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When Negotiating, Consider Salary Over Bonuses
By: Tom Roarty
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Advertising is an ever-changing industry with a wide variety of variables that will help determine an agency’s success. From the types of services it offers today to what technological advancements it can offer tomorrow, the whole process starts with people. It is the vision and talents of a creative department that help to assure its future success, but how do agencies lure in top talent?
In the past, I have made mention of a lot of creative ways agencies will recruit for the candidates they want. From social environments to flexible schedules, little comes across as enticing to someone entering the job market in this industry as the thought of a bonus. Bonuses are enticing because as creatives, we feel the opportunity to obtain it is within our control, but is it? Even if you get the promise of a bonus in writing, there is still no guarantee you will actually receive one. This is because there are usually stipulations in a bonus clause that make the process as subjective as the field we have chosen to make our living in.
My first bonus structure was offered to me many years ago and was based at 20 percent of my salary, contingent on performance, production, and business growth. Although I had control over the first two aspects, growth is out of a designer’s hands once it is passed on to those people who have to present the ideas. No matter how good a pitch is, sometimes the wrong representation could kill it. Instead of receiving a 20 percent bonus at that position, all of our employees took a pay cut and eventually faced layoffs.
The next position that offered me a bonus was based at 15 percent for a company that was doing very well, and although the department I was in usually beat expectations on a monthly basis, other departments within the company weren’t, which once again led to the absence of the earned reward. By the time I reached my third bonus situation, I put little faith into the process, and thanks to lack of new business growth and mismanagement, another promised bonus was lost. The process continued over time until I began to realize that the idea of a bonus was just a hiring tool and not a guarantee.
This is not to say that I never received a bonus, but I can say that I never actually received a bonus in the amount promised to me. So how does one actually figure out what they are worth in a bonus situation? What I have learned works best is to research the true potential of a yearly bonus. Have employees gotten a bonus in the past at the company you are applying to? What percentage of the bonus was actually paid out? What was the criterion of the bonus structure? If all the questions are answered to your satisfaction, then go for it. If not, suggest to your potential employer that you will forgo a bonus for a fraction of it added to your salary, because at the end of the day, all you truly can rely on is what is actually getting put in the bank.


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