Is media underpaid?

For & against - Do employers in the media industry pay their staff a fair wage? Or are media folk just a moaning lot who don’t know how good they have got it compared to others?



Actually there is no argument.

Media sales people and media buying people are underpaid.

If you look at it from a historical basis, or from a competitive industry basis, it speaks for itself.

Historically, on the buying side, there were lots of different buying points all over London.

Talented people got headhunted or promoted. Nobody stood still. You had to keep moving. That was the way you earned better money.

These days, with the number of significant buying points shrinking away to single figures, the dynamism of the market has gone. Less places to get headhunted and less perceived need to pay higher salaries.

Also, if we look at the way major media is bought and sold, we have got nearer and nearer to an almost classical trading situation.

Although there are many benefits of efficiency in this, a cynical realist could argue that the business isn’t quite as enjoyable or satisfying as in times gone by. If that is the case, then remuneration becomes an even more critical motivator.

On the sales side, people used to be able to cross from B2B to consumer, magazines to newspapers, posters to press, TV to radio. Particularly when the markets were expanding, employers went for talent above experience, and were happy to pay for it.

Now, everyone wants to recruit people doing the job elsewhere. And not pay for the experience! So, if the flexibility and excitement of media sales has declined, what are people staying in the business for? Money just might be a factor.

The market is in stasis.

During the hideous media recession, that we are still not finally out of, despite all the indicators, people cut staff, which is a sad but understandable fact of life. But now they are staffing up again, they are offering salaries less than they would have in the summer of 2001.

The logic is, obviously, that media owners and the buying companies can get away with it. But the logic is faulty.

The media industry should by now have got to grips with supply and demand – in it’s crudest sense, it’s the most critical factor in their business.

Yet, despite a huge drop in graduate recruitment over the last couple of years, people are still trying to recruit people with two years’ sales experience on last century’s pay scale. My contacts tell me that the situation is mirrored on the media buying side.

All this is in the context of the media industry losing a lot of its glamour for graduates, and entry-level candidates generally.

The knock-on effects of the huge number of young people in the business made redundant post 9/11must not be underestimated.

They told their friends, they spread the word and suddenly what the media world was offering wasn’t quite as alluring as it might have been.

Both sides of the media industry need to think again. We all have the responsibility to encourage talented people to join our industry.

And then keep them in the industry. We need people to challenge the status quo, and break new ground, as generations before did. We then need to help them build careers and earnings, not leave the business prematurely and especially not drum them out of the industry at 35 because they are too old.

To do that, we should look at where the people who should be working in media are going, and invariably they will be working in industries that pay more money.

It’s darkly amusing that an industry that is as deeply competitive as media should have forgotten that if you don’t know who your competitors are, you have no chance of beating them.

So who is the industry competing with? Let’s be clear here, we are not talking about a profession here, in the classical sense. However, surely we should want the calibre of people who go into the professions to want to get into media? We need to go back to the beginning, attract people from all walks of life, who are not afraid to be measured every day of their lives, who are not afraid to work stupid hours sometimes, deal with huge pressure, have a completely out of control social life and love every minute of it.

Pay more money, recruit more talented people, and, funny enough, we might build an industry that raises its standards every year.

Ian Sargeant is a recruitment consultant at Carreras Lathane



The media industry may complain that it is underpaid, but it pays to look at this issue in a much wider perspective.

There are countless professionals out there that are earning lower wages and working just as hard, often under different pressures.

I work for the Royal College of Nursing, so – as you would expect – I think nursing is a great job, but you would never guess it by looking at the average staff nurse’s payslip.

The current starting salary for a registered nurse, after three years study at degree or diploma level, is just £17,000. For that, she – and increasingly he – can be expected to deal with life and death issues every shift, with unsocial hours over nights and weekends and daily unpaid overtime thrown in for free.

Other benefits include exposure to health hazards such as serious, career-ending, back injury and infections like hepatitis and HIV through needlestick injury. Nurses who keep on caring in this environment can encounter verbal and even physical abuse and racism from patients, their families and sometimes other health care workers.

Can anyone in the media industry match that? Does it get better as the nurse’s career progresses? Not at the moment – over a third of NHS nurses are stuck on a top salary of only £22,000.

No wonder that three out of four nurses feel they could be paid more for less effort if they left nursing.

No wonder that almost one in three say they would leave nursing if they could. I wasn’t joking when I said that nurses were falling out the back door as fast as they were coming in the front door.

There are historical reasons why nursing has been consistently undervalued. Gender comes into it; nine out of 10 nurses are women and we still have a way to go before the pay gap between men and women is eradicated. It was long assumed that nursing didn’t require much education, so it didn’t stand out as a career choice for able students.

Worst of all, nursing was thought to be menial – wiping bottoms and holding hands.

What a callous and ignorant attitude. Is it menial to hold someone’s hand while you break bad news about their health? These are the kind of negative attitudes which have helped get us into the current nursing shortage, with one in four nurses nearing retirement age and nearly half the new nurses in the UK coming from overseas, often from poorer countries with serious health issues and nursing shortages of their own.

I’m not trying to put down advertising in this article. Far from it. All I am trying to argue is that there are thousands of people working their socks off in nursing – and the rewards are not always as great.

So does it matter very much whether nurses have decent pay? Yes – it matters a lot, because people need nurses more than ever.Nursing staff deliver 80% of direct care – the health sector would collapse without us.

But opportunity has come knocking for nursing in the form of the new NHS pay and careers deal being introduced this December.

Although, still a long way off from wages in the media world, this is a positive step in the right direction rewarding nurses for the work they do and raising the professionalism of nursing in line with other medical and health care professionals.

We’re encouraging nurses to speak up about the work they really do, all their positive ideas for improving care and shaping health policies.

Nurses are at the forefront of changes for the better in the health service, taking on new roles and responsibilities, putting aside outdated professional boundaries in favour of putting patients first.

The new pay system is a step in the right direction.

There has never been a more exciting time to be a nurse. But we need better pay deals to keep people coming to the profession.

The RCN will continue to campaign for greater pay and career rewards for nurses.

Why? Because its one of the most important and rewarding jobs in the world.

Beverly Malone is general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing

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