Client vs. Agency Work

Both Options Offer Plenty of Growth Opportunities

Many people have opinions – positive and negative – about advertising agencies and public relations firms. So how does working in an agency compare to being on the client side? Having spent more than half of my career in a client role, and nearly half on the agency side, I’ve seen a lot of positives and a few of the negatives associated with both.

On the client side, you’re often part of an in-house agency function that supports the larger company. Your clients tend to be internal, and you often spend a fair amount of time educating them about how marketing and communications can benefit their organization. Depending on the business you’re in, workload can ebb and flow at various times during the year. Many smaller businesses can’t afford or don’t want to work with an agency, so marketers often play the jack of all trades role. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it adds variety to your work. You also develop a very deep understanding of your company, customers, competition and the climate in which you’re doing business. During my years on the client side, I enjoyed the opportunity to work with and learn from agencies and consultants that were involved in a variety of projects. If you’re working in a communications capacity, you may have to be on call certain days to deal with media issues that may arise.

After about 14 years in a client role, I was eager for a change and began to consider “the dark side,” the agency world that people said was all about timesheets and working late nights on deadlines. There are occasional late nights, which is no surprise. The timesheets are a real thing, but with easy online tools, they’re really not that difficult. In fact, tracking our time enables us to understand just how long it takes to complete a project.

I also enjoy the teamwork that is a fundamental part of any agency role. Working in a marketing and communications firm is a team sport. If you don’t like working in a team, you won’t thrive in this environment. Being part of an organization where everyone has a skill set in communications or marketing is one of the biggest differences I’ve seen. Agency life is often considered more laid back and less rigid, which is evident in agency happy hours, a more casual dress code and crazy culture-building events for which some firms like Fahlgren Mortine are known.

Internships and practicums are a great way to experience the differences between life in the client and agency worlds. Regardless of the route you choose, it’s important to keep pace with the rapid changes happening in our profession to remain relevant in whatever career path you choose.


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    One thought on “Client vs. Agency Work

    1. Good post – I’ve also worked on both sides, and I’ve found that it’s easier to stay on top of emerging trends and technologies here because there are so many diverse projects happening (and so many smart people).

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