create programs to retain talent I think you’ll see salaries balance out. They’ll be getting their yearly merit increases, but not the huge increases that can come from job-hopping.”

That isn’t to suggest agency salaries are up by that much across the board, nor that a position-by-position comparison would show agency salaries have suddenly surpassed manufacturers’, which have historically been the highest. Respondents by employer-type vary by number of years in the business, by gender, by company revenue and, of course, by job title, which helps explain the wide variance. But the data does highlight that agency people are benefiting from current conditions.

Manufacturers’ salaries landed at an average of $172,433, a nominal 0.9% dip from 2017’s sum of $174,100. Meanwhile, supplier/vendor jobs paid an average of $155,138, up significantly from $116,800. Again, a variance in the respondent make-up versus 2017 can help explain the discrepancy, especially given the vendor respondent base is significantly smaller than those of agencies and manufacturers.

Baby steps

Given the salary disparity between men and women, the survey’s results about gender representation in leadership roles are worth a closer look. Data from organizations in various industries indicates companies with more women on their boards or their management teams perform better than those with fewer. However, most research suggests female executives are sorely underrepresented in the upper echelons of the healthcare sector.

In one of last year’s most surprising survey results, 71.0% of respondents said their companies have “made progress including women in the C-suite.” That wasn’t a fluke result: The figure increased to 72.3% this year.

Interestingly, respondents said manufacturers aren’t doing nearly as good a job as agencies in advancing women into the C-suite (67.0% versus 78.8%). However, manufacturers seem to be doing a better job when it comes to diversity. A whopping 84.0% of respondents said their organizations have made progress in this regard, compared to 75.8% of agency respondents.

Still, far fewer respondents both on the agency and manufacturer side (at 57.8% and 51.4%) see that extending to the C-suite. That suggests for all the strides on female representation, employers still have a long way to go overall when it comes to increasing diversity at the highest ranks.

Gengaro, for one, is optimistic that change is on the way. “Data in this same survey suggests fewer women compared to previous years are unhappy in their roles or actively looking for new jobs — so this might reflect research that employee happiness is really based on comprehensive company benefits, versus just salary. There’s still work to be done, but I’m hopeful the real progress is a step ahead of the survey results and we’ll continue to see aggressive career growth and commensurate compensation for women.”

Given rising salaries and job contentment, it is no surprise more than half of survey respondents (54.2%) feel “excellent” or “good” about their career prospects. Only 18.7% ranked them as poor, down from 20.2% in 2017. This leads us to suspect a battle for talent is being waged across the healthcare marketing sector.

To ensure talented execs are being paid what they’re worth in a hot job market, employers seem to be paying close attention to conducting annual salary reviews. In fact, 76.4% said their employer had reviewed their salary in the past 12 months. This likely builds an expectation of regular salary hikes — and tempts those not getting their compensation reviewed to look elsewhere for recognition and increased compensation.

“Talent wants to have reviews,” Dolce says flatly. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come off the phone with a candidate and they haven’t had a review in a year or even two years. They’re going, ‘How does my manager know how I am doing or how I am feeling?’”

When it comes to accepting a new job, better salary/benefits was the primary motivating factor for respondents, followed by better work environment/culture and better advancement prospects. As for benefits, some appear to be trending from nice-to-have status toward must-have.

A majority of respondents have remote staffing/telecommuting/work from home options (63.9%) and medical and dental plans (66.8% and 56.6%), while slightly under half has a company retirement plan (48.1%).

Other popular benefits include a collaborative office space (33.8%), perks such as catered lunches and free workout space (30.5%), company stock (30.2%), and time for pro-bono work (24.1%). Alas, few respondents reported perks including company cars (10.3%) and signing bonuses (9.7%).

Employers looking to win the talent war will have to evaluate benefits as part of their compensation packages. Base pay alone won’t get the job done — because no matter how much you pay people, they’ll still think their pay package falls short of the person in the next workstation. An almost-majority of respondents (46.6%) think “they get paid less” than other individuals in the same position. Only 11.9% (a slightly higher percentage than last year) “think they get paid more.”

Almost 34.0% of survey respondents said they had been promoted into their current position, while 16.0% said they had been recruited. If the industry continues on its impressive growth trajectory, it will be interesting to see if those figures rise in the 2019 survey — and whether salaries will continue to balloon alongside them.


A total of 1,075 marketers (512 men and 563 women) responded to the survey, which was fielded in late July/early August. Average age of respondents was 46.1 years, with 82 as the oldest and 23 as the youngest.

The survey revealed an average industry tenure of 16.9 years, up from 12.6 in 2017. Respondents spent an average of 5.3 years in their current position and hail from a range of organizations, with pharma companies (351) and agencies (368) comprising the bulk of the respondent cohort. Of those organizations, 18.5% have approximate gross U.S. revenue of less than $5 million, 22.0% between $5 million and $20 million, 15.3% between 20 million and $50 million, and 10.2% between $50 million and $100 million, and 34.0% greater than $100 million.