Why Marketing Professionals Should Work at an Agency

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

Early in my career a mentor recommended that I work at a marketing agency. She told me that it would be great experience and something that would look good on my resume, especially if I ever aspire to hold a management or chief marketing officer role. After working with an agency on several TV and photography shoots, the account director actually recruited me to join the agency as an account executive. At the onset, I enjoyed the fast pace environment, learning about different industries, collaborating with the creative team, partnering with the public relations (PR) gurus, and working on projects that impacted the community. While at the marketing agency, I worked with approximately 20 different clients in various industries, managed a $1,000,000 budget, dabbled in PR, managed an intern, worked with vendors, launched a brand, and learned an extraordinary amount about marketing and advertising.

After nearly two years of hard, but rewarding work, I decided to take what I had learned and apply it to the corporate world. Even to this day, I am so very grateful for the experience I gained by working for a marketing agency. Being in my mid-twenties I didn’t understand fully grasp the wisdom my mentor imparted on me, but looking back, I now realize it was the best career advice I have received. Every job I have had since then, the hiring manager has always acknowledge that my agency experience played a role in the hiring decision. The reason being is the working in an agency cultivates work ethic, adaptability, problem solving and customer service skills, and so much more. All important factors to a marketing professional’s success.  

After nearly two years of hard, but rewarding work, I decided to take what I had learned and apply it to the corporate world. Even to this day, I am so very grateful for the experience I gained by working for a marketing agency. Being in my mid-twenties I didn’t  fully grasp the wisdom my mentor imparted on me, but looking back, I now realize it was the best career advice I have received. Every job I have had since then, the hiring manager has always acknowledged that my agency experience played a role in the hiring decision. The reason being is that working in an agency cultivates work ethic, adaptability, problem solving and customer service skills, and so much more. All important factors to a marketing professional’s success.  

Below are 20 reasons why every marketing professional should work for a marketing agency at some point in their career.

  1. Think Outside the Box: In the corporate world you work within a corporate structure. While in an agency you are taught to think outside the box and constantly try new things. As a result, you are on the cutting edge of marketing trends.
  2. Exposure to Different Industries: If you work in a small to mid-sized agency you will likely have clients in several different industries. Having this exposure to a variety of businesses allows you to learn about your interests that could lead to a future job. You get to know just enough to be dangerous.
  3. Teamwork:In the agency, most projects are touched by the creative director, graphic designer, social media manager, and public relations, vendors, and accounting. Managing projects that are touched by so many different people requires teamwork. In addition, you have to learn how to share the resources available as all the account representatives are advocating for their projects to take priority since everyone is under tight deadlines.
  4. The Power of Relationships: People like working with people they like. Client longevity is dependent on solid relationships and results. This creates trust and soon the client sees you as someone they can rely on. With time, you not be seen as an outsider, but a valued member of the team.
  5. Patience: Despite your best efforts to make plans and communicate the plan, things inevitably change and often times they change a lot due to various factors. You might work on the same ad for weeks, making one change at a time, while you are constantly up against deadlines. Managing the changes with grace requires patience, but when you remind yourself of the goal (to make the best product possible and keep your client happy), it is easier to work through the changes.  
  6. Learn How to Have Challenging Conversations: Scope creep and missed deadlines are an issue all agencies face at some point. Clients come to you with a plan and along the way things change, then deadlines are missed. As a result, you have to go back to the client to explain how the new request is out of scope, provide a revised estimate, and update the timeline. These conversations can be challenging as your client is also facing the pressure of staying on budget and on time. But when you have good relationships, it makes this conversation much easier (see tip 4).  
  7. You Learn to Make the Impossible Possible: Often times a client or someone on the team comes up with an idea that seems impossible to execute, whether that is due to lack of time, budget, or resources. Yet the best agencies find a way to make anything happen. Great account executives are always searching for solutions to make things happen for their clients and without damaging their internal relationships with team members.
  8. Juggling: In small to mid-sized agencies, you will have several accounts in many different industries. Each client has its own deadlines and new emergencies appear almost daily. You are constantly bouncing between projects, meeting with clients, consulting with creative, reviewing artwork, discussing budget, managing the vendors, and so much more. While you might go into each day with a plan, it is generally derailed by 10 a.m., but you learn prioritize, adjust and get back on track to meet your deadlines.
  9. Learn to Work with All Types of Personalities: Each client you work with is different and each department within the agency is different. The account team tends to be logical thinkers, strategically minded, with an eye for customer service. Whereas the creative team are the dreamers and the conceptualizer. Learning to work with all personality types is a key to your success within the agency and throughout your career.
  10. Learn to Budget: Each job should have an estimate. As an account manager, it is your responsibility to mange the budget and ensure your internal team and vendors do not exceed the allotted amount. This requires you to keep an eye on the agency hours and hard costs. As time goes on, you may have to adjust the budget or have one of those challenging conversations with the client (see tip 6).
  11. Learn to Manage Time in a Fast-Paced Environment:Agencies bill for their time and there are a limited number of hours to complete each project for several different clients. Therefore, you learn to be a master at time management. You also learn that when your lack of planning or poor time management suddenly becomes someone else’s emergency. Considerate account managers learn how to plan in advance and manage their time to preserve their relationships and save favors for true emergencies that come up.  
  12. Develop a Higher Standard of Excellence: Often times agencies have skill sets for specific work, which allows each member of the team to become an expert in their craft. You start to see and value excellence.
  13. Learn to be Flexible, Nimble and Adaptable: Accounts, people, deadlines, budgets, creative change constantly. You have to learn to embrace change and help the team move forward to accomplish the goal.
  14. Understand the Inner Workings: When you join a corporate marketing team, odds are you will likely hire an agency at some point. As someone that worked for an agency, you will be better equipped to manage the agency as you know the value of a comprehensive creative brief, status calls, creative process, hourly billing, and the lingo. This inside knowledge is valuable to all companies.
  15. Communications: You learn to develop strong communication skills, which requires you to actively listen to your client’s goals and then translate the information to the creative team for execution. Along the way you must keep all stakeholders in the loop to ensure the project runs smoothly. When issues arise, you have to work through the challenge to ensure a successful outcome is met.
  16. Learn to Be Curious and Ask the Questions: Since your full-time job isn’t in just one industry, you likely aren’t an expert. Therefore, you have to take the time to research, seek clarity (even if it seems obvious to the client), ask the right questions to help your client see a different perspective, and provide recommendations. The key is to learn quickly and always have your client’s best interest in mind.
  17. Grow Thick Skin: Competition is fierce for marketing agencies and companies tend to mix things up over time. Losing clients is tough. In addition, due to the high stress, fast paced nature of the business, things can go wrong from time to time and clients may take their frustrations out on you. You quickly learn not to take things personally.
  18. Grow Your Network:When working with so many different clients, you continually meet new people and see new faces with every meeting you attend. These constant contacts add pages and pages to your rolodex, giving you a wealth of knowledge about the who’s who within the community in which you work. And as they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that really matters.
  19. You Are Constantly Learning: Agencies are often the trend setters and envelop pushers. Early adopters and change agents surround you, allowing you to be exposed to the latest movement and to take risks by trying new things that you learned.  
  20. It’s Fun!Working with a group of individuals that have the same pressures, high standards, excitement and experiences, allows you to build a strong bond and comradery with your team mates. The creative types that think outside the box bring their eclectic and relaxed attitude to meetings, and it spreads through the culture of agencies. The work quickly begins to feel like play, and you can make life-long friends in the process. Before you know you it, you’ll find yourself posing and posting with your teammates about the great times working in #AgencyLife.

All of these skills you’ll learn at the agency between very valuable to corporate marketing departments. Managers love hiring professionals with an agency background as they know they have a unique skill set. As you think about your next move, strongly consider working for an agency, it could very likely be the best thing to happen to your career, now and in the future.  

Have you ever worked for a marketing, advertising, or public relations agency? If so, leave a comment about what you gained from the experience.

For more career advice, click here and here.

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