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A survey of arts and cultural marketers reveals a growing sense of unfairness around pay and working conditions. Matt Ecclestone has the details.

Man holding box of possessions leaving an office with colleagues

Liudmila Chernetska/iStock

Arts and Heritage marketers play a pivotal role in communicating culture with their audiences, while simultaneously working to reach those yet to visit. Over the last few years we’ve seen our members’ workloads increase, capacities stretch and budgets tighten. 

The impact of these pressures is considerable and, as our recent Arts & Heritage Marketing Salary Survey shows, they also impact both the professional and personal wellbeing of cultural marketers.

At the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) we don’t just want arts marketers to be surviving, we want them thriving. Cultural organisations need them to perform at their best if they are to grow audiences and serve communities effectively. To do that they need the best conditions possible; being paid fairly for their work is a significant part of this.

Salary guidelines

In 2022, we launched minimum salary guidelines as benchmarks for organisations to ensure their pay rates were fair. The intervening effects of inflation, political turmoil and a cost-of-living crisis have led us to update the guidelines to reflect the increase in salaries now required and to ensure pay reflects the labour.

It’s no secret that there are ongoing funding challenges – evident in recent headlines and from what our senior members tell us. This makes it even more important that organisations operate ethically when facing the pressures of limited resources. We took this into consideration when drafting the refreshed 2024 guidelines*. 

In our sector-wide survey, data was collected during January – February 2024. 940 respondents shared their pay and their experiences. The levels of pay - the quantitative data – sadly, weren’t surprising. What was more revealing - and often heartbreaking - were the challenges arts marketers shared in their written comments. 

Below are the headlines we identified from the survey data.

Over a third of marketers think they are not paid fairly

We asked arts marketers whether they thought they were fairly paid by their employers. 37.8% of respondents answered No, with a further 25.6% answering Unsure or Prefer not to say. Only 36.5% thought they were paid fairly. 

Of the 323 respondents who added a comment, unsurprisingly 87% of these had answered No to the question. Only 2.5% who people who commented had answered Yes.

Many respondents felt underpaid in comparison with similar roles in other sectors. They thought their skills and experience would command higher salaries elsewhere: "If I was working as a Comms Manager in a different industry, I'd be getting paid at least £10k more," and: “I feel I am paid as well as they can afford but I know that in a non-arts setting, for my experience and for what I actually deliver, I would be on far more.”

It’s worth highlighting that over a third of respondents did think they were paid fairly with the more positive respondents saying pay was fair while still acknowledging that “the sector [was] so far behind other commercial and business sectors”.

In isolation, these responses are unsurprising but there are other themes causing discontent.

Imbalance between workloads and pay

Many respondents felt their workload and level of responsibility were not fairly reflected in their financial remuneration. Many referred to doing the work of multiple people or taking on additional duties without any compensation. 

Comments frequently acknowledged the restraints on organisational funding and tight budgets: "We don't have the money to pay more. [My salary] was increased to £31,200 in December 2023, but I do 45+ hours a week.”

There appears to be a growing frustration and sense of injustice about pay and working conditions, leaving many respondents demoralised: “I know that I do far, far more than my job description entails. I love my job, I love the arts, but it can feel incredibly unfair that simply because I work in this sector I do more, for less." 

Other remarks included: “I am underpaid and overworked,” and "COMPLETELY underpaid and overworked with absolutely zero routes to progression or room for a pay rise, no matter how much extra work I put in or for longevity in my role."

These findings paint a picture of a sector in which arts marketers feel financially undervalued, despite their dedication and expertise.

Growing concerns over cost of living 

Over 51% of respondents find it Difficult or Very difficult to pay their bills. This stat makes for tough reading, although these challenges exist equally in other sectors. It signals a growing storm with marketers feeling undervalued, underpaid and burnt out. 

These strains on mental health and personal lives are not likely to be conducive to productive and successful working lives: "Low wages and high job expectations negatively impact mental health, leading to stress and burnout."

Others commented: “My job role is vague and expansive. It’s made it really hard to build any confidence in myself, and the low pay with high expectations had massive repercussions on my mental health," and "Because my salary is so low I am reliant on my partner to support our family. I could not be financially independent on this salary due to the cost of accommodation in our area."

Respondents have highlighted the clear barriers that exist in terms of access and affordability of arts marketing jobs for those without the support of a partner or family. Without change, we won’t see a diverse workforce that reflects our society and the audiences we want to serve.

Mid-management salaries on the rise

More positively, we did see the median average salary for managers increase by nearly 20% to £30,000 - £34,999, up from £25,000 - £30,000 in the previous survey at the end of 2021 – 22.

This is also true for Assistant and Officer roles. It’s worth noting though that these roles are much more likely to be regularly recruited with salaries driven upwards by being reviewed at recruitment stage.

Don’t take passion for granted

Frankly, we've been left hunting for positives from the data. We still have to drill down and extract further takeaways but, if there’s a ray of light, it is the passion of arts and heritage marketers for their work. 

Even with all the challenges, the love for their work was evident. Many expressed hope for change and were keen to see more transparency and improved working conditions, not just an increase in pay. 

The drive and passion exhibited by arts marketers must not be exploited. Our marketers need to be supported. Without change, as a sector we will lose marketing expertise, and as organisations we will be hit financially recruiting replacements. 

So, it makes sense to look after staff well to stop them heading for the exit door to third sector and commercial roles.

Matt Ecclestone is Head of Membership at the Arts Marketing Association.

*About the guidelines: We have updated our Salary Guidelines to provide a baseline for arts and heritage marketing roles in the cultural sector. These baselines are where we should be as a sector, but we are aware they are a big jump for many organisations. Even small steps towards these salary benchmarks will help retain talent and maintain morale. The first phase of these updated guidelines is available but we’ll be returning to add further analysis.

From 3 - 5 July, the Arts Marketing Association will be welcoming Arts and Heritage Marketers to Brighton for AMA Conference 2024. Find out more details about this and upcoming events here.

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Headshot of Matt Ecclestone