The decline may be due to ramped-up investments leading to rapid job creation, said Karin Clarke, regional director for Asia at Font. “My feeling is that while more jobs are being created, resulting in a shortage of talent, many of these roles are entry level, and when you look at the mean, that brings down the average salary."
These results were derived from Font’s annual salary survey, which was conducted in the year preceding 18 April, 2013, in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and New Zealand. In total, 4,230 people were surveyed across four sectors based on real-time data from Font’s online salary portal.
Overall, media salary levels have only risen in Hong Kong where, on average, salaries have climbed, some by as much as 21 per cent. This could be due to a severe talent shortage and many firms and agencies looking offshore to fill these roles. “Companies are willing to pay for the right candidate,” said Clarke.
Coupled with Hong Kong’s rising cost of living—the consumer price index rose 4 per cent in the last quarter—candidates have more bargaining power when negotiating salaries, she added.
Of all four countries studied, Malaysians still draw the lowest pay in the industry, averaging US$17,000 to $24,000 a year—less than half the average range of other markets. For example, Singaporeans average $40,000 to $66,000 a year and Hong Kongers $35,000 to $65,700 a year.
With such low average pay it is unsurprising that Malaysia has been suffering a severe brain drain, with about 300,000 or 10 per cent of the country’s tertiary educated workforce leaving the country in the past decade, despite the nation's relatively low cost of living.
Gender pay gap
While on the surface it appears that men still outearn women by a considerable percentage, when examined more closely, it appears that in many sectors and markets women can and do outearn men in some roles.
In New Zealand, for example, female account directors in advertising, media and publishing earn average annual salaries of NZ$100,000 ($81,000) as do their male counterparts. Female account managers in this sector earn NZ$51,500 a year—more than their male peers, who average NZ$47,500 a year.
In the same sector in Hong Kong, female business development managers earn on average HK$510,000 ($66,000) compared with their male colleagues, who average HK$420,000 a year. Likewise in Malaysia, female account directors draw a median salary of MYR115,000 compared to MYR105,000 earned by men.
Only in Singapore do women consistently earn less than, or at most, equal to men across the board.
“The lower average pay for women is tied to the fact that men are staying in the industry longer,” noted Jacqui Barratt, director of Font New Zealand and Asia. “This poses a few questions for the industry to look at. Are they leaving because they need time out for motherhood or are they leaving because the industry has typically long hours and women don’t want to give up balance?”
Clarke said that while it is true that more men than women in all four markets are staying past the five-year mark (after which careers tend to accelerate), there has been a lot of commentary in Singapore of late on the inequality between male and female salaries.
In Singapore, the greatest disparity can be found between the average annual salaries of male and female marketing managers in the marketing, PR, communications and events sector, where men are earning on average SGD$20,000 ($16,000) more a year than women, despite both genders being equally qualified.
In fact, across all markets, men are greatly out-earning women on average in the sector. In New Zealand, men average NZ$80,000 a year versus NZ$63,750 earned by women; in Hong Kong it’s HK$510,000 versus HK$390,000 and in Malaysia, MYR72,500 versus MYR60,000.
Clarke found this particularly interesting because marketing has historically been a female-dominated industry. She suggested a sudden shift towards male dominance could be due to more roles requiring IT or digital experts—roles that have traditionally attracted men.
Issues to be addressed
If the industry wishes to address its talent shortage and retain women for longer in the workforce it needs to address three things, said Clarke.
First, as a fast-moving industry, more emphasis must be placed on training and development. “Staff require constant upgrading and the industry needs to invest more in upskilling staff,” she said.
Furthermore, the industry needs to take a long, hard look at its work habits and implement flexible working hours that allow people to have a better work-life balance that is also more family-friendly.
Finally, for an industry specialising in advertising and branding, employers do not do enough to market themselves as employers of choice. “The agencies need to champion themselves to attract new entrants into the industry and make it more aspirational,” said Clarke.