6 Myths About Working For An Agency
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Over the years, agencies have forged a distinct reputation – they are not made for everyone. All degrees and professional experience aside, the fact is that for job candidates to make it agency-side they must usually step into a different world. Totaljobs spoke to several agencies about how different it is to work in this environment than in-house or as a freelancer. Let’s bust the agency myths and reveal how it truly is.
1. “I will work 24/7 and be under pressure all the time.”
Perhaps influenced by leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, who famously made the news with his parental leave, agencies tend to encourage their staff to maintain a strong work-life balance. At Periscopix, a performance marketing agency based in London, they “operate strict working hours and in turn, see a work force that are highly motivated and focused when in the office”, says Natasha Bhana, Recruitment Manager.
Your working days will definitely be busy, and you will “have to think on your feet and be willing to change direction. We have to manage numerous projects within tight timeframes”, confirms Dan Maudhub, Managing Director at Wonderful creative agency. But as the Periscopix team explains, this should not take priority over your well-being at work: “We review peoples’ workload regularly to ensure they are challenged and stretched, but not struggling”.
Nonetheless, agency life offers a faster-paced environment than any other and on this point, our interviewees were unanimous: things move quickly, you’ll have to think fast, be adaptable and multi-task. For Steve Ollington, Content Marketing Director at agenda21, it’s even “expeditious”. He continued: “This has the benefits of lots of buzz, diverse learning through osmosis, and putting you out of your comfort zone”.
2. “I have to be an expert before I even consider agency-side.”
Competition is fierce, and whether they are brand new businesses or well-established, agencies have to prove themselves – and for that, they need top professionals. Dan Maudhub commented, “We have to be reactive to both technology and opportunity. You have to be prepared for every possible outcome and willing to take a chance on something new. Our teams are always actively seeking new ways to incorporate trends to the work we produce for our clients”.
Agencies will therefore strive to hire the best candidates (who wouldn’t?), and encourage their staff to learn and upskill. Alongside this, many agencies such as Periscopix offer strong training programs to graduates or new employees. Natasha Bhana explains: “All new employees receive three months of training where they learn everything they need to know about PPC and the wider business. The training is extremely hands-on and we are keen to let the trainees put what they are learning into practice straight away by giving them their first client around week three. Post-training, we run forums and workshops, along with conference calls for all employees to share new learnings and updates”.
3. “I cannot make a career agency-side.”
Traditionally, working in-house meant having a career plan whereby you start from a certain level and make your way up. Agencies have been less well-known for that, but the diversity of disciplines – in digital in particular – has now changed the game. Agency-side, “you are working for a number of different clients and potentially across different sectors, which can be exciting. There’s also more opportunity to grow from a career perspective on the agency-side”, says Hem Patel, Co-Founder and Partner at Signal Noise, a data design agency based in East London.
The expertise you’ll gain will make you climb the ladder with seniority and eventually access strategic roles, client management or ownership of an entire channel across different accounts. As long as you can show passion towards your discipline, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t expect a promotion!
4. “Anyway, I am either made for agency or in-house.”
You will not know the answer to this until you’ve experienced all possible work environments. Be savvy: don’t make up your mind until you’ve tried. According to Steve Ollington, “it’s the best way to learn, and also try to work for a couple of different sized agencies. Small specialists work very differently to mid-sized and large full-service agencies”. That way, you’ll know what is best suited for you and you will make an informed decision.
Jason MacKenzie, Managing Director at Liquid, a PR, design and marketing consultancy based in the UK, explains: “As your career develops, you may find yourself moving between worlds. It’s not a simple binary decision. Experience of working in different environments produces a well-rounded practitioner”.
5. “I will have to mingle with clients.”
The agency culture often requires you to go for dinner or drinks with clients – not necessarily for entertainment and pure socializing, but mainly to give you a better understanding of their personality; you’ll probably get insights into the business and their vision, which ultimately will help your work and deliverables. This will also help you pitch ideas and find opportunities to work more closely with their brand and draw in new business to your agency.
For Andrew Seel, CEO of Qube Media, an agency offering social media services and based in Brighton, this is crucial as “you need to understand that developing a strong client partnership is key to achieving a powerful impact. This means you need to be a good listener to recognise client and customer needs and motivations, but also be creative, agile and have a clear vision which cuts through the noise and demonstrates how you’ll be able to meet and exceed business objectives”.
Something Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director at Blueglass, an SEO and Content Marketing agency in London, agrees on: “Take the time to really get to know your clients; it speeds up a lot further down the line. The best results always come when you are aligned and working closely together, so having a strong relationship is vital to challenge ideas, improve each other and keep working away to build that next masterpiece!”
Bonus: “Agencies are for hipsters.”
This depends how you define a hipster. Agencies are famous for all the extras, whether they’re a reality or not: drinks, original team-building events, quirky offices, witty banter… They want to make sure you have a good time while at work to retain you and encourage you to express yourself as well as be your true self.
Maybe the best perk in working agency-side is that “you’re more likely to be surrounded by likeminded people”, according to Dan Maudhub. This means you’ll have the opportunity to be inspired by your leadership team, by your peers and probably get to try new products and releases before anyone else in your industry. This might not be the case for a specialist in-house where they are seen as the one – and often only expert in their area.
Ultimately, a good dose of humour and self-mockery will help you find your way in. Dave Harrison, Founder and Managing Director of creative agency Spicerack (a workplace he sometimes qualifies as “eccentric”), highly recommends working agency-side. This is for your own sake, “although there’s currently no evidence that those who spend their working life tapping away at a PC in silence die younger than those working on iMacs to the steady pulse of electronica”.
Finally, remember: all agencies are different. When you go to your interview, ask about the agency culture, request a tour of the office and have a chat with members of staff. Get a good sense of the vibe there and assess the world you might step into. Good luck!
By Mimouna Mahdaoui
Mimouna currently produces online content at Totaljobs Group. Her background includes online marketing for an international education provider and travel companies.