I left my agency because I was being underpaid

In the second edition of Untold Stories, a planner explains why they left their agency for one where they are more valued.

Let's talk money and that weird jump from junior to midweight planner. 

I worked at a big agency with an amazing reputation for three years. After umming and ahhing for a long time, I finally left to go to a smaller one I had admired from afar.   

It's been a while now and I couldn't be prouder of myself. It took a lot for me to move, because I didn't hate my job – in fact, I liked it. But I kind of knew I was being taken advantage of.

I was being "fast-tracked", running the strategy of one brand entirely by myself. I was working all hours. It was exciting. It was overwhelming. I loved it. 

My problem wasn't the responsibility I was being given or the extra work I was being asked to do. My problem was pay. 

I was earning little more than an intern. The value exchange started to not make sense. I got the uncomfortable sense that I was being paid in compliments. If I was "a rising star", shouldn't this be reflected in my salary? 

When I brought it up, a number of people fed me the same line: "This agency is like a passport. It'll open doors for you. What you don't get in money, you'll get in reputation and training."

That always made me doubt myself. It made me wonder whether I had anything to do with my own success or whether all the credit should go to my agency. It made me feel indebted.

It's bullshit.

You know what opened doors for me? Me.

You can be sure the people feeding me that line were being paid handsomely. I'm not trying to diminish the support and training I've received in my three years there or my privilege (I'm white and middle class). But I've learned to own my successes, because they are in fact mine to own. 

I now earn 50% more at an agency I'm happier at. It's still exciting. It's still overwhelming. I just feel more valued.

So I've got some advice for junior planners out there.

1 Take on more responsibility

Ask outright for it. It won't be easy, but it'll be exciting. Until you feel somewhat comfortable running projects solo, it's probably worth staying where you are, because you'll be getting a lot out of it. You'll know once you're no longer doing "junior" work.

2 Look at your value exchange in rational terms

Try not to get sentimental over this. It doesn't have to be about money, but it usually is, because a) you can get amazing training in other agencies; b) you can get amazing people in other agencies; and c) staying because your agency has a good "reputation" is frankly brainwashing. This is particularly good advice for women, because we have an awful habit of justifying low pay with emotional, personal reasons.

3 Thank the people who have helped you but don't feel indebted to them

They're not your parents. You don't have to stick around. If you've worked hard, been attentive and kind, then I promise: You. Don't. Owe. Them. Anything.

4 Get curious

There are a lot of fun agencies and opportunities out there looking for people like you. Do your homework. What do you want to get out of a new job besides money? Is it specific skills? Creative opportunities? 

5. Go window-shopping

Not just through recruiters. Reach out directly. Have coffees and chats with people you admire at places you respect. 

6. Level up 

As Cindy Gallop once said, ask for the highest amount you can say out loud without bursting out laughing. Try it. It's liberating.

Have an experience you think should be shared? Help our industry take action by writing to telluntoldstories@gmail.com

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