The Move: Agency to Client Side.

When you’re pondering the move from one side to the other, it pays to quantify what some of your key challenges will be to ensure your first 90 days in business are as effective as possible – even when going the other way. Below, I’m advising on how to prepare yourself for the move from Agency side, to Client side. You’ll potentially be moving from having one or multiple key clients you work across, to now working inside an organisation and gaining a significant amount of exposure to areas you’ll have never seen before. It can be overwhelmingly complex (even whilst you’re applying for roles), so i’ve shed some light on this process and the key areas to focus on if you’re thinking of making the move.

Electronic Arts – Stockholm office (DICE)

What Agency gives you, that others don’t have.

In the Agency world, life happens fast. Depending on your client(s) and role within the Agency structure, it’ll be varied and pretty planning and delivery focused. You may look after multiple channels or be incredibly deep in one area. Regardless of the above – you’ll more than likely have an unrelenting work ethic that you’ve gained from being inquisitive and curious, with a drive to solve problems and improve client performance. Moreover, the level of expectation in Agency is high. You could have multiple clients wanting multiple deliverables in one day – all of which need to be at the level expected of your agency/team’s output. There’s an expectation to analyse, think, act and deliver in a short space of time across a broad spectrum. This expectation breeds a certain energy level and “get things done” attitude which will serve you well when you move over. It doesn’t come without warning however, which I’ll touch on shortly.

You’ll come across many different individuals; those who’ll always be in the Agency game and those who make the move to work in-house – even those who’ll go partner or supplier side. The importance here is the network and reputation. If you have a great network to lean on that ranges from people in TV buyers to Paid Search Strategists, you’ll always have the ability to gain opinions on certain subjects in future. Continuing these relationships is a perfect way to get out-of-brand input when you’ve been in-house for a few years. The reputation piece is equally as key. It’s easier to maintain that network of high performers, if you’re also one yourself. This is a brilliant place to be when you need to recruit that talent to come in-house to make your Client side team even better.

Jellyfish Offies – London

To round this section off, you’ll have a broad experience in multi-brand organisational, operational, media executional structure. This makes you a unique shape shifting talent that has seen the world of D2C e-commerce, FMCG, Financial Services, Home or Automotive verticals to name a few. You’ve seen the good Client side talent, team set-up, communications structure, Campaign plans, Performance meetings – and the not so good. Remember the good times, it’ll serve you well when you head in-house and need something to replicate initially before you scale with your own spin on things.

Interviewing for in-house Media Jobs.

It wouldn’t be much help if I didn’t give you some guidance on what to look out for when job-hunting. It can be incredibly tough landing in an in-house Marketing job, only to be scarred by a whole host of issues that see you running back to the Agency world quicker than you can say “I’ll never do that again”.

You should put in extra effort during the interview stage to sniff out whether it’s the right job for you. This is incredibly important and goes beyond salary, well-being offers and cycle to work schemes. Can you make and impact and will you feel like you’re making one, in this role? This is about you feeling fulfilled, challenged and trusted. These will keep you at the company much longer than the frothy Monday morning lattes from your 6th floor Barista.

SKY offices – London

So how do you find out whether that’ll be the case before you arrive? – He’s four questions to utilise early in the interview stages, but will most likely need to be angled at the most senior person within the process:

  1. Is there a belief in Media, its effectiveness in driving commercial outcomes for the business. Does this exist for the area you’ll be working in or do you need to build it? This’ll help you gauge whether it’s a “progress & change” from the get go job, or a “convince and change” job.

  2. Where does the power reside to make Media decisions – does it sit within the Media department/teams or does it reside with functions like Brand, Creative, Product Marketing or Commercial. Non-Media teams having an authoritative say in what happens in Media is an absolute no no.

  3. How senior is the Marketing representation within the business? Is there a CMO, CDO or someone at board level championing Marketing in key business decision making? This makes life much easier and saves from Marketing ending up being a business bolt on – the board level education and influence is key.

  4. Ask for more clarity on your field of play, scope of role if you don’t feel like you’re getting it. It’s incredibly important to establish this up front so you’re clear on the level of autonomy and impact you can have and where you’ll need support to make things happen.
Omnicom – New York offices

Tips for making your move a successful one.

In the Agency world, I mentioned that things happen fast. You have to realise that this can feel this way for a variety of reasons, again with Client expectation driving a lot of urgency. At the Brand side, you’ve never been truly exposed to the iceberg that exists below that water line you’re used to seeing from your external Agency perspective. The first tip is to be patient. – which is where the aforementioned energy level comes in. It sounds easy, but it’ll serve you well to remember that this new world is a vast one, with many, many problems outside of Media.

You’ll spend your first few months learning and gathering information about your Media activity. You’ll then develop an idea of what changes need to be made and what that vision needs to look like. You’ll begin to get an idea of how long it’ll take to make these changes. Some will be relatively quick and others will take time. But the important thing here is to remember that you’re now working within a single Brand, sometimes with an incredibly complex operational structure. If you let it, it’ll overwhelm you and leave you feeling like there’s an insurmountable amount of exhausting work to be done that one person would never be able to do. The key here is to prioritise what these changes look like but be honest with yourself and your team that these won’t happen over night – it’s a journey you’re on now, not a sprint to get that Q4 Review deck out the door to your Clients.

DICE – Stockholm Offices

The next logical point to make is that you can’t make these changes happen alone. You need to figure out who the most influential stakeholders are within your world and start building long lasting bridges with these people. Some of you will be natural relationship builders and others won’t be. The fact is (role dependant of course), is that in order to make the most of your career at the Client side, you’ll need other people to make your vision happen – both in and out of your department. It should be a priority for you to meet these people early on and establish an idea of what makes their life difficult, their key pain points (especially when it comes to working with your team/department) and what their vision for their department is. You’ll play a part in making their change ambitions come true, and you’ll need them for yours.

One particularly important point to make is to look at the existing Agency and Client relationship that exists. I’ve written an article on this here if you’re interested. We have to realise that a lot of Clients see Agencies as facilitation and the delivery of above the line Media because there’s a lack of a buying-route to do this directly, such as Boots buying their TV inventory directly with Channel 4. Agencies are still extremely limited in the level of Strategic input and control they have at scale and are normally pigeon holed into providing Strategic thinking in Campaigns for a select set of channels or Always-on Media.

This means that when you land at the Brand side, there’s a high probability you’ve never created a Strategy and worked towards it – getting people to buy into the journey you’re all on. This is my most important point to highlight for too many reasons to list, and again I’ve written an article on how to write a Digital Marketing strategy as an example. Once you’ve been through that initial data gather phase, there’s an expectation you’ll have a view of what the next 12-18-24 months looks like and what you’ll be working towards as a team. You’ll need to take those skills of assessing Client needs at Agency side and then apply a “so what” to really help you define what that journey looks like.

Diageo – Singapore Offices

Crucially, you need to pay particular attention to how you communicate this and make people feel part of this vision for the team/department. A leader should make everyone feel like they’ve constructed this vision together and that it’s not just your view of how things should look but a collaborative amalgamation of everything you’ve all identified as what the future should look like (at a channel, planning and strategic level). Just like how you were trying to figure out what your role was in the business at interview stage, your team will need to be sold on what their role is in this two year Strategic vision in order for them to feel challenged and valued.


The move from Agency to Client side is an exciting step towards having more ownership on the direction your Media function takes. You’ll move from being spread fairly thinly over a set of clients, or one client, to being deeply embedded within an organisation. Give some thought to how you stay as sharp as you were in Agency, by using the network and resources you used to use. Maintain solid supplier relationships and use them to protect your Brand against industry/landscape headwinds.

As usual, I’m always keen to hear from people thinking about making the move. So don’t hesitate to get in touch via the website form or LinkedIn if you’re looking to chat around a potential move.

Neil Jones.

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