Aquent Aquent

The Best Cities for Ambitious Creative and Marketing Professionals

By Jennie Kitchin

The Best Cities for Ambitious Creative and Marketing Professionals

In an uncertain time for UK businesses, many creative talent are questioning their employment options. When considering relocation, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of each possible location before you make the decision to leave your current city.

As part of our Salary Insights & Employment Trends 2018 white-paper, we evaluated salary data, cost of living and quality of life in predominantly English speaking cities with large creative industries. We analysed data for New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Sydney, Melbourne and London to see which cities were the best for ambitious creative and marketing professionals.

Our results follow below. The analysis factors in salary after tax, cost of living, which includes costs such as average rent, utilities, disposable income,etc. and standard of living factors, which includes average healthcare, commutes, pollution and climate.


By global standards this is a small city but has a buzzing creative scene and great night life. It also has good healthcare, relatively short average commutes and a good climate. While salaries are lower than the global megacities, the cost of living is overall slightly lower.


Another smaller city, but with a substantial creative community, short commutes, cosmopolitan culture and good work-life balance. The only downside is slightly smaller salaries and heavier taxes but this is counterbalanced by good public services.


Canada’s largest city is the top ranking North American entry, with its multi-cultural population and safe streets. Its marketing community is kept busy with the large number of IT and financial firms, as well as a number of FMCG brands being based there.


A great climate, international reputation and a large number of international brands being based there makes Sydney a thriving city for marketers and creatives. However, a well-documented housing shortage, busy streets and high prices all pull this city down as a potential base.

San Francisco

San Francisco is perfectly placed between top universities and the world’s leading tech innovation centre, Silicon Valley. It offers creatives and marketers a great career with a host of top jobs available. It is however one of the worst cities in the world for cost of living.


The Windy City boasts mesmerising architecture and great restaurants and is also the business capital of the Mid-West, so there are plenty of marketing and creative jobs available. However, cold winters and icy winds keeps Chicago’s desirability down.


While living in London is fun with a lot of opportunities for creatives and marketers to build an exciting career, the city is also expensive with high rents, long commutes and a declining public health system. The grey climate and pollution levels also ensure London is outclassed by other cities.

New York

On an analytical level the world’s advertising capital is the least attractive destination. While salaries are high, living in the Big Apple is very expensive, traffic is busy and there is not much of a public health care system.

Salary comparison against the city's average

When comparing salaries after tax against the city’s average wage some interesting trends emerge. Chicago and Toronto both award marketers and creatives the highest salaries when compared to average earnings. Toronto Creative Directors see salaries three times that of the average and Chicago Brand Managers see almost twice the average wage. Copywriters see salaries ranging from a third higher than average in Chicago, Sydney and Melbourne, to a massive 60% higher in London and double the average in Toronto. In London, Brand Managers earn about 80% more than average, compared to 54% in Amsterdam and only 17% more in Melbourne. Designers see their talent most appreciated in Amsterdam and Toronto, with Digital Designers paid three quarters and double the city average respectively. UX Designers are also well recognised, with their average salaries hovering around double to almost three times the average salary in Toronto.

What can London businesses do to keep their talent?

It's clear from our analysis that London is lacking in certain elements of desirability for creative talent. This is especially true since Brexit, with many people feeling uncertain about their futures and job prospects in the city. But what can businesses do to turn this mindset around and keep hold of their talent? Wages for creatives in the city tend to be above the national average, so perhaps further pay increases are not the answer. However, with very high rent in the city and expensive transport costs for anybody living outside of it, companies should consider subsidised travel arrangements or flexible working to help ease the financial burden on their employees. Our survey results showed that only 25% of creative and marketing employees are currently happy at work, and the main reason given for looking to move jobs was lack of progression. Perhaps the key for retaining talent is to provide clearly defined progression plans and offer easy access to training and upskilling for employees. Also, at the time of surveying, almost 50% of agency and brandside managers admitted their company did not have a post-Brexit plan. It’s possible that the cause for concern for most employees is the lack of communication from their business leaders in terms of next steps. Having a concrete post-Brexit plan is difficult as it is still not clear how the move will affect many companies, but this should not stop the conversations from happening and the exploration process being shared with employees so they feel included and informed.

All our stats are taken from survey data based on 250 client, employee and freelancer responses in the UK. For more insights, tips and advice, download our free Salary Insights & Employment Trends 2018 white-paper. We explore the realities of building, leading and growing a team, and the truth about working life in the creative industry at this time.

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