I worked in the advertising agency right out of college. I had an eventful 5+ years in the industry and few months ago, I finally left the circle and jumped to the other side of the fence, the client side.
The client side is often known to be the greener side. I have former colleagues who joined the agency from the client side and they described agency as if it’s a sinking ship where everyone is toiling to stay afloat at the mercy of clients who are pointing guns at us. We’re slaves to clients. While client-agency relationship are now improving as clients recognise the agency as industry experts, ultimately we depend on clients for our rice-bowls and that’s why “customer is king” delineates agency culture.
Now that I’ve switched to a client position, I can finally make a first hand comparison of life in the agency vs client-side and here are my two cents –
Advertising agency is notorious for its crazy working hour because that’s true. Even if you work on a retainer account, somehow you can never guess when you’d be required to stay late for emergency so it’s rather hard to plan activities after working hour. On the bright side, most agencies tolerate late-comers so you can sleep-in a little but you probably need that after working late the night before.
Verdict: Client-side wins!
As client you may need to check your email often even during holidays but you basically plan for things and ask the agency to make it happen. So you have that break time while your agency scrambles to make things happen.
One of the things I miss the most working in agency is the company culture. Agency people thrive on being a fun bunch of people. I remember few of us were staying late and one of the director said this before he left office “It’s just advertising guys! Nobody dies (even if we fail).” Agency environment can be stressful, working around deadlines and unfortunately there are cases of personnel who died from overwork… but I think majority of the days we know how to let loose. On the client side, people are a lot more cordial. They know how to keep things professional on the surface even if they hate your guts. Clients seem more proper than advertisers.
Verdict: Agency wins!
I guess Agency gives off a more fun and genuine vibe. It’s like being in the last class versus the best class in cohort. (Not saying clients are smarter, I’m just talking about the atmosphere).
Projects/ The Work
There are vast learning opportunities being on either side. The benefit of being with agency is that you’ll handle different brands and be exposed to a range of industries (unless you are on a retainer account – then you should experience working for different accounts). You would also learn to manage offline and online media, working with suppliers, third parties, etc. Being a client hones my planning and strategy skills and here I have the opportunities to interact with more senior level executives within my working industry (not just within the corporation).
Verdict: It depends on your interest. Personally I developed an eye for detail (which is NOT my natural skill) working in the agency. Agency does a lot of implementation while clients does planning. Agency is good place to start, but if you start off as a client then stay – Do not enter the agency zone.
If you start your career as an entry-level in the agency, you probably earn less than your peers in other industry but the learning you get is priceless and you could get more perks (free booze, client’s products, tickets, etc) working in agency. But for long term goal, I think client pays better.
Verdict: Client wins! (Agency wins if you’re director level/ have won awards/ white person in an Asian agency which probably means you’re director level)
It’s too early for me to conclude which side of the fence I prefer. I am sure both sides have their pros and cons. I certainly have enjoyed being part of the advertising world because I’ve met really great colleagues who were my comrades-in-arms while battling with client briefs. I just feel that being in the agency allows you to form really great relationships, do work you’re proud of, have fun, be creative however it keeps your world rather secluded. Whenever I meet someone from advertising agency, I look at them as if they’re my countrymen. Maybe I’m dramatic. But you can grouch about timesheet, laugh over client briefs, share crazy agency party stories, you belong to a unique industry. Right now, even if I meet someone from my current industry, I would probably look at them as competitors? I can learn from them but at the same time I need to be wary. I don’t know, I’m really too new to say anything conclusive.
In any case, enjoy yourself wherever you are. If you’re working in advertising agency and feel everything sucks, trust me you’re gonna miss it when it’s over – hopefully it’ll be over. It’s a love-hate relationship really.