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January 2008

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On the Rise: Remaining Competitive as Creative Salaries Increase
By Eric Kimble

If you're in the creative industry, you may have a little more of the green stuff in your wallet. The Creative Group's 2008 Salary Guide shows starting salaries for advertising and marketing professionals are expected to increase.

According to the data collected for the guide, the projected rise in average starting salaries for creative folks across the United States is 5.2 percent, compared to a 4.3 percent increase projected for 2007. What's fueling the uptick in compensation? Steady demand for creative talent. Nearly half (48 percent) of advertising and marketing executives polled by our company said they have bolstered their recruiting efforts compared to a year ago.

Naturally, creative professionals with the most sought after skills will see the biggest bumps in pay. Hiring managers typically look for candidates with several years of experience. In addition, there's a strong demand for “hybrid candidates” - designers with print and online experience, for example - nationwide. And this trend is echoed in the Denver area: Companies are seeking web professionals, such as web and Flash designers, who also possess a thorough understanding of front-end development. Consequently, creatives who possess expertise in applications such as HTML, CSS and Flash ActionScript will command higher salaries.

But your skill set isn't the only factor that affects compensation. Salary levels also are dictated by where you live. A designer moving from New York City to Denver, for example, would likely receive less compensation, despite the hot job market. This is largely because the cost of living - from buying a home to purchasing groceries - in Denver is lower than in Manhattan. (The Creative Group's Salary Guide offers more information on adjusting salary ranges for various U.S. cities.)

While the rising demand for creative talent means candidates have more leverage, keep in mind that a hot market doesn't mean you'll automatically receive the compensation you desire. Whether you're interviewing for a new job or want to boost your salary in your current position, you need to polish your negotiation skills.

Negotiating Salary for a New Job

The challenge when negotiating salary for a new job is to avoid underselling yourself while not naming a figure so high that it takes you out of the running. Consult sources such as our Salary Guide and other industry surveys to determine the average pay range for your skills and experience in Denver.

If you're asked to name a salary range during an interview, you might simply respond by saying, “What is the typical salary range for this type of position?” Of course, seasoned interviewers are skilled in this game of cat and mouse, and you may have no choice but to provide figures. But if you're done your homework, you'll know the typical pay rates for professionals with your skills, which will help you cite a fair salary range.

Requesting a Raise

For creative and communications professionals who enjoy their jobs but feel they're making less than they should be, the question becomes, “What can I do to raise my salary?” While it's important to earn a fair wage, keep in mind that compensation is a complex issue, and money isn't the only form. You may have more vacation time than is standard, flexible work hours, or your employer might support your efforts to acquire new skills. Most salary research doesn't take into account benefits such as these. However, if you've considered your work environment, earnings and perks, and still believe you aren't adequately compensated, you need to build a case for a raise.

First, track your achievements. It's unlikely you'll automatically receive a raise simply because research suggests your earnings are below average. While the compensation information you find from researching industry sources can be a valuable tool when discussing pay adjustments, it shouldn't be your only ally. Your workplace contributions also come into play.

Create a one-page list of achievements to present to your manager when discussing salary levels. The list might include projects you managed that were on time and under budget, solutions you found to complex marketing challenges and any awards you received for your work.

Always keep the conversation with your boss professional. Asking for a raise because you need to buy a new car or save money for a child's education, for example, aren't valid reasons for your company to increase your salary. Stick to your professional merits when discussing the issue.

Finally, have a back-up plan before you approach your manager about a raise. For example, if you ask for a 10-percent pay increase and are told there's no money in the budget, you may be able to negotiate an extra week of paid vacation or more flextime. In addition, you might ask to revisit an increase in compensation in six months or a year.

It's an exciting time for creative and communications professionals. With so many job opportunities, it's a good time to make sure you're earning a salary commensurate with your skills and experience. With some research on compensation issues and thoughtful planning, you'll be best positioned to receive the pay you deserve.

Eric Kimble is division director of the Denver office of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing firm placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis. To receive a complimentary copy of The Creative Group 2008 Salary Guide, please call 303.296.1010. For more information about The Creative Group, please visit

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