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GUEST BLOG:Working in-house or for an agency – the questions to ask when starting in marketing
Marketers, particularly those starting their careers, have to make a choice – do they work in-house for a company, within their marketing department, or do they join an agency? If they go for the agency route they then have to make a further choice between specialist agencies (such as PR or digital) or broader marketing agencies.
Obviously the choice is a personal one, but what are the pros and cons of each route, particularly when taking a first job? Here’s my views, which hopefully help people ask the right questions when weighing up their options.
Clearly marketing departments vary in size, depending on the company they are part of. So you could be in a relatively small team, or one that is geographically scattered across offices and timezones. While a company might have multiple products, you essentially have one client – the business you work for. On the plus side, this means you get a deeper insight into how the company operates, what its plans are and what customers are looking for. This can be good and bad – you feel more involved, but you may have internal politics to deal with. However, if what you want is the variety of dealing with multiple clients, each in different market sectors, then perhaps an agency role would be better. A second key factor to look at is training – does the company invest in helping you improve your skills, and are there people you can learn from within the marketing team? While in this day and age no job is for life, in-house roles tend to be more secure, unlike agencies where the loss of a client can lead to immediate redundancies.
On the face of it, agency life can look more glamourous than in-house. You have multiple clients, each with their own objectives, so you shouldn’t be bored. There tend to be more people at the same level as yourself and opportunities to learn from those around you on the job. But this does require plenty of juggling and managing workloads, which can increase stress levels and lead to long hours. Essentially, rather than the depth and involvement you get working in-house you have exposure to multiple sectors and potentially faster ways of learning new skills. Competition is fierce for any marketing job, but particularly when trying to get into PR agencies, and many have intern programmes that give the chance to learn about the industry for a short time. Do beware those that simply look to use you as an unpaid drudge – make sure there is a structured programme that delivers relevant skills and experience.
External audiences, such as journalists, tend to see agencies as slightly more impartial than in-house marketers, enabling you to build relationships for the future. Again, look for an agency that will invest in training and ensuring that you have the skills you need for your career – marketing is changing fast, so simply learning on the job is not enough any more.
Choosing where you work, in-house or agency, can be driven by a number of factors. Do you want security or variety? Where will you learn new skills best and develop your career? Agencies and companies come in different shapes and sizes, meaning it is about finding the right role for you. My advice is to try both during your career to build a rounded portfolio of skills, but understand the differences between them when looking for your first role and pick the best place to start that matches your personality and aims.
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