Culture paradox: Agency side vs Client side


Admit it or not, as marketing professionals, we all have evaluated these two different sides of marketing at some or the other point during the course of our career. However, there’s no concrete answer to it. Depending on your strengths and interests, you can be better suited for agency life or client side.

We’ve often come across colleagues debating which side is better. Some say agency life is cool; some say client side ascertains career stability. This could be a never-ending debate since both are two different sides of the same coin. I consider myself fortunate enough to have been on both sides of the table. For the marketing professionals who are seeking some firsthand experience, here are my two cents on the topic:

Culture

Moving from client side to agency, I have experienced a world of difference in work culture and environment.  At client side, average employee age goes up; most professionals have been around for half a decade – which makes them industry specialists. In short – less attrition. Most professionals have accepted the designated role as their career path and are very determined to move up the ladder or shift verticals within the organisation. Highest paid person’s opinion is usually matters the most since; any new initiative needs his approvals and validations. Seeing someone blasting music off their self-owned speakers, doing facebook or watching cute puppy videos is a rare sight. Client side can be a very structured setup of departments, very process oriented approach – which I personally find time-consuming and tiring at times.

On the other hand agency side is very dynamic with limited processes in place. Flat hierarchy and open door policies will allow you to approach seniors directly. Agency culture can be classified as casual and relaxed – which doesn’t warrant any lesser workload, though. Having contradictory views is not considered unhealthy.

The work

Yes, the client-side really provides opportunities to switch verticals and sometimes functions too – of course after a stipulated time period and desired performance rating. I would be wrong if I say client side has less workload, it’s just that the work is well defined and structured in fact; I’d say the accountability is very high. Good part is you have resources at your disposal to take care of unwanted operational work which allows you to focus better on your core work. The work can be very specialised and detailed in nature. While the work focus is on one brand and one industry, the degree of detailing is very high. Coordinating with multiple stake holders (agencies, vendors, sales team, product team, procurement team etc.) needs better people management skills. It’s safe to tag someone with a notable experience as an industry specialist. The best part is you get to drive the work and set directions and expectations for the assignment that you may be managing. I would not deny the fact that you get a better work-life balance because of the structured and well-defined role and resources at your disposal.

On the agency side, you often have to juggle between multiple clients and industries which requires a great deal of multitasking. This in turn, helps you break the monotony of the job in a longer run as you can always switch clients.  Here you may not get the autonomy to decide the pace and direction of the assignment at hand. Operational work is always on a higher side which often leads to longer working hours.

Career Growth

Career growth is the product of talent and performance regardless of with side you are on. Having said that – this may be debatable but when I first joined the client side, I was told there won’t be any promotion for the next two years. There’s a very rigorous evaluation process where the goals are clearly defined and evaluation parameters are set. Agencies on the other hand, can be a little fast paced in terms of jumping the ladder – of course not without remarkable performance.

Remuneration

Moola is one of the important parameters when it comes to job evaluation. In the majority of cases, client side could get you a marginally higher salary than you’d receive in an agency, and the big firms can also offer some pretty comprehensive benefits for you and your family. This may have something to do with the way in which the businesses are structured and their respective business models although this is dependent on position and the type of role. Some agencies and roles can be exceptions to this comparative analysis.

Making a suitable choice is imperative to a good career progression, what is more important is enjoying the journey regardless of which side you are on.

The article is written by Sagar Barapatre, currently working with Idea Cellular, Assistant Manager – Brand. Connect with him on Twitter.


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