Agencies took ‘informal’ approach to hiring gaps

As agencies chart their recovery, a survey from the CMA and strategy provides a snapshot of work life pre-pandemic.

Canada’s ad agencies have been dealing with major upheaval since March, but as they plan for future recovery, a salary survey from the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) and strategy suggests they may want to consider a direction that looks different from their past.

The survey was conducted between January and March by RK Insights, which polled 37 agencies with full-time staff ranging from one employee to 250 (the average number of full-time employees was 42).

John Wiltshire, president and CEO of the CMA, acknowledged that the timing of the study meant it does not capture the “enormous impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canada’s agencies, or the renewed and sustained pressure to improve diversity since the summer. However, it does act as a snapshot of where the agency sector was prior to the pandemic, serving as a useful baseline for efforts around recovery.

Having a clear picture of what agency life looked like at the beginning of the year is especially important, given that the survey found what might be seen as a more “normal” environment wasn’t necessarily fair for everyone. While roughly two-thirds of c-suite executives at the surveyed agencies were women, their male peers earned 12% more on average.

Even though 73% of agencies had protocols for achieving gender balance, 50% categorized them as “informal,” with only 5% having formal protocols and 18% handling it on a case-by-case basis. That’s similar to how agencies were handling diversity – of the 73% that had protocols for improving diversity for its highest level positions, 55% had informal protocols, 9% had formal ones and 9% handled it on a case-by-case basis –however, it’s important to note that numerous agencies have launched new diversity initiatives or signed on to industry pledges to combat systemic racism since the summer.

“It’s important to have foundational data as achieving equity requires more salary band transparency,” said Mary Maddever, SVP and editorial director at Brunico and strategy’s publisher. “We hope to see the gaps closing next year.”

A recent survey by the Account Planing Group of Canada also found stark pay gaps among planners and strategists at Canada’s agencies, based on both gender and race. The APG report also found that these gaps become more pronounced for more senior positions, suggesting the need for a more direct and focused approach to addressing these systemic issues.

The CMA survey unveiled other HR pain points outside of diversity and inclusion, such as talent development and retention, as well as salary management. Though some of these were paused or cut as a cost-management measure during the pandemic, all agencies participating in the study offered some form of performance incentives to employees at the time they were polled, such as cash bonuses (69%), employee referral bonuses (58%) and perks (54%). Only 8% of agencies allowed employees to accept gifts from suppliers and partners.