Will Harris: The truth about lying in salary surveys

Given people's propensity to fib, agonising about how much you are paid compared with others is a pointless exercise, writes Will Harris

Q: I see from the Croner/CIM salary survey in Marketing last month that I am £8000 below the average salary for a head of marketing. Yet sales of three out of five of the brands in my care at my FMCG brand-owner employer are likely to exceed targets this year. Am I in a position to play hard ball on my next pay rise?

A: I'm jealous of you. To have reached the dizzy heights of head of marketing for an FMCG, and still be so naive is an achievement. Perhaps you even achieved it on merit? I'm sorry if what I am about to say comes a shock, but it's better you hear it from me first.

People lie. All the time. About lots of things: what they eat, how much sex they have and, above all, how much they get paid. The CIM survey is not necessarily a reflection of what people are paid, but it's definitely a reliable record of what people say they get paid.

Don't get me wrong. That doesn't make it any less useful; as an insight to our collective insecurities as marketers it has no equal. If you're still reading, and haven't thrown down your copy of Marketing in disgust, sit quietly for a while and just consider whether you have ever told a fib in an interview situation. No? Are you sure?

Useless comparisons

Nonetheless, even if they managed to survey the only 100 people in UK marketing who consistently tell the truth, how relevant is that to you in your present plight? Trying to compare salaries at a company that pukes $1bn in operating profits, with one in the same sector that is burning through its cash pile at the same rate is tough. People work at the latter because they hope to get rich off generous (but presently worthless) stock options. People work at the former... because they are lucky bastards.

So where does all this leave you? You could force a confrontation with your boss, which may or may not work. It is dependent on many factors, some tangible (did they see the same survey, and feel equally slighted?) or others less so (what sort of day are they having?).

Alternatively you could hoist the 'looking for work' icon on LinkedIn. Or you could just take comfort from the fact that you have a job, and you seem to be pretty good at it. If it were all about the money, you wouldn't be working in marketing, right?

Will Harris is a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region. He was the first marketing director of the Conservative Party and launch marketing director of the O2 brand.


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