Why Marketers Should Be Extremely Skeptical of Salary Guides

digital marketing headhunter salary guide

There’s an abundance of salary information available to professionals these days, which is a double-edged sword. In theory, more informed employees are better empowered to negotiate favorable terms and earn their market value. But we’ve found as digital marketing headhunters that many of the resources available online to marketers, from salary calculators to annual guides to government reports, to be misleading at best.

Marketers in particular should be skeptical of the results reported in a salary guide. Marketing is a difficult field to accurately pin a number to a job for a variety of reasons, and leaning heavily on unreliable information for purposes of research, career growth, or salary negotiation can put you at a disadvantage. You don’t want to under-value yourself, or risk pricing yourself out of a great opportunity. Here are some of the reasons you should take any salary guide with a large grain of salt.

Data Reliability

Most marketing salary guides rely on self reporting; few businesses publicly share what they pay their marketers, so publishers of these reports have to ask professionals themselves. That means that data will typically only come from professionals who are willing to share their salaries–not those who might be too busy to participate in a survey or unwilling to share a salary they think is too low or too high. Furthermore, there’s no way to verify the accuracy of the figures they report, and some professionals might be tempted to share a figure that’s higher or lower than reality for various reasons.

Flexibility in Compensation

Companies are finding that in order to hire the best marketers, they have to be willing to be flexible with employment terms. That means in terms of compensation, salary only tells a small part of the story. Days off, signing and performance bonuses, stock options and more can all come into play, and it’s difficult to assign a specific value to them. This growing trend can heavily skew salary data for some positions, and also make it difficult to judge the compensation of a new job you’re considering at face value.

Job Title Ambiguity

Marketing is infamous for unusual and unreliable job titles. As digital marketing headhunters, we’re all too familiar with titles that can be hopelessly vague, oddly specific, and just plain weird. Someone with a “Marketing Manager” or “Social Media Specialist” printed on their business card at company A could have wildly different responsibilities and compensation from someone with the same title at company B. And if you’re one of those marketers with a title like “Grand Customer Wizard,” good luck finding a benchmark salary anywhere outside of a fantasy novel.

Because it’s so hard to reliably associate a marketing job’s name with what a professional is actually doing, assigning a value to what they “should” be making is incredibly difficult.

Location Variance

Salary for a given role can vary widely across the country–a challenge we have to constantly account for as a provider of marketing recruitment management solutions. Even with a highly mobile workforce and unprecedented potential for remote work, certain kinds of marketing talent remain concentrated in certain areas of the country. That can have a big impact on the competition you’re facing for a role. An abundance of digital or direct response marketers in your area means companies won’t have to pay as much to find the expertise they need, while a shortage of that talent means they’ll likely need to increase their bid to bring someone in.

Geographic costs of living can also make projected salaries  misleading. For instance, an opportunity you find in New York City with a 15% salary increase may actually be a net loss if you move there and take on the city’s infamous expensive lifestyle. On the other hand, a smaller salary bump in a very affordable location like Oklahoma City or Knoxville could result in a substantial effective pay increase.

Alternatives Recommended by Digital Marketing Headhunters

A typical salary guide or calculator might be useful for getting a general ballpark estimate, but when you’re trying to determine your actual market value it should only serve as a rough starting point.

  • Calculate the value you bring. The first place you should always start is with the provable value you contribute to a business. In short; what’s your personal ROI? A good modern marketer should be tracking their progress and the productivity of their work to measure their impact on the bottom line. If you can provide analytical evidence that you’re moving the needle, then you begin with a strong foundation to negotiate salary, consider a career move up the ladder, or ask for a raise regardless of  your job title.
  • Network with professionals at the level you want to reach: A good way to get an idea of the salary range you’re capable of reaching is to get in close communication with professionals who are at a similar level and position to a role you’re considering. If you can engage other marketers with similar job titles and responsibilities in similar locations and businesses, you might be able to ask them directly whether you’re in the ballpark. Many people will be reluctant to share their exact compensation details–and that’s fine. But if you’re on good terms with someone then they might at least be able to give your advice on whether you’re aiming too high or too low given the position.
  • Coordinating with marketing recruiters: Few people have a better big-picture idea of the modern job market for various marketing talent across the country than dedicated marketing recruiters who deal with the subject on a daily basis. A reputable and experienced provider of marketing recruitment management solutions places talented professionals in marketing jobs at companies of all kinds–and it’s in their interest to ensure that you’re getting paid a fair rate given your skillset and experience.

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