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Salary and the packaging professional

Packaging professionals who want their employers to show them the money should provide convincing reasons.

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The beginning of the year is prime season for salary surveys, their results providing individuals a means of comparison; but knowing where one stands, while important, is of limited use. That’s because the rightful focus should be on the future, regardless of one’s satisfaction (or lack thereof) with the present. That’s not to ignore that timing is everything; nonetheless, even in a recession, with its concomitant salary freezes and concerns about job security, salary goals should be pursued.  Managing one’s salary throughout a career is best done by a strategic approach. That’s true for all professionals; however, those in packaging are enviably positioned, due to the nature of packaging. 

A packaged product is an integrated whole (product plus package).  Not only is the package a part of each unit sold, packaging makes possible the mass manufacturing, mass marketing, and mass distribution that are the hallmarks of modern-day industry. It doesn’t stop with indispensability, though; the innovative utilization of the functions of packaging (containment, protection, communication, and convenience/utility) can lead to a competitive advantage. It all makes for a strong value-added argument for packaging professionals seeking to be paid their worth, not just within companies that produce consumer packaged goods, but also within those that produce institutional goods—even industrial goods, as well.

The wages of win

In crafting their salary strategies, packaging professionals need to determine how packaging is perceived within the corporation, from senior management on down.  Whereas the very employment of packaging professionals means that the corporation holds packaging in some regard, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the regard is what it should be. Packaging has enjoyed increased prestige within corporate settings in recent decades; even so, underutilization still is too common.  In order to evaluate packaging’s stature within their own corporations, packaging professionals must possess the requisite knowledge about packaging’s potential and capabilities.  Without such knowledge, they won’t be able to teach the corporation how to derive increased value from packaging; and without such knowledge, they miss out on opportunities to increase their personal value to the corporation and to make themselves candidates for improved salaries.

Knowing what criteria are used within the corporation to determine salary levels might require going beyond information supplied in the typical performance review. Packaging professionals need to know the criteria important to any for-profit corporation (i.e. contributions to sales, revenues, cost-savings, operational efficiencies, good-will, etc.). However, professionals should understand that co-workers in other disciplines are faced with the same criteria and that it’s sound strategy to increase one’s value by helping others increase theirs. 

Packaging, because it’s interdisciplinary, affords its professionals sizable opportunities for helping others; for, when conducted properly, a packaging project cuts across (among others) such disciplines as marketing, sales, manufacturing/processing, procurement, and logistics. Packaging professionals should stay alert to recognizing the concerns and anxieties of others and should be committed to assuaging them. Others so helped tend to let it be known, thereby becoming advocates for the helpful packaging professional. When seeking an improved salary, it’s advantageous to be told, with a smile, “Your reputation precedes you.”

Even a phalanx of supporters, however, does not relieve a packaging professional from making a strong case on his or her own behalf. The key to doing that is to bring the numbers, that is to say, to be able to quantify accomplishments. Packaging professionals need to be good record-keepers, but beyond that, they need to quantify aspects of their work that might, on the surface, seem inconsequential. A package development project completed a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, for example, might not seem a big deal. A savvy professional, however, would tie it to speed-to-market and sales projections, and quantify what two-weeks’ worth of inventory in the pipeline means to the bottom line.

Implied in an effective salary strategy is the need for the packaging professional to maintain a high profile (visibility), but not in an obnoxious way. Admittedly, that requires skill, but one that’s well worth cultivating.   High profile assignments and projects, by nature, are known throughout the corporation, and because packaging is interdisciplinary, motivated packaging professionals won’t find it difficult to make an argument for their inclusion. An additional path to maintaining a high profile is to voluntarily take on added responsibilities, not by usurping the responsibilities of someone else but by shouldering those that are unclaimed (or underserved). The key is to choose responsibilities that are recognized as important to the corporation’s goals. 

A salary strategy should seek to build a specialization, above and beyond the skills required by the job description.  When a packaging professional becomes the go-to person in an area important to the corporation, that professional is in a better position to bargain for a better salary. What are some worthwhile specializations?  They abound, but prominent among them is sustainability. After years as the most prominent topic in packaging, and with many companies claiming to have made it an integral component of their overall strategy, sustainability—for the most part—is mired in contradictions and disjointed efforts. Even some professionals who have sustainability-related titles only have a piecemeal understanding of the concept; furthermore, sustainability has so many facets that it accords opportunities to any packaging professional who is willing to specialize in the ones most relevant to the corporation. 

All for one (’s self) and one for all

For sure, a salary strategy is founded on self-interest; however, to succeed, it must integrate that interest with that of the corporation. The ultimate goal, after all, is mutual gain. That notwithstanding, a salary strategy can be regarded in a broader perspective.  When packaging professionals with well-devised salary strategies devote the energy necessary for the fulfillment of those strategies, it not only elevates the individuals but also the discipline of packaging, itself. There’s a further domino effect, because as expectations placed on packaging increase, there’s also an increased recognition that it takes a competitive salary to attract, incentivize, and retain top talent.

An improved salary landscape is tilled one packaging professional at a time. Each packaging professional, therefore, should embrace salary-related opportunities, along with their associated challenges. The attitude should be, with apologies to Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make my pay.”

Sterling Anthony is a consultant, specializing in the strategic use of marketing, logistics, and packaging.  His contact information is: 100 Renaissance Center- Box 43176; Detroit, MI 48243; 313-531-1875 office; 313-531-1972 fax;;

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