Seb Atkinson has done a great guest post for us with his top tips. Seb graduated with a degree in History and has spent the last four years working in Digital Marketing, initially “in-house” before moving “agency-side”, to Selesti, a creative digital marketing agency. Seb helps start-up and international businesses with their digital marketing initiatives. He unpicks the thorny question of whether to work in house or for an agency. Over to Seb:
Should you work for an agency or in-house?
If you’re looking to get into industries such as advertising, marketing or PR, you’ll know that jobs are available at agencies, as well as in-house at big companies. But what are the differences between these types of roles, and where is best to start your career?
I’m going to highlight three key things to consider when deciding between an agency and in-house role. I’ve asked three recent graduates to contribute and talk about what attracted them to their roles and the likely implication of the decisions they’ve made on their subsequent careers.
What are the differences in corporate culture?
In-house and agency life typically have very different cultures. Agencies tend to be smaller companies, with a “work hard, play hard” attitude. You’ll be expected to commit a great deal of time and effort to helping your clients succeed. But agencies typically specialise in creative work, meaning they often advocate a more casual, fun working environment. Having fun really helps to get creativity going. This is why many of the best agencies offer great opportunities to socialise with the team, or chill out in the office during down time, for example with a game of pool or table football.
Meanwhile in-house roles in marketing, PR or advertising are typically found in larger organisations. These tend to follow a more traditional work culture. They have more traditional working environments, such as cubicle workspaces rather than open plan offices, business attire instead of t-shirts and hoodies, and more formal relationships between team members.
What kind of work will you be doing?
The types of task you’ll be working on can really vary between in-house and agency roles. Working in-house normally means taking on a range of roles, giving you a breadth of knowledge. Agency roles typically see you specialise in a certain discipline, applying this skill to a range of clients.
“Working an agency I have advanced my specialist skills, and enjoy applying them to a variety of clients from a range of industries.”
– Katy Crouch, Search Marketing Executive at Selesti
At an agency you’ll typically find your specialist skills and knowledge progress quickly .
On the other hand, learning about the different roles inside a single business can also be beneficial. You’ll build your business acumen in different ways. This is what initially attracted Patrick Robinson, Marketing Executive at Linx Printing Technologies, to working in-house at large corporations.
“I think the main benefit of working in-house is the ability to get experience and knowledge of other departments within a business. This is a big advantage as it can help me focus and change how I do things as I am more aware of other problems which may be a factor outside of the marketing department.”
Working with different departments can also result in a varied working day, rather than see you pigeon-holed into a single area. Verity Prentice, PR Assistant at Hallmark Care Homes, found this out first hand:
“Every day varies. I work at Central Support but I am out of the office visiting other care homes almost three times a week, suggesting ideas for content, interviewing residents, team members and covering events.”
What about salary and career development opportunities?
If you’ve browsed mid-level job listings, you’ll have found that agency experience is valued, even for in-house roles at large corporations. That’s because the best agencies are at the cutting edge when it comes to specialist skills, like online marketing, PR or advertising. Because you’re well drilled in these specialist skills, you can boost your employability after you have a couple of years in the industry under your belt.
However, getting promotion in agencies can be tough, simply because the average agency is a SME rather than a large business. There may not be the option to advance up the ranks as the companies are smaller and have less room for a promotion. Small agencies may only have two or three senior positions, which only become available when one of the incumbents leaves. The only opportunity for promotion may be to jump between agencies or move to an in-house role.
In-house roles, meanwhile, can offer clearer routes to promotions because they are larger organisations with more opportunities. They may even offer a graduate scheme, putting you on a fast-track to management with a plan for your career development and for promotion at specific milestones.
Salary expectations are different. In-house roles are at larger businesses. They tend to offer higher salaries and better perks, such as private healthcare, better pensions or even a company car, (particularly to those on grad schemes). As SMEs, agencies simply don’t have the buying power to offer great bolt on benefits packages.
There are benefits of working in-house or at an agency. Both routes offer variety. Reflect on what you want from a job. How do you see your career evolving? What sort of office culture do you prefer? Do you want to develop expertise in a specific area and apply this to a range of clients? Perhaps you’d rather get stuck into a specific industry wearing many ‘hats’. Pondering this will help you decide what’s best for you!