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How to Ask for a Raise and Negotiate Salary Without Getting Laughed At

4 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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You’d think that the two go hand in hand: money and title. Rookie mistake. Once you've been in the ad industry, you'll find out that, when it comes to your career, they're not necessarily related. The question you have to ask yourself is: which gets you what you want?

Whether you’re negotiating details for a new job or trying to get a promotion in your current agency, you need to know why money and title don’t always come in pairs. Maybe it's a title promotion. But come on, money makes the world go round.

Show Me The Money

To get them dolla dolla bills, consider salary from both your perspective and the agency’s.

To most people: money = worth. If you’re not getting paid enough for the work you do, you feel undervalued. Well, how much will make you feel valued?

Before you even approach the topic, make sure you take a look at places like or to compare what you make to what others make in your area and level.

This will help you make the judgement call on what to ask for a salary. You can’t just walk in and say, “I deserve more money.” I mean, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Negotiating Salary for a New Job

It’s actually much easier when you’re looking for a new job. The conversation about salary isn’t coming out of the blue and negotiations are expected.

The trick is, when they ask you what you are looking to be paid, DO NOT GIVE A SALARY RANGE. You’re always going to be offered the lower end of that range if you do.

Come in with a definite number. Now, you’ve done your research. You know how much you should be paid (see above). But, chances are they’ll come back to you with a lower number.

So, make the first number you give them a little higher than what you expect. And then follow it up with, “...but I’m always open to negotiate.” This is what could happen:

  1. They accept the salary! - Yay, you got more than you thought you would.
  2. They come back with a lower number. - This is negotiating. If this number makes you happy, go for it. If not, tell them you’d like to get closer to the original number, then go somewhere between the their offer and your original.
  3. They laugh at you. - Ok, they won’t laugh, but they’ll likely say something like, “That’s not what we were prepared to pay for this position.” And maybe they’ll give you a number. You need to consider if that salary is something you’re ok with.

Very rarely will they outright reject you, especially if you make it clear that you’re open to negotiating.

Asking for a Raise at Your Current Job

Ok, this is a little trickier. You’ll need to bring up the topic of a raise (best done during either semi-annual or annual reviews). And then you have to consider a few other details:

  1. Your perceived value. - Unfortunately, this is a downside to asking for a raise. They see you as having a certain value, so it’s your job to make them change that view. Come in with proof: what have you done lately to shift their perception?
  2. Your current salary. - You’re not going to be able to massively shift your current pay. A huge raise is 20%. However, 2-3% is what’s called a “cost of living” increase. Getting that is nice, but not a huge deal, so don’t let them over-exaggerate its worth.

When you approach your boss about money, make sure they understand what it is you’re asking for. Again, come in with a definite number of what you think your value is, but make it realistic. You can’t shoot for the stars as easily as you can when negotiating for a new job, but you should still make it worth sticking around.

Usually your boss isn’t the final decider of raises. So, get them on your side, work with them to figure out a good number, and you’ll have a better chance of adding to your current salary.

What the Agency is Thinking

It seems so easy to the creative. You just want more money and you work for a big company that has lots of money. So, just add it to your paycheck, right? Not so fast...

  1. Budget - First and foremost, they’re considering if they can afford it. It’s pretty simple: if they don’t have the cash lying around, it’s a moot point.
  2. Fairness - Next, the agency weighs your value and checks the market. Are you being paid fairly? If not, then usually they’ll bump you up to a comparable salary without much of a fight. If you already are, then they move onto the next step.
  3. Are you worth it? - To an agency, if you’re asking for a raise, you’ve likely thought about leaving if you don’t get the raise. If you leave, will that impact the agency? How easy would it be to replace you?

The trick is, while it’s harder to keep consistency and culture in a group, it’s less expensive to just hire someone new. So it comes down to what’s important to that specific agency.

Make yourself worth it.

Money Isn’t Everything

If padding your pockets is your goal, then you can see there are a few ways to approach it. Chances are, raises will come with a promotion, but you don’t have to wait for one to get the other.

Sometimes you’ll realize that it’s not all about the money. You may want more responsibility, more autonomy, more respect. Cash doesn’t carry those things with it all the time.

In those cases, you’ll want a title bump. And that’s what’s coming up in Part 2.

Thanks for reading!

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