Friday, June 22, 2012

What a Pay Packet

#Disclaimer/Disclosure - I am a WPP employee, this is my personal opinion only#

There has been much talk this week over the pay packet of Sir Martin Sorrell, head of WPP. I'm not about to go into the minutae of the debate. I just thought there were a couple of important points worth making.

1. Given where he has taken the company, I can understand absolutely why he would be paid the amount he is. He is a safe pair of hands in a time of uncertainty. A man who has taken a tiny company and turned into a giant of the industry.

In general I am very much anti 'huge wages at the top and low wages at the bottom', but if I approached this from the point of view of a shareholder, would I pay him more money, of course I would. This isn't a direct comparison, but had Steve Jobs asked for a 400% pay increase you would see the value, were Richard Branson or Alan Sugar to award themselves a huge bonus would you object?

If you put aside the employment and ethical debates around corporate wages, there is an absolutely sound business sense behind backing those increases. Would you sack Alex Ferguson if he asked for a 40% pay increase, and risk someone else in his place? Regardless of if it would be the right decision, you better have some pretty big and shiny brass metaphorical balls to be the one who makes that decision.

Whether I agree or disagree doesn't matter, the point is that seems like an opportunist move to make a political statement instead of a business case. If you want me to protest about a bosses wages, show me why there is a business sense to the decision, not a moral one. As much as I am a very morally driven person, I know that thousands of jobs rest on this, so it absolutely HAS to be a business decision.

2. There is surely some irony in the fact that this debate comes at a time when hundreds of mid to high level advertising people have descended on an expensive, wealth heavy location in the south of France to celebrate and party amongst themselves to mark hugely costly to enter awards...

Now I'm not criticising the merit of the Cannes Awards, nor the fact that people who have made good work deserve an opportunity to be rewarded and celebrate, but the connection is pretty tough to avoid. What is more valuable, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds sending employees to awards and parties, or giving it to someone who has built the company that pays your wages from the ground up?

There are far simpler and less risky ways to save agencies a boatload of money, starting first and foremost with changing the current pitch system to something fairer for everyone. No more spending a fortune on presumptive work that has no guarantee of even happening.

We could also all benefit from increasing the value perception of creativity. Too often what we do is not treated with the respect or reward that it deserves. We don't help ourselves with convoluted processes and hyped promises. We need to get back to the magic of insight and creativity. Making effective work that justifies more money for the agencies, and bigger rewards for everyone, not just at the top.

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