Surprise, agency culture has changed

Catherine Slogrove, director at Papaya Agency suggests agencies have changed in their approach to work, and the narrative around the old ‘work til you drop’ stigma is counterproductive for the entire industry.

With recent articles showcasing a fairly negative viewpoint about agency careers, there’s another side that needs to be told. People, like our team, are working a nine-day fortnight or similar for full pay with hybrid working and as much flexibility as they require, provided their work performance isn’t impacted.

I experienced late-night, long hours, high pressure agency life as a 20 something PR account manager. So, I’m not saying that there wasn’t some old truth behind the stereotype, but I am saying things have changed.

The talent shortage in PR, a general preference for in-house roles, the pandemic has caused a need to change for agency survival. And now, in some cases, agency roles can offer equitable, if not more, flexibility and work life balance than in-house, particularly where PR is concerned.

Touting an old generalisation, and discouraging talent from experiencing agency, is a bad thing for the whole industry. It’s bad for agencies (obviously) and it’s bad for in-house marketing teams who will struggle to get the same ROI on investment from agencies if good quality talent is coaxed away.

There are many great reasons to encourage talent to stay in or even join agencies in 2023, from both a career, and industry level:

  1. Agencies are experimenting with shorter work weeks and more flexibility

Our agency, and I know that we are not alone in this, has been trialling a 9 working fortnight for the last few months. We’ve set this up in a way that staff choose two extra normal working days per month to take off.

The results? I haven’t seen a discernible difference to productivity, but our team love it. The extra days off mean they go away more, spend more time with kids, or simply take time to treat themselves.

This represents over $100,000 investment in opportunity cost of chargeable hours, however the gains made in happiness is worth it.

Additionally, as generally smaller businesses, agencies have the ability to tailor their workplaces to the individual needs of their team members as opposed to large organisations.

  1. Talent in agency is good for the whole industry

Having good quality agency talent means better quality work to support in-house teams and to support small business who can’t afford internal resources.

Considering the number of businesses agencies touch through project work, the impact that they can have is significant. Coaxing talent away from agency with the promise of better careers in-house may benchmark the quality of work at a lower point and drive-up agency costs, which will be passed on to the client. Neither of those things is good.

Furthermore, as team members grow their careers in agency, they develop a deep skill set in their craft. Agency team members are some of the most skilled social media managers or proactive media relations specialists around. The argument that agency team members stay generalists for their entire career does not consider the value of this type of expertise.

  1. You’re a money maker rather than a cost centre

In agency, unless you sit in finance or HR, you are the businesses revenue driver for that business. Your role is central to the business’s operations. That comes with a particular kind of learning.

It comes with the expectation of generating outcomes in the time allocated which teaches an accountability and time management that is prized in people with an agency background. This is why both agency and in-house love hiring agency candidates.

  1. You sit separately from large organisation pressure and politics

Often, in PR anyway, in-house team members are swept up into helping on something that’s outside of their normal role to pick up the pieces from the fallout. Or their in-house PR role might be more issues management oriented. This may be completely out of someone’s control and leak into personal time and headspace to support senior executives and meet media deadlines. Agency has the benefit of sitting outside the sometimes-political in-house bubble, allowing agency staff to focus solely on their actual objectives and working on clearly defined projects.

I do hope that we stop unhelpful narrative that has a blanket stance on agency or in-house roles. The reality is there’s good and bad cultures in each, so let’s celebrate the good and work our hardest to shed the bad.

Catherine Slogrove, director at Papaya Agency


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