If you’re thinking about a career in marketing then you have one big choice to make – should you work in-house or agency-side? It has been said that once you have made the choice it can be hard to move between the two. As someone that has worked in both, I think this may be true depending on a few factors; your specific skill set, the industry you work in and of course the company.

This article will help you understand what the differences are and why making the move between them could potentially be difficult. First let’s take a look at what we mean when we say in-house.

Working as an in-house marketer

In-house is sometimes referred to as client-side and, simply put, is where you work directly for the company you have been employed to do marketing for. In other words, you are part of the in-house marketing team working for a brand or company. On the flip side, when you work for a marketing agency, you will work with a number of companies as a contracted, external marketing team.

What are the pros and cons of working in a marketing agency?

Whilst it will vary depending on what you want from a job, your skill set and what stage of your career you are at, there are some points worth noting.

Pros

  • You will gain more experience at a much faster rate.
  • You get to work on a broad range of clients of different sizes and in different industries. This might also include working with clients and teams in different countries and time zones.
  • The potential for personal growth and career progression is potentially better (depending on your company).
  • You will get to work with a lot of different people, both within your team and your clients’ teams.
  • Every day brings new challenges and problems that you have never had to deal with before. If you like a challenge and like to be pushed outside of your comfort zone working in a marketing agency will likely suit you down to the ground.

Cons

  • You won’t get the chance to get fully invested in what your clients do or the campaigns they run. So, if you like to be involved in the long-term story of a company and its trajectory over several years, agency life might not be for you.
  • It can be hard work, full on and intense – obviously some thrive in this environment, but it is worth noting.

What are the differences?

There are some major differences between the two, although this will vary depending on the companies you work for.

They often require very different skill sets

The required skill set for each can be quite different. An in-house marker will largely be focused on strategy, campaigns and brand messaging. You will have a better understanding and a better connection with the product or service your company offers.

Working in an agency on the other hand, you won’t be expected to be as up to speed on your product but you will need to have strong technical skills. This needs to be in a broad range of areas depending on what areas your agency covers.

The main reason for this is that your client will be relying on you to be able to find answers to difficult problems and be an enabler for current campaigns and roadblocks.

In my experience these roadblocks range from limitations with marketing SaaS platforms to tracking issues and GDPR related issues. Often working agency side can feel like you need to be an expert in everything. The truth is though that you will be surrounded by gifted, quick thinking marketers, each bringing their own skill set and knowledge to the party. This is the main reason for an organisation to use a marketing agency, because the team brings a depth of knowledge and experience that can be hard to recreate internally with a small team.

Variety

When you work for a range of different clients you have the benefit of the variety this brings. On any given day you might work for a dozen different clients from a broad range of industries. My work week involves bouncing between clients in manufacturing, SaaS, publishing and many more besides.

There is an argument to say that if you work in-house for a brand you’re passionate about then you have the best of both worlds, but the variety you get agency-side makes every single day different.

This will also give you an amazing experience working in a wide range of industries and talking to different types of people at different levels of different sized companies. This experience can be invaluable as you’ll be jumping between calls with CEOs, IT teams, marketers, board members, designers and entrepreneurs.

Balancing act

A term you will often hear used to describe agency life is ‘fast paced’, and what this really means is you will have to juggle the expectations and workload of multiple clients constantly.

When you work in-house you essentially have a single boss and single chain of reporting to worry about. However, agency life means that you not only have your own boss to keep happy, but you now how multiple other stakeholders from your clients who have their own agendas, deadlines to hit and expectations to be managed.

This is why working in an agency can feel like a balancing act. In fact one of the major differences you are likely to first encounter is working on the clock. When you are billing clients for your time, you need to time record. This constant tracking of each task and activity can seem daunting at first, with the ever-present targets rolling from week to week and the constant pressure to work through retainer time and see results. It certainly won’t be for everyone.

That being said, if you are doing good work and putting in the hours, it can bring structure to your week and make managing your time easy.

A steep learning curve

This fast paced environment mixed with the variety of clients and challenges has one major upside. You will learn and develop new skills and confidence at a much faster rate. If your company takes on a new client specialising in candles then you will likely need to be able to confidently talk and write about candles. If your client uses a new email service provider (ESP), then you will need to brush up on it and get ready to get hands on with it to create and send email campaigns.

As a result you will pick up new skills you never knew you would need, and these are skills you will be able to take with you in your career.

Research the company first

Having said all that it will vary hugely depending on the company you work for. Some agencies won’t use the retainer model and therefore might not use time recording. Instead they might pitch for specific projects and then complete the tasks within a set timeframe. This also has pros and cons.

Equally, some in-house teams will have a depth of marketing skills and expert knowledge on their product that makes them extremely competent although perhaps a little overly niche.

Is working in a marketing agency the right choice for you?

Only you will know the answer to this one. But if you like to be challenged, want to learn at a fast pace and develop yourself in ways that an in-house role can’t offer, then agency-side really is the best option.

Yes it can be full on, recording your time can feel intense and managing client expectations can stretch you to your limits. BUT, it is also extremely rewarding. Working in a marketing agency means constantly measuring success and ROI, which means you will see the fruits of your labour on a daily basis. You will be able to look back after 6 months and see how far you have progressed and be proud of the new challenges you have conquered.

Agency life can also differ in one key way to working in-house. Because you aren’t as invested in your clients you have a better chance of being able to shut off when you’re out of hours. You’re not likely to be expected to work late into the evening, set email campaigns live at the weekend, or set products live for the Boxing Day sales. Yes you will work hard during office hours, but the work life balance should be better!

If you have more questions, or just want to pick my brains, then feel free to reach out. I’ve been lucky enough to work in-house and now in an agency, so I can give you my views on both!