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News Plus 19 Jul 2022 - 5 min read

'Wokeism' works: A recruiter’s agency salary guide – but 'how the f*ck are you going to keep them?'

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Deputy Editor
Lee Simpsons Yay Xavian Kirsty Tavae

L-R: whiteGREY's Lee Simpson, Hello Social's Yay Xavian, and TKR Group's Kirsty Tavae.

Agencies are paying more for talent, and a current price list for roles from executive recruiters TKR Group demonstrates it. "Wokeism" has taken over "massively" in the workplace and TKR's Kirsty Tavae says mentors are an invisible influence in most market movements - 60 per cent of her calls are related to people whose mentor has left.  Although salaries are surging, most still argue keeping people is about more than money. Hello Social's Yay Xavian says social currency - ie cred among friends and peers and key cultural calendar events to rally troops around are vital components. WhiteGrey's CEO, Lee Simpson, says after trying to lure people with office perks, the agency has landed on better balancing remote and home work and culture.

What you need to know: 

  • Kirsty Tavae from TKR Group says most of her agency roles - and there are a lot - are briefing at 10 to 20 per cent higher salaries than a year ago. She shared a list of key roles and how much they're now worth. 
  • But money isn't everything. Why do people leave? It's a mix of burnout, disappointment, and lack of flexibility and social currency. 
  • “The pay bumps make it very hard for the people to move on. They’re now on an inflated salary that takes them out of the running for roles that they would really want,” per Tavae.
  • Hello Social's Yay Xavian - the agency's Director of People & Culture - says the "work has to be sexy, the clients have to be sexy". Good luck Gladwrap.  
  • "This idea of ‘wokeism’ has taken over massively, it’s the only way to keep them really engaged in the work,” says Xavian.
  • WhiteGrey's CEO, Lee Simpson, said they tried enticing people to come back to the office with extras, but it took a more holistic approach to nail the flex/office balance. 

The work has to be sexy. The clients have to be sexy. They can’t work on things they don’t connect with, relate to or stand by.

Yay Xavian, Director of People & Culture, Hello Social

Account Managers are now worth $75,000, Account Directors are $125,000 and Group Account Directors are $180,000 – but money isn’t everything. For today's spoilt-for-choice job candidates, everything is everything. With salaries rising 10 to 20 per cent over the past year, agencies offering increasingly comprehensive lists of perks, and Mediabrands’ Initiative now putting IVF funding on the table, Hello Social’s Director of People and Culture, Yay Xavian, said it best: “You can give them the money, but how the f*ck are you going to keep them?”

A price list

Salaries are rising across every level, Kirsty Tavae, the Managing Director of employment agency TKR Group, said. She’s getting briefed the following salaries from agencies to secure top talent:

  • Account Manager Now briefed at $75,000 (was $60-65,000 Inc) 
  • Senior Account Manager  Now briefed at $90,000 Inc (was $75,000 Inc)
  • Account Director  Now briefed at $125,000 (was $110,000)
  • Senior Account Director Now briefed at $140,000 Inc (was $125,000)
  • Group Account Director  Now briefed at $180,000 Inc (was $150,000)
  • Digital Producer  Now briefed at $85,000 Inc (was $70,000)
  • Senior Digital Producer – Now briefed at $125-140,000 Inc (was $110,000)

“It’s very inflated and this is across the board,” Tavae said. “From Account Services through to Creative and Strategy.”

Why people leave

To understand how to keep people, it’s important to understand why people leave. “Mental health and burnouts are a huge play factor,” Tavae said. A small salary increase, grand promises, and little change six months later with a tsunami of work make people look elsewhere – often with disappointing results.

“The pay bumps make it very hard for the people to move on,” she added. “They’re now on an inflated salary that takes them out of the running for roles that they would really want.”

Xavian said the work itself, as well as level of resourcing, are two other crucial elements. “Burnout and lack of mentorship are huge. Resourcing is key. Even if you have a full team that is not that busy, that’s okay,” she said.

“You now have an opportunity to knowledge share, develop each other. If you don’t, when it’s really busy they won’t get that.”

Social currency

Xavian said credibility among friends is an important element to retention – social currency. “The work has to be sexy. The clients have to be sexy,” she said. “They can’t work on things they don’t connect with, relate to or stand by. Take a 25 year-old, put them on a sports or lifestyle campaign if that’s their bag, they love it.”

Hello Social ran the Rave to Save event to support a late-night diner earlier this year, and more than 500 people came along. Xavian said she worked the door with some of the team, who were there until 4am – loving every minute. “When they love the work, they’re committed,” she said.

The same goes for cultural, mental health and environmental initiatives – Xavian says workplaces that effectively manage the cultural calendar will create moments staff can share.

“Men’s Health week, talking to them about the environment, society, what’s happening around us, creating initiatives that give a mental break,” she said.

“You have to be able to flaunt what you do… Social media and this idea of ‘wokeism’ has taken over massively, it’s the only way to keep them really engaged in the work.”

Flex and desk

The relationship between an office and a home office is more complex than full flexibility or strict mandates, as the most recent Media i survey revealed. Surprisingly, the study, which spoke to circa 80 per cent of the agency workforce, found the more time a person spends in the office, the happier they are.

"The numbers show spending more time in the office, surrounded by your colleagues, delivers incremental happiness at work,” Media i Australia’s Managing Director, Chris Winterburn, said. “Humans need humans, none more so than in the communication industry, and the data proves this.” 

Lee Simpson, CEO at WPP's whiteGREY, said they tried several work from home and office combinations.

“We experimented with two days, three days, we tried office perks like food,” he said. “Then we thought, ‘hang on, let’s be more strategic with it’… There’s got to be a peer-to-peer relationship with your team. I don’t need to see them to know they’re doing the right thing.”

Advertising and marketing is “as stimulating a place as anywhere”, Simpson said, but it’s up to agencies and workplaces to weave technology through processes and create a space where people can flourish. WhiteGrey had roughly 20 per cent turnover in the past year, which was slightly lower than normal – and far below the 38 per cent predicted by PwC in its Future of Work report.

Mentors key

When someone good leaves a role, it’s often the people below them that start to look elsewhere, Tavae said.

“If you go into your role and your mentor is amazing, you take that role on to work with that person,” she said.

“Then that person gets headhunted out or leaves and the agency recruits a new report, and that person is someone that you do not gel with or they have no interest in your career or they are micromanagers. Meanwhile, you’re getting headhunted yourself. You’re going to leave after three months. It’s all about the mentor, that relationship and the way that your career is driven for success.

“If you have a solid team that have all been trained, know how to do inductions, career maps, do 90-day plans, you will not have the churn.”

Mentors also play a part preventing burnout. They see when juniors are working too long, not taking a break, and are, in some cases, rarely eating. “They can see your diary, and they will turn around and say, ‘why is your diary like this? Spread it out, do some yoga’,” she said. “There are a lot of mentors out there who’re not looking at the diary.”

About 60 per cent of the calls Tavae takes are about that – people who had a mentor they loved, that person left, and they now are in market looking to find an agency that can support their growth and not cause burnout without support.

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