"Crossing over": agency-side vs client-side

June 06, 2016

Agency account managers are an interesting breed. They often enter and exit AgencyLand through a number of doors, and at various stages of their career. This is what we term "crossing over".

For example, a Junior Events Manager could "cross over" into an integrated agency at Account Executive or Account Manager level; or an integrated agency Account Director could "cross over" into a Brand Manager position client-side.

Why cross over?

Like any potential career change, often the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. Those working client-side may look longingly at the bright, creative lights of AgencyLand and those working in agency may hope for a more restful life client-side.

Here are some major differences between the two working environments:

Client-side (e.g. marketing, brand, communications, in-house design department)

  • Marketing focus
  • Slower pace
  • Deadlines known in advance via marketing plans
  • Less stress
  • One "client" (with one or more brands)
  • Big picture overview
  • Ability to see the result of your efforts over the long-term
  • Greater input into the success of your company
  • Less variety
  • Good chance for a 9-to-5 job, or flexible working hours

Agency-side

  • Advertising (or design, PR, experiential, media) focus
  • Faster pace
  • Deadline-driven
  • High stress
  • One or more clients (each with one or more brands)
  • Project/campaign-specific overview
  • Limited input into your client's business success
  • More variety
  • More creative
  • Longer hours

It's important to figure out which type of environment you enjoy working in the most, and what direction will be in the best interest of your career growth, family situation and personal wellbeing. If crossing over is the answer, then how do you go about doing that?

Making the leap

No matter what stage of your career you are at, crossing over will be a challenge, but it will be far easier to make the leap when you are either at a junior or senior level.

Junior

At a junior level you are perceived to be more teachable and mouldable. You'll be able to take the basic skills that you have learned (either agency-side or client-side) and transfer them to a new environment. Salaries should be comparable at this stage.

Intermediate

This is the tough level to cross over. You've already spent a few years learning your craft; your salary has continued to rise; and you are well on your way to building a long-term career. It's likely that crossing over will require a drop in your salary, and you may have to start again at a junior level and work your way back up. If you make a change at this stage it will be a firm statement that you want to proceed on a different career pathway.

Senior

Once you reach a senior level in agency you usually switch from being a "do-er" to being more of a leader/manager. You will have financial responsibility on your accounts, a high level of strategic input, and you may be running a team of direct reports. You will also have a good understanding of your client's business needs, and what it takes to achieve measurable results and revenue growth. All of this experience and knowledge can lend itself nicely to a marketing or brand management role client-side.

The challenges

Agency-side to client-side
A client-side role will usually sit within a marketing or communications team. As advertising is merely one subset of marketing (along with PR, media planning, sales strategy, customer support, market research, product pricing, distribution and community involvement), the marketing learning curve will be steep. If you can complete a marketing qualification, prior to moving client-side, it will help prepare you for the change.

Client-side to agency-side
One would think that if you are already well-versed in marketing, then you should be able to handle a subset of marketing with ease. You should be able to easily understand your client's business needs and have a top-level understanding of advertising channels. Where you may come unstuck is in the day-to-day execution - the how of facilitating campaigns across various channels, the myriad of technical jargon and the complexity of agency process. You may also struggle with the fast pace of agency life, stress, conflicting deadlines and managing various agency teams (and creative personalities).

Some agencies only wish to hire people with previous agency experience (for all the practical reasons stated), whilst others are more open-minded.

The good news is that people with both agency and client-side experience on their CV are usually well-regarded. The trick is knowing when to cross over, and when - if required - to cross back. Only you, knowing your long-term career goals, will be able to answer that question of timing.

Love it or hate it

There is a good chance that you will either love "it", or hate "it", no matter which "it" you choose. That's why it is so important to pick the right environment for you.

If you cross over and feel that you have made the wrong move, then it would be better to cross back sooner rather than later (especially if you are still at a junior level). Remember, "fortune favours the brave"!

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