SYNOPSIS: This is one of the longer blogs posts I’ve done, so let me break it down for you to perhaps save you some time. In the post below, I identify some factors that are important in your choice of job. I then compare these factors looking a both client side marketing and agency side marketing roles to see which is better. I throw in some jokes and make a half-arsed conclusion and bam, we got us a blog post.
It’s part of human nature to look at ‘what could have been’ and think that maybe we chose the wrong path in life. One of the greatest opportunities for this sort of navel-gazing is when one thinks about one’s career. Whilst perfect hindsight is probably one of the most useless gifts one can be endowed with, I can’t help but still sometimes wish I’d finished high school and done a panel beater apprenticeship instead of studying at university, because had I followed that path, I could probably own a hotrod workshop with a couple of employees building big budget custom cars all day by now… a dream job for sure.
Another question that comes up for me every now and then is that of whether I did the right thing by going client side to start my marketing career rather than agency-side. When I was but a wee lad just finished my marketing degree, I applied for the AFA Traineeship as my first fulltime role out of study. Now let me point out that the marketing degree I’d just finished was actually a Masters degree, and that I’d already completed a double degree prior to it wherein I majored in (1) Gender Studies and (2) Information Technology (weird combination, I know). Plus I’d worked part time all the way through my Masters degree in marketing roles, so I went into the ‘try-outs’ for the traineeship feeling pretty assured I was hot shit. And in all modesty, I was pretty over-qualified to be going for an AFA traineeship, so my confidence was probably somewhat warranted.
Anyway, it came time for the group assessment day for the AFA traineeships, which was the final step of the culling process for candidates, and all us eager young candidates lined up to perform our tricks like dancing monkeys for all the agency types who had assembled to pick over the young talent. The usual behaviour for group recruitment days was on display. Everyone was trying to be a ‘leader’. Everyone was trying to be creative. Everyone was trying to contribute for contributions’ sake… god help us, we cannot sit back and listen – we must speak and be seen to speak, no matter what the consequence!!! I remember one traineeship candidate was loudly rattling off names of staff from several big advertising agencies that he apparently regularly caught up with, like he was some bigtime player. I also remember thinking how unsatisfying it would be to glass him with the flimsy paper cups we were given for drinking water out of during the group exercises.
Well, the time came at the end of the day for the traineeships to be dolled out, and I was made an offer by Renard, a great agency from Sydney that I could totally have seen myself working for. Founded by Neil Fox, whom I’d spoken with numerous times throughout the group assessment day and was very impressed by, Renard was a smaller team offering a diverse role, which was right up my alley. To this day, I still feel like I shafted Neil Fox a little, as out of everyone on that day, he chose me to offer a trainseeship to, but alas things were not to be that way. I was very chuffed at my offer, until I found out what the AFA Grad traineeships actually paid – let’s just say that the amount was (A) less than half what I’d been earning whilst working client-side 20 hours a week during uni and (B) barely enough to cover living expenses. I feel the AFA really should have been more upfront with candidates about the amount to be paid, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m under no delusion that Neil Fox reads my blog, but Neil, if you do, I’m still very grateful that you offered me a job with your crew and I hope you ended up with someone awesome.
The point of this story is that the main deciding factor for me as to whether I went client side or agency side was the dollah bills. Materialistic, I know. Which brings me to the point of this blog post, and the first major difference between client side and agency side work – the cheddar…
I’m using the ‘Great Australian Paycheck’ reports from seek.com here as a yardstick. I know it’s not a perfect measure, but I don’t think that anyone can deny that (at least in the more junior ranks) agency staff are severely underpaid. Sure, the argument is that agency types have the payoff of work that is stimulating and fulfilling, but money in my pocket so I can go on an interstate holiday and eat out once in a while is also kinda fulfilling and stimulating too. Anyway, lets look at the figures…
Salary brackets for agency side (top) vs client side (bottom) in Australia
Long story short, there’s alot more opportunity to earn $80k plus in client side marketing based on the above (then there’s the bonuses too!)
WINNER: Client-side by a mile. Plus, when you break down agency work on a ‘per hour’ basis, the pay is even worse because the hours are longer. Which brings me to my second point…
Besides being a film featuring one of the worst things to come out of Australia, The Hours are a major consideration for anyone in determining which career path they choose. If I were an investment banker doing 18 hour days, I’m still going quite happily get probably less than 4 hours sleep per night because I know I’ve got my mattress and pillows stuffed with hundred dollar bills and probably have Moet in the cistern in my toilet. Not so for young’uns at an agency. Being young and poorly paid at an agency isn’t an excuse to not work long hours. But you should want to work those long hours because it’s really interesting, fulfilling work (see point 1 above).
Being a junior marketer working client side on the other hand, is cushy… working 9-6, with maybe a really late night pushing that out to 7pm. Ooh, I’m gonna be tired in the morning!!
WINNER: Client side
Even when I’m not looking for work, I keep an eye on job listings to monitor what’s happening in the market, what companies are hiring what sort of staff etc. The number of ads I see for roles in agencies where they stipulate “Must have agency experience” is flabbergastingly high. Entry to agencies is hard for us client side marketers, no matter how good we are. The number of client side marketing roles that stipulate “Would suit someone from either an agency or client-side background” is equally flabbergasting – it seems it’s a one way road. Agency folk can quite easily make the switch to client-side, but it’s much harder for us client-side marketers to make the switch to the agency side of things were we so inclined.
WINNER: Agency-side, without a doubt
STRATEGY VS TACTICS
No marketer wants to be the ‘tactics guy’ – everyone wants to be the ‘strategy guy’. Strategy guys are the shot callers who drive off in their BMW M3’s after work. Tactics guys are the shit kickers who take the bus. Tactics guys get brought in on projects when they’re already half over and all the big decision have been made. Tactics guys get to ‘execute’. Tactics guys certainly don’t get the kudos they probably deserve. Whilst a lot of ad agency types will likely refute this, agency-side work is ‘tactics guys’ work. Before you scream blue murder, let me say I know many agencies advise clients on strategy – I know this. But my take on things is that the beauty of being a client side marketer is that you get to build a strong expertise in your market, in your customers, in your products. Thus your role is, almost by definiton, a strategic one, and your industry / market expertise should be something that I think alot of agencies would struggle to reproduce. If a marketing manager doesn’t know their market and their audience, and are thus unable to set strategy accordingly, I’d say they are under-qualified for the job.
WINNER: Client-side, but there’s certainly a grey space. As I said, the beauty of being a client side marketer is that you get to deep dive into a product or a market or a particular audience and be an expert on that. As such, it is the client-side marketer who should be setting the high level strategy, as they have that depth of understanding. Unless, of course, the agency you use has highly specialised research or knowledge in your area…
KNOWLEDGE SHARING / KEEPING UP TO DATE
Client side marketers are usually boring. Not only are we boring, but we share boring information. I follow a good mix of both agency types and client side types on twitter – the best, most useful, most interesting information comes, almost without exception, from the agency types. They just seem to have their fingers more on the pulse. Agency side folks are cutting edge.
Whilst on the topic of who’s boring / interesting, another factor that probably has a large bearing on where we choose to work is the ‘cool factor’ of the job you do. No one wants to be meeting people at parties and telling them “I build relationships with a select group of IT influencers who perform a variety of activities pro bono which helps deliver support and product information to Microsoft’s IT Pro and Developer customers” (that’s my current job I just described, by the way, although lately I’ve taken to telling people I’m a famous rapper and/or streetfighter. Not that I’m ashamed of my job, it’s just that it takes a certain type of person to appreciate what I do, and they’re usually the ones playing D&D and drinking tang in the corner). Working at an agency gets you street cred. It gets you props at parties. I’m pretty sure it’d get you chicks / guys. Everyone wants to be cool.
WINNER: Agency side again has it in spades.
Lets take a look at the results to see once and for all who’s better client side or agency side marketers:
|VARIABLE||Client Side||Agency Side|
|Strategy v Tactics||WIN|
Oooh how convenient, a draw…