Is the grass really greener? Confessions of an ex-client

Client side or agency side? Elise Pektuzun breaks down the myths and misconceptions of both as someone who has just switched sides.

And so I’ve been told before… “the grass is much greener on the other side.” This phrase couldn’t resonate with me more. Time and time again, since making the switch, people have pulled me aside and asked me with scary wide eyes – “what’s it like?”

Truth be told, I’ve been in the thick of it on both sides of the fence and as someone who has worked on agency and client side, I’ve got a unique perspective on how they both operate.

Honestly, you would be surprised how many people spend their careers working so closely but they never really know what happens underneath the hood. The idiosyncrasies. I’m not going to be silly enough to state which side I prefer (obviously, I prefer agency), but I would like to share some hidden facts.

So if you’re thinking of making the switch there are a few myths I’d like to debunk. Allow me to share some similarities and differences I’ve discovered from both sides of the spectrum.office round table brain storming

Client-side employees work 9-5

I often had friends approaching me with a similar expression of uncertainty – but won’t you miss those early nights on client side? This is a myth I would like to debunk here and now. When I worked client side most of the team were in the office working until 6:00pm and well beyond…even on the odd weekend.

We worked just as hard as the agency, despite what people thought. If you have a good work-ethic 9-5 doesn’t actually mean anything to you.

I will say this, however, the agency atmosphere moves at a whip-crack speed. Throw a pitch or two into the mix and you soon have a series of very late nights. Chaos is something I’ve learned to embrace and a newfound Menulog appreciation has taken my dumpling addiction to another level.

A few extra winter layers

Okay, so winter has been and gone so there are no excuses. But in all seriousness my agency life quite literally revolves around food, food and more food. Meeting the client for lunch, greeting prospective clients at breakfast, awards nights, client parties, Tuesday Tacos and ‘market research’ at the pub down the road.

This still happens on client side, but more so for senior management.

Two businessmen and women at restaurant table, raising glasses

Agency side at the coal-face

The agency is trained to know it all. A mixture of generalists and specialists. As a result, clients rely on the agency to provide context and insight.

If you really want to understand agency jargon (CPA, ROI CPM, CPC yadda yadda yadda) then you need to be agency trained. To be a specialist in your field, to actually know what you’re talking about and not just relying on someone else’s knowledge – agency is definitely the way.

Before you start getting arrogant, I must warn you – with great power comes great responsibility. While the client may be quick to commend your work, they are even quicker to point the finger when something goes wrong. Cross check everything because your head is on the chopping block. 

A diversity of agency opportunities

There are many avenues to go down in a full-service agency; TV, radio, programmatic, search and social. Suddenly you are able to consider what avenue is best suited to your skills and capabilities. Become an expert in one and move to the next. Speak to your leaders, learn and ask questions for next steps. I love this newfound sense of autonomy.

On the client side you take the job you apply for and progress from there, there is very little opportunity to move to a whole new team and role. There is a long HR process to go through. One may argue that client side is incredibly broad; however this also happens to be a part of working in a full-service agency and literally tapping into all components of media and digital.Close up Two hand holding smart phone with Influencer Marketing

Utilise the untapped resource

On the flip side, agency employees don’t know how client-side businesses and departments work. Going from client to agency has huge perks. Knowing the ins and outs of the client side business (from an internal perspective) and leveraging this knowledge has proven to be hugely beneficial within agency life.

You know how teams operate (marketing vs digital marketing), the capabilities from certain teams (developer teams vs design teams), what is allowed and what isn’t (legal perspective vs dodgy) as well as the anticipated length of tasks (project management queen).

Above all, you develop a sense of who’s who within the corporate structure – trust me, knowing the right people to ask is immensely beneficial!

I’ve become somewhat curious and canny, as I utilise my inside knowledge on a daily basis – place your ideas in the right hands. We’ve had great ideas over on agency side and because I’ve worked on client side, I know that they are achievable.

Robot with lawn mower

The Type A

Agency people are creative and are always looking for a genius solution. While my stress levels have skyrocketed to new heights, I almost feel exhilarated by the buzz! Robots on walkabout and a hallway hologram device … this all happens at your workplace, too, right?

The agency breed is both brilliant and borderline crazy. Type A indeed. There is always a crazy vibe infiltrating through the office – people talking, thinking, contemplating, being analytical, being creative, experimenting. It’s nuts. Both exciting and scary; an atmosphere that I can’t quite explain.

So is the grass much greener on the other side? I took a risk where I was comfortable and launched myself into the unknown. If I want to be one of those senior executives, who sit in a fancy boardroom making big decisions, I needed to know the intricacies and the implementation behind the business and environment.

It’s either sink or swim, and I chose to swim.

Elise Pektuzun is a performance account executive at Atomic 212


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