Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Administrative Assistants: An Undervalued Brand Asset


Awards and perks aside there is one simple way to tell how much an employee is valued: their salary.

Clearly, companies value their chief executive officers a lot. Last year the average CEO pay at a S&P 500 index company was $12.9 million, according to the AFL-CIO. By their calculations, that's 380 times what the typical worker makes.


Of course not all CEOs work for S&P 500 Index companies. According to Salary.com, the median U.S. salary for the job title "CEO" is actually far lower - $732,744 per year.

But we still value corporate leaders much more than those who work for them. About 10.5 times more, in the case of administrative assistants who report to the CEO. According to the same site, the median salary for a "secretary to the CEO" is $69,854.

On the face of it you might say to yourself that a gap of ten times pay sounds just about right. After all it's the CEO who makes the big decisions, the CEO who takes the risks, and so on.

Plus so many administrative tasks can be automated, right?

But this view is shortsighted, particularly from a branding point of view. In fact, great administrative assistants contribute both intangible benefits and intangible assets to the workplace. (Intangible benefits have to do with perceptions and attitudes whereas intangible assets are cognitive, e.g. information and knowledge.) Examples:

  • Brand Consistency: Enforcing standard operating procedures - reducing duplicated effort, wasted time, stovepiping
  • Culture: Improving morale - improving coordination, enhancing retention
  • Decision Filter: Influencing key decisions - knowing the history and the informal culture, they have a radar for what will and will not work
  • Training: Using institutional knowledge to shorten the learning curve for new employees
  • Innovation and Product Development: Immersion in the culture leads to enhancing existing products or introducing newer ones that are more marketable
Yet unless an administrative assistant appears with the title, dress and demeanor of an executive their valuable contributions are routinely devalued. The movie Working Girl captured this nicely - the executive degraded her assistant and stole her ideas. The assistant, in turn, won a promotion by stealing the executive's identity and office (at least for awhile).


At the end of the day, organizations need to realize as much value as possible from all of their employees, not just the few who have elite status. Recognizing administrative assistants for their inherent and potential worth, training and engaging them to contribute as much as possible, is smart business and smart branding. There is no technology, ever - not Apple's "Siri" and not a robot - that will take the place of human intelligence and human interaction. 

We should value administrative assistants more.