Media agency grad salaries in question after prominent group’s low pay revealed

Graduate salaries in media agencies have come under scrutiny after rates at a leading network were revealed to be only marginally more than minimum wage and well below the industry average. 

Mumbrella has been told by multiple sources that holding company Omnicom Media Group (OMG) offers a graduate salary of $46,875, which equates to $901.44 a week, or $23.72 on an hourly rate. That figure is said to be inclusive of superannuation.

Median graduate salaries revealed at media agencies

An internal salary guide from the Media Federation of Australia (MFA), seen by Mumbrella, reports the median amount paid to graduates is $57,300 per year.

OMG includes agencies OMD, PHD, Hearts & Science and more. While the pay rate is low, there is no suggestion that OMG is not meeting its legal obligations with regards to graduate remuneration. 

Currently, the national minimum wage sits at $812.60 per week ($21.38 per hour). The lowest classification of the government-set Private Sector Clerk Award, often used as a benchmark in adland, is $44,793 per year, or $861.40 per week, for a maximum of 38 hours with no overtime.

When approached by Mumbrella with the suggested graduate salary, OMG would not confirm the figures or if it operated on its own award agreement.

However, Peter Horgan, chief executive of OMG Australia and New Zealand, and chair of the MFA, said: “As the leading media buying group in Australia we are competitive on salary. This varies by level and experience. 

“Graduates make up a small component of our staff. We invest heavily in training and remuneration accelerates quickly. We are vested in building long and prosperous careers within Omnicom Media Group and indeed the broader industry.”

Worth it in the long run? 

Mumbrella was told by one OMG graduate that they used to earn more while at university receiving Youth Allowance and a modest wage from a part-time job.

“As much as I despised that work, I was definitely earning more with less hours,” they said, despite having graduated with a Master’s degree in 2022.

“I would be surprised if there are any places that pay less [than OMG], if I’m completely honest. When people ask me how the new job is, as I’m [several] months in now, I tend to say the money is rubbish but everything else is absolutely stellar.”

After tax and superannuation, the employee’s take-home pay is just $37,000 per year ($711 per week). To put that in context, the current average unit rent in Sydney – where 59% of those employed in the industry reside – is $550 per week, while in Melbourne – home to 27% of the media agency population – it’s $400 per week.

Spending pressure has vastly increased in Sydney’s innner suburbs. Source: CommBank iQ

“I kind of had to swallow that pill and move on with it,” the graduate said. “But for sure I was very surprised, I suppose, at the actual rate itself. 

“And it’s kind of a common agreement in the office – it’s not like it’s hidden or an awkward thing. The general consensus is that if you stick around things ultimately work out a lot better.”

The belief that conditions will improve is a commonly held one. Several agency staff in the general industry, not just limited to OMG, told Mumbrella that top brass often tell juniors to do “the initial hard yards”.

OMG’s agency OMD alone lists 549 employees on LinkedIn, making it the largest agency employer in the country. At least 66 of those staff are either ‘media assistant’, ‘trading assistant’ or some other variation.

A timely discussion for the MFA

Mumbrella understands the MFA is hosting a timely member briefing on the Fair Work Act and annualised changes to the Modern Clerks Award later today.

According to Sophie Madden, CEO of the MFA, the industry body’s media agency members employed a total of 505 new starters in 2022, with “most of these being graduates”. This makes up nine percent of the 4,685 reported in the MFA’s most recent industry census.

Longstanding MFA CEO, Sophie Madden will address member agencies today

Other international holding groups, including Publicis, GroupM, Dentsu and IPG Mediabrands, confirmed to Mumbrella that their entry level salaries begin at a baseline of $55,000 and go up to $63,100, inclusive of super. 

Several confirmed the ‘level 2’ classification is used for graduates, however others have moved away from the Award entirely due to unrealistic expectations of logging overtime.

While the MFA’s salary guide lower quartile figure of $47,895 for graduates is only marginally more than what Mumbrella was told OMG graduates earn, one agency boss said that figure was left behind “at least five years ago,” while others confirmed that view. 

A headhunter Mumbrella spoke to who works on creative agencies rather than media agencies added, “I have never in my career placed anyone anywhere with a figure that starts with a four.” They added that $55k was the minimum figure they dealt with. 

Salaries low but investment high? 

One of the MFA’s key focuses is talent attraction and retention, with awareness of media agency roles among university graduates low.

It launched its Internship Hub this month, an online resource for uni students and their lecturers to find and apply for placements at MFA member agencies, “with the aim of attracting more graduates to pursue media agency careers.”

While the majority of agency bosses agree starting salaries are not “ideal”, there is a shared consensus that agencies invest significant amounts into training graduates.

That investment can prove wasted if staff leave early in their career at an agency, but the MFA has a solution for that. 

It promotes a no-poaching agreement for the first 18 months of graduate tenures – justified by what Madden described as the “high level of on-the-job and formal training required for a new starter to be job-ready in our industry.”

“This does not prevent an individual from applying for new roles or changing agencies,” she added, “however we do not believe it is appropriate for members to directly approach or ‘poach’ a new starter/trainee in this training period.”

On the flip side, agencies have a free-hit in the first 18 months with graduates, leaving graduate salaries largely unchallenged. However, those who decide to continue after that have the opportunity to swiftly scale up their salaries.

Another agency boss suggested with the incoming changes to pay secrecy terms in June, graduates across the industry will be “a lot more open to discussing pay”, and employers will need to ensure more than ever staff are paid according to market standards, and in line with their peers.

While the MFA Code sets out that all members should pay employees what is legally due to them, according to the classification of their job descriptions, “we do not set industry salary levels and job descriptions vary significantly”, Madden said.

She continued: “Based on the MFA’s industry salary data, the median industry starter salary is higher than the award requirement.

“We are an industry where you learn your craft on-the-job, through formal and informal training, and this is reflected in industry starting salaries. 

“However, once you are trained, salaries increase exponentially. This has particularly played out in recent years where we’ve seen large salary jumps for roles.”

With conversations rife regarding ‘back to the office’ in recent weeks, rising economic pressures, added to a reintroduction of public transport costs will continue to prove tricky for the industry’s new graduates.  



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