When following a career in marketing, a huge part of your decision-making is to decide whether to work in-house or for a marketing agency.
Where you work can influence the tasks you do and can have very different challenges and perks. It’s important to know what these options mean, so you can make a conscious decision when you’re applying for jobs or about to accept an offer.
Choosing the ‘wrong one’ may leave you unhappy and unfulfilled. When choosing between working at an agency vs working in-house marketing team, keep your lifestyle, work environment and personality in mind. This will allow you to make the best decision for your career path.
I count myself lucky enough to have worked in both environments and experienced both paths. So in this article, I will summarize key characteristics of each to help you decide which path is more suitable for you.
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- Working in In-House Marketing
- Deeper Understanding of the Brand
- Structured Hours
- Bigger Role within the Company
- Working at a Marketing Agency
- Diverse Experience
- Work with and for Clients
- Expertise in Different Areas of Marketing
- Access to Marketing Tools and Systems
- The Project is Not Yours
- Fast-paced Environment and Unstructured hours
- Rapid and Sudden Changes
- How to Choose What’s Right For You
- Can you shift your career between agency and an in-house role?
WHAT IT’S LIKE WORKING IN AN IN-HOUSE MARKETING TEAM?
In-house marketing simply means that the marketing efforts will be done by people who are hired and trained within a company. The marketing team members are employees of the company and their single focus is the marketing goals of that one company.
With that being said, the marketing team will be able to understand the company identity first-hand and help build the brand from the ground up.
Deeper Understanding of the Brand
One of the main differences is that if you work ‘in-house’ you will know the ins and outs of the company and will have one single client. You’ll be devoted to that company and give its clients and products all of your attention.
You’ll most probably work across a broad range of projects but they will be focused on one sector only. Working in-house allows you to focus on one business and industry at a time, which means your experience will become very much specialised. What’s great about this is that you get to develop your skills for the purpose of being the best in that niche market.
Working ‘in-house’ is known to have shorter work days (which I could argue is wrong because it really depends on the company you’re working with but I wanted to share the general assumption anyway). Generally speaking, hours are more defined and workdays tend to be more structured and presumable.
Bigger Role within the Company
When you’re working in the marketing department of a company, your role will be a crucial part of the bigger business structure – and therefore you’ll be more exposed to how your role sits in the organisational structure and hierarchy.
Collaboration between Departments
You will most likely work and collaborate with different departments such as sales, business development, design, strategy, finance, operations and product management. I personally love this about in-house roles, because you get the chance to gain a greater awareness of how a business functions top to bottom and how it all works together. You get a better sense of the bigger picture which brings us to the next point.
Ownership of Projects
Working in an in house marketing team, you’ll likely encounter a greater sense of ownership in your role. You’re focused on strategizing and carrying out campaigns from start to finish, which is very rewarding. So if you’re someone who likes focusing on one project and seeing it from start to the end, including analysing it’s performance and impact on the business, you might be more suited to an in-house role!
Hopefully this sounds good so far?
Well, don’t make your decision quite yet, as we’re now going to dive into key characteristics of working at a marketing agency.
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO WORK AT A MARKETING AGENCY?
A marketing agency consists of a team of marketing professionals that offer their expertise and services to other companies seeking help with their marketing efforts.
In an agency, your work is dependent on the request of the agency’s clients and you will be expected to create and implement solutions and campaigns to their deadlines.
If I had to list the top differentiator of working at a marketing agency, I’d have to say it’s the diversity of experience you’ll get from work.
You’ll have the chance to work with multiple clients serving different industries and will be exposed to lots of different campaigns and budgets. This offers a very valuable experience because every project is a new learning experience, and it comes with its unique features and challenges. Working with various clients and projects will allow you to gain valuable hands-on experience in different niches which makes it great for someone looking to develop their marketing knowledge and expand their portfolio.
On the flipside though, when you’re working with several clients you might become a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. You dip in and out of sectors, never learning about one in-depth. This can potentially be a risk if you later want to switch to an in-house marketing team, where they might be looking for X years of industry experience which you might lack due to your diverse experience. However, this isn’t to say that switching between the two is not a possibility. I personally know many people (and I have done this myself too) who have successfully switched jobs between agency and in-house roles and have leveraged their experience and knowledge of an industry (from client projects) to get their in-house marketing job or consulting jobs.
Work with and for Clients
A large part of working at a marketing agency is working with and for clients.
When you’re working with clients, you often work very closely with them and spend a majority of your time serving them, if not all. Client communication is a key part of this role – it’s your responsibility to please the clients.
When your energy matches your client’s, you’ll likely enjoy your experience a lot! But you might also have to deal with difficult clients too, and when you’re stuck with that client’s project, you might just end up not enjoying your time at all. However, you definitely will never be bored as agency’s clients are constantly changing – new clients come onboard and existing ones leave.
Expertise in Different Areas of Marketing
A great benefit of marketing agencies is that working for them allows you to gain a broader understanding of marketing, media and advertising.
Your team members will likely be experts on these subjects and working alongside talented marketers to accomplish your clients’ goals will allow you to gain a ton of marketing knowledge. You can get the opportunity to work with SEO Specialists, PPC specialists, social media specialists and much more.
Even so, you may need to learn and execute actions in other fields (ones you may not be skilled with) if there’s a pressing client need and you don’t have an expert handy at that moment! Your role might easily extend to areas you’re unfamiliar with and you might find yourself trying to learn about Adwords when originally your expertise is copywriting.
Access to Marketing Tools and Systems
Agencies tend to have better marketing tools in place because their reason of existence is to deliver excellent marketing services. This makes them more willing to spend more money on software as it benefits the whole company and potentially produces the best results for clients. Afterall, a marketing agency is a marketing focused organisation and they experiment with and use the best toolstack available for marketers.
The Project is Not Yours
In an agency role, it is very unlikely that you’ll have the final say over the campaign and the project is never really yours. It’s like taking your child to school every day and helping them do their homework, but then don’t get to see their graduation. Due to this, you might not get the sense of fulfillment you’re looking for when completing a project.
Fast-paced Environment and Unstructured hours
Depending on the deadlines imposed, the hours tend to be longer within agencies compared to in-house positions. I’ve worked with 3 different agencies and find that they are really fast-paced and the pressure is much more intense at agencies.
You might find this exciting or very tiring. It really depends on your personality. Some find that this style of work can interfere with their personal life, but others find that they work more efficiently in this less-structured position. It all boils down to your preference.
Rapid and Sudden Changes
One tip I can give to someone working at a marketing agency is: to be prepared to accept quick and sudden changes. Projects are constantly changing and can be very unpredictable. At the end of the day, the agency does not make the end call, the client does.
You will be expected to create and implement solutions and campaigns that meet the clients’ deadlines. If you are more flexible and adventurous, you can truly excel and thrive in a constantly adapting environment like a marketing agency!
So… What’s the verdict? How to Choose What’s Right For You
The bottom line is that, whether you work in an in-house position, or at a marketing agency, you will without a doubt enhance and develop your skills and experience as a marketer.
“But what is better for me?”, you might ask.
To that I say, ask yourself these questions:
- What type of marketer do I want to be?
- What marketing skills am I looking to develop?
- What role would be more fulfilling for me?
- What work environment do I enjoy most?
- What position aligns more with the key skills and knowledge I’m hoping to gain in my role?
Ultimately, I would suggest choosing the company and role that’s right for you and for your career journey by evaluating your options and choosing the one that best fits your personality, career goals, and lifestyle.
Can you shift your career between agency and an in-house role?
No matter which one you choose to work with, your decision doesn’t have to be permanent throughout your career.
An important thing to note is that especially at the start of a marketing career, it is relatively simple to move between an agency and an in-house marketing team so don’t be afraid to try both! This will enable you to make the best choice for yourself in the long-run.
My recommendation is to try as soon as possible! You might be thinking that the agency side is better for you and then notice that your lifestyle fits better with an in-house marketing job.
Once your career is more established, the transition might become somewhat more difficult. One of the reasons for this is once you spend years in an agency, you might not build an in-depth industry knowledge. Companies on both in-house side and agency-side can be reluctant to employ marketers from the other side when they’re searching for senior members on their team.
At the end of the day, this blog post serves as a guide to understand the main differences between an agency and in-house marketing role and to figure out which one is a better fit for you. But keep in mind that you don’t truly know what you will like until you get out there in the workforce!
I’d love to know which side of the spectrum you find more closer to yourself? Are you feeling closer to an in-house role or a marketing agency role?
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