This post comes in response to Indra Gardiner’s post about The Agency Career on Bailey-Gardiner’s Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid Blog, so read that first for full context. What started as a comment is going to end as an inspired first post for this blog.
[caveat: I'm marketing-educated and agency account guy-groomed, b]
The essence of Indra’s post circles around the perception, or “new truths” that many have regarding an ad agency vs. client side/in-house career:
1. Agencies are the best training ground out of college.
2. Agencies are a good stepping stone to that secure in-house job that’s the real prize.
3. I don’t see a career at an agency. Corporations are for careers.
I loved Indra’s post and insight, and have been in a few near coin-flip scenarios that could have landed me on the client side of the world. I’m sitting at the five-year mark in my career. I worked at two agencies out east, and one here in SD. I’ve heard this perception on both coasts, and from people on both the agency side (colleagues) and client side. Maybe they were solidifying their own stance since they either landed or wanted to land out of the agency world? Or were they letting on to a bigger truth about succeeding in the agency world, or more appropriately – breaking into the agency world.
“Burn and churn” is the terminology used by many to describe the Account Coordinator/AE level positions as I knew them. Ugly term, but rooted in truth. While in the positions I worked countless hours of early mornings and late nights, writing briefs, proofreading ads and QAing websites for wages that barely rivaled friends’ restaurant serving tips. And I loved it. I had great teachers, great opportunity, and a channel for my energy. The work won awards. More projects landed on my desk. Then something changed, or maybe it should’ve and didn’t.
When an individual decides to brand their business school diploma with “B.S., MARKETING,” there’s an inevitable realization. It looks like this (adjusted for inflation):
- Information Systems: $Whoa!
- Finance: $Nice!
- Operations: $Solid.
- Marketing: $wait, what?
Then, when graduating college and applying for jobs, another realization. Entry (and even mid) level agency positions as I know them are the Marketing major of Marketing and Communications related jobs. Working at an agency is an honest sacrifice. Gaining access to the teachers, the opportunity, and the energy, requires sacrificing money and the things that come with money. The knowledge gained is valuable, but at some point something has to change to reduce the churn, to fuel and control the burn with growth opportunity & compensation.
Indra mentioned that agencies shouldn’t be a training ground for a “two-three year experience.” I’d submit that individuals don’t come into an agency with a two-three year mindset. I think they come in with a career mindset. Myself and my old colleagues all knew the “truths.” They were the hands, past colleagues, clients, and other contacts waiting to shake the hand of good talent and offer them a 50% raise and a nice new title. We were aware of the truths, but didn’t want to subscribe to them. We were aware that it, too, was an honest sacrifice. But after two years agency-side, an accomplished Account Exec starts to see pretty green grass in many in-house marketing departments. And and if the agency career path appears to lack compensation or position advancement, this two-three year period is a ripe time to make the switch.
The funny thing re: Indra’s final question is, no, I didn’t have a long-term career at an agency coming out of college. I’m guilty as charged; I burned out at my first job and only stayed two years. But in a stroke of luck got drawn to another agency over an in-house opportunity. If it weren’t for moving from agency-to-agency early on, I may have jumped in-house and not given the agency career the chance it deserves. Dots, connected.