Associate Directors – Are You Paid Enough?

Associate Directors Are You Paid Enough
Posted: Oct 2019

According to our Annual Salary Guide 2019, one level stood out for its small pay increases and bonuses – Associate Directors. They really do seem to have drawn the short straw.

The average percentage increase for corporate and financial Associate Directors was just 5%, compared to the 12% average increase for Account Directors and an 18% average increase for the level above, Director/Partners. They don’t fare any better on bonuses either, receiving an average bonus of just 11%, falling short of the 17% for Account Directors, 14% for Directors/Partners and the hefty 55% for Board Directors. This begs the question, just why has the Associate Director become an almost ‘forgotten level’ when it comes to salary increases and bonuses?

Account Managers and Account Directors are in high demand when it comes to hiring. They manage clients on a day-to-day basis, and judging by the pay rises they are receiving, retaining them is paramount. Directors are revenue generators and key to the growth of agencies, so it comes as no surprise that agency heads want to keep them happy and reward them well.

Where does this leave the Associate Directors?

Not as well looked after as their more senior or junior colleagues, unfortunately. It’s not surprising we meet many Associate Directors who are keen to move in-house. As budding Directors, Associate Directors won’t just be servicing clients, they will be supporting the business with some sort of operations, e.g. recruitment; they will be looking to demonstrate their commercial acumen by cross-selling other services, growing accounts and bringing in new business.

It’s a big jump from an Associate Director to Director and it can take a few years to hone and broaden the skills required – taking on the responsibility of P&L, as well as meeting new business targets, while managing a team and contributing to the running of the overall agency. The Director also needs to be on hand for any client or internal crisis. With so much to juggle, a Director really values the assistance of an Associate Director, as a good one will take a lot of responsibility off their plate.

So why have Associate Directors been overlooked?

The ongoing high demand for Account Directors and Account Managers across the industry may be partly to blame for Associate Directors being overlooked in the pay rise stakes. Such is the demand for Account Directors and Account Managers that they may have been looked after a little too well when it comes to pay rises and bonuses –perhaps at the expense of the Associate Directors?

Retaining staff is challenging for agencies, especially when it comes to Millennials who we know are happy to move every year or two without flinching. If something isn’t quite right, or they are not getting exactly what they want, they are usually off in a flash. Associate Directors, who are more likely to be in a settled relationship, with a mortgage to pay, may therefore be perceived as less likely to move. Why spend money on pay rises and bonuses if you don’t need to? Many employers want to keep their wage bill down, after all.

Reward your Associate Directors as you reward the rest of your team

The learning curve is high for Associate Directors and the more training and support they receive, the better the Director they will be. It’s a risky business to forget them. We know all too well how many of them start to think about moving in-house. According to our survey, 70% of corporate comms professionals want to move in-house in their next move, which just goes to show how foolish it is to overlook your hardworking number 2.

An Associate Director is more expensive to replace then your day-to-day implementers (Account Managers and Account Directors). It’s also important to bear in mind that a newly hired Associate Director will have 7-9 years of experience from elsewhere, and you won’t be able to rate that experience until they are doing the job in hand.

The long and short of it – losing an Associate Director can come at a high cost. So look after them. They deserve it.

The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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