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Pay transparency at Codeword: Everyone benefits!

Businesses and careers are about money. Why is it so hard to talk about it?

August 4, 2023

Headshot of Alli Ray

Alli Ray

Chief of Staff

Alli Ray started at Codeword in 2014, and is currently the agency’s chief of staff.

Why is talking about money taboo? Perhaps it’s an American thing, or a generational thing, but why shouldn’t our brunch buddies and even our teammates know what we’re making?

Our comp is a major part of our everyday lives. It puts the roof over our head, the food in our fridge, and the vacation on our calendar.

At Codeword, we’ve never shied away from “the money talk.” Being transparent about where we are as a business creates a stronger, more stable team, so we keep everyone informed on topics like revenue, margins, investments we’re making, where we’re growing, and where we’re struggling.

I probably don’t need to point this out, but that level of openness is not the norm in our industry. The agency world is historically terrible at even the simple stuff like paying freelancers on time, much less practicing pay equity and transparency.

And it’s gotten worse instead of better over the past few years. In 2020, everyone’s lives and many people’s careers were upended. Within the industry, we were seeing big hiring and firing swings, and an overall inability to figure out how to make remote work work. With so much turbulence all around us, Codeword looked inward. We wanted to put a stake in the ground, and with so much ambiguity in our lives and our industry, transparency felt like a powerful way to bring our team together.

From the employee’s view, they want to know their comp is intentional. That the company is stable, tracking with industry pay trends, and willing to share the spoils with the team that makes success possible. They want to be empowered to know their market value and negotiate for more pay, but often don’t have the tools or training to do so.

From the employer’s perspective, career stability can lead to team stability. And it’s really hard to plan a career in the agency world! To think about what you want to be earning, and chart a course to get there. Employees that have some practice with negotiating tactics are super valuable to the business, too — experienced agency people know that effective negotiation means both parties leave the table satisfied, and that’s crucial for client and procurement conversations.

We took all that insight and experience, and put it into our Codeword Compensation Philosophy. In 2021, we published it for our whole team, along with Codeword’s salary bands, so everyone can see the pay tiers for different levels at the org.

These are the four principles of our Compensation Philosophy:

  1. Competitive Pay. We believe in paying well for people’s time, expertise, and creativity. We’re constantly working to ensure Codeword’s salaries are equal to or higher than industry standards.
  2. Equitable Pay. We believe employees in similar roles with similar experience should earn similar pay, regardless of factors such as personal alliances with leadership, tenure with the organization, gender, or race.
  3. Proactive Pay. We believe salary negotiations shouldn’t be adversarial, and Codeword should reward success without team members having to fight for it. That means we’re proactive about raises, we pay freelancers quickly, and we work to keep agency expenses down so we can keep salaries up.
  4. Personal Growth. We believe team members should feel empowered to create the kind of career they want, rather than being forced to climb a linear corporate ladder. That requires flexibility and having a place at the agency for team members who want to push hard and grow quickly, and for those who enjoy what they do at the level they’re at.

We can dive deep on any of those principles, but in really simple terms, it comes down to the golden rule: treating people the way we want to be treated. We’re all grown-ups here, and we want the best for each other. Which means we need to have those bag conversations — how to secure the bag, how much should be in it, how to make the bag bigger next year. We’ve even given training sessions on how employees can “do their own PR” leading into review season.

We’re saying all this because we’re proud of our comp philosophy and we think more agencies could benefit from adopting our approach. Steal it from us! Say it was your idea! Tell your boss it’s an “industry standard” so they have to take it seriously!

And don’t take our word for it. Here’s one of our favorite clients, Payscale, which specializes in corporate pay transparency.

“Being transparent about pay is a positive branding opportunity. It shows you value your employees and are equity-minded and forward-thinking, which is attractive to top talent,”
says Lexi Clarke, Payscale’s VP of People.

Getting real with people about the things they care about most is how we stay on the same page as our team members, working for the same things, and keeping that creative and ambitious energy that an agency like Codeword thrives on.

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