At the very beginning of my career, I was an Intern at an Irish Ad Agency. I remember working late into the evening with a team of creatives and client service professionals on changes to a campaign that was being launched the next day. My then boss, frustrated by the fact that we had to work late to make these changes for the client, turned to me and said, “would you ever think of working client-side?”. I thought for a second and before I could respond she did so for me – “because you’d be home right now if you did.”
Now, at the time this was said jokingly in a bid to cope with the fact that we were all working late, but there was an element of truth to that remark. We were working into the night and the clients were at home.
In a recent poll that TalentHub posted on LinkedIn, we found that 65% of marketers are looking to move to client side.
Having worked in both an agency environment and a client environment myself, I wanted to take the time to write this piece to outline the benefits and costs of both sides for anyone looking for guidance in their marketing journey.
But first, let’s get the basics out of the way. What is a client and what is an agency?
Simply put, a client is the owner of the brand. They are the companies who pay money to ensure their brand is exposed in a way that keeps them relevant and competitive in the marketplace and -crucially – boost sales. They’re a Guinness, a McDonalds, a Vodafone, a Coke.
An agency, on the other hand, is usually the party responsible for coming up with the creative ideas and strategies to make sure these brands are exposed and promoted in a way that fulfils the brand’s ambitions. Essentially, they’re the ones who, as a friend of mine once eloquently put it, “do the ads”.
Ok. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the pros and cons of both in four key categories: Work-Life Balance, Career Growth, Salary, and Creativity & Autonomy.
Over the past two years, peoples’ priorities have understandably shifted. Living through a global pandemic made a lot of us realise the importance of devoting more time to our loved ones and having the freedom to enjoy life outside of work more. The client side tends to provide an environment where this is more achievable. This can be attributed to the fact that, by and large, marketing is a department within a much wider enterprise as opposed to the entire product. You are, as it were, a small fish in a big pond. It can also be attributed to the fact that you are not responsible for the physical execution of a campaign but rather, overseeing it.
On the agency side of things, it’s no secret that oftentimes – because of deadlines, the frequency of work, pitches for new business – employees are expected to work longer hours to ensure the job is done. It’s not always the case, but it is commonplace. This is because on the agency side, marketing is the product, and you are responsible for the physical execution of a campaign.
A lot people will transfer from agency to client side in order to get a promotion. However, once in the door, new positions don’t tend to come up quite as often. This is largely due to the fact that turnover is usually quite low and positions tend to be more fixed. That being said, having solid experience working with a strong brand does put you in a very good position to move up a step to another one.
Agencies are usually fast-paced by nature. As such, turnover can be quite high and when people leave, the first place an agency will look to hire is from within. The hard work you’ve put in and your loyalty can then, in the right circumstances, be rewarded with a move up the ladder.
Salaries tend to be higher on the client side but, as I mentioned previously, opportunities to get promoted are usually rarer than in an agency. The climb can be a little slower.
While starting salaries tend to be lower, the opportunity to grow and move upward is far more likely in an agency. As well as this, more senior agency salaries tend to level out to a figure which matches that of their client counterparts.
Like I said before, on the client side you are not responsible for the physical execution of a campaign but rather overseeing it. This comes in the form of a number of things including but not limited to: writing briefs, setting/managing budgets, and dealing with the day-today running and success of the brand. With this in mind, it should come as little surprise that creativity isn’t the primary function of your role here. However, as a client you are the guardian of the brand and have more autonomy over it.
Agencies exist to produce effective creative work that gets results for their clients. The entire success of an agency hinges on the effectiveness of their creative output. They’re made up of thinkers, writers, artists, and designers. If the creativity of marketing is the reason you’re interested in it, an agency is the best place to look.
When mapping out your career in marketing there are a number of factors to consider. The common, basic assumption is that it boils down to life-stage – if you’re young and have fewer commitments, you’ll work agency side. If you’ve got a partner and kids, you’ll veer more towards the client-side. Sure, there’s an element of truth to this and it is the traditional trend, but as with all things in life, it’s just not that simple.
You might value creative freedom over outright stability. You may be looking for a more focused and single-minded working environment. You could just want a higher salary and switching is the best way to get it. It depends entirely on you. But it’s important to consider how a decision today will play in the future – how do you want your journey to look?