I’ll be friendly and give you a small advise: don’t scroll down to check the verdict! The main reason would be… the lack of such a thing. Disappointed? I hope not. I’ll add my perspectives in the end of this text.
I realized I have spent about 10-11 years in the client’s shoes and relatively similar in agenies. It seems like a proper time to put this postures in the ring, facing each other for the ultimate match. Which is better?
The answer is like trying to vote between rock or classical music. Between Dostoevsky or Kafka, between Forrest Gump or Star Wars. It surely differs from person to person. Even for the same individual, it may differ according to the context, to life stage, a.s.o. I will try to enlist some “positives” for each party. My experience is within research/consulting agencies but I guess the ideas below work for other types of B2B services, from advertising to IT.
Being on the Client side might have some benefits (when I talk about Clients, I will mainly refer to large companies, corporations):
- you have the budget! in other words, you are the one who gives orders (yes, of course you are partner with your suppliers and avoid being bossy, however, you know what I mean. If you don’t, your suppliers surely understand 😉 ). You decide what, when, how. Agencies send invoices and you pay. Napoleon once said: “if you are strong, you set the peace terms. If you are not, the strong one will write them”. Who do you think sets the terms between client and agency?
- you are one (seen from your office), agencies are, usually, more. This gives you freedom to choose, in most instances. That is power, again…
- you can experience approaches from different suppliers, in your area of work. You can compare solutions, tariffs, people & capablities. In your sector, you have much higher chances to know the competitive context versus someone in an agency.
- you might have a stronger status. If you work in a major corporation, you will surely feel on a bigger boat than the person from the agency. When you tell a friend or one of your remote relatives met at a wedding party that you work for X (aka a major bank) or for Y (aka a top mobile provider) or Z (aka a top car manufacturer), he/she will raise eyebrows in infinite admiration (well, may also ask you a favor, to help his/her nephew, always a very smart, potent younster, to get a job…). When you work for an agency (be it top in the world), despite not being known by anyone in the room, you may also get that typical follow-up question: “so, what exactly are you doing there?”
- you see the broader business picture (if you are at a certain level and/or if you keep your eyes open for it). In other words, you stay there, with decision makers from different functions, after the agency leaves and the door gets closed. You know the strategy, the secrets, you help mix insights and resources from different departments in order to drive your business further up the road. The agency has just an instrumental role in this picture, it often has a partial perspective. And it surely does not decide. This stays with you…
Having said all the above, what’s left for the agency? Why would someone prefer this side? Well, there could be certain benefits motivating people in this team. Being in an Agency:
- you might be more agile. The risk of getting bored, getting into routine, is significantly lower in agencies (not impossible, though)
- you have a better sense of the whole organization. Teams are usually smaller than in major corporations, you know all the people, you get a better grip on your contribution to the business performance. Less politics, more direct interaction, easier dialogues, lower hierarchies.
- exposure to multiple categories. In my opinon, one of the strongest assets of people in agencies is their interaction with players from different sectors, from different organizations. Professionals on the Client side often tend to imagine the world through the lenses and internal comm of their company. Being in an agency, you may compare people, management styles, organizational values, ways decisions are taken, and so many facets. You have a great chance of understanding what drives performance in A versus B. Clients are often too busy being proud of their revenues or profits or the newest campaign or the product launch or the yearly bonus, reinforcing their deep belief thet they are the center of the Universe.
- Related to the prior topic, blending insights from different categories creates premises for higher creativity within agencies. Banks tend to compare with banks (even new hires come, mainly, from the sector). Leaders in transport companies come from other transport companies, those from cosmetics have often worked for other palyers in cosmetics. As agency, you can blend experiences from all these sectors, you can leverage on a great variety of insights and sector specific approaches.
Where to settle? As I previewed, it’s not a white or black matter. It is an individual choice, a contextual matter. Regardless which camp you opt for, make sure the organization you join is in line with your values. Otherwise, before the end of your first year, you’ll be seeking other opportunities on job portals.