Working in an agency vs. an in-house job is quite different, and each comes with its advantages and disadvantages.
There are as many agencies and in-house job duty varieties as there are agencies and companies. No in-house or agency job will be the same as you switch companies. However, some commonalities run through most agencies or in-house jobs.
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To find common ground so you can start to compare work life and job experience, we’re going to look at a typical mid-sized agency vs. a usual mid-sized in-house position.
When you work in-house, your boss is often a Director or VP of Marketing. You will sit in the marketing department and usually have constant access to the people you work for. It’s prevalent for companies also to have their development or creative teams on staff.
Having additional staff, who all care about the same goals — making your company money — can be a tremendous benefit of working in-house. This team effort and proximity to the whole organization often means you can quickly test landing pages, get new ads approved, and coordinate with other marketing efforts.
Being able to cooperate with email marketing, SEO, social media, and other marketing departments mean that you can be very creative about strategies, trying new things, and getting quick feedback or approvals.
In the era of technology stacks and machine learning, one of the most significant in-house benefits is that you often have access to all the data you need. This helps ensure your customer relationship management (CRM), analytics, PPC accounts, and marketing automation all communicate properly and are customized for your company.
If issues arise, working in-house also makes it easy to escalate problems, since you work for the same company as the stakeholders involved in the project.
While there are a lot of upsides to working in-house, there are also many downsides, most of which are related to being so close to the data and your other teammates. The biggest complaint is too many meetings. You’ll have reporting meetings, marketing meetings, data meetings, sales meetings, and others. If you show an aptitude for other parts of the company, such as user experience (UX), be prepared to be in those meetings as well.
That’s the in-house curse: you have access to making things work together, but you have to be involved in all the steps to make that happen.
The second biggest complaint about working in-house is you get pulled off your regular duties if internal priorities shift. You might spend time working on entirely new projects while being expected to make sure your PPC account “just keeps running.” If someone isn’t paying attention, something terrible can happen quickly in PPC.
The last aspect is both an advantage and a disadvantage: you work on one PPC account. If you’re in a big company, there might be a Google Ads MCC (My Client Center) with ten accounts, but they all only focus on the companies products and services. This means that you can be very close to the account and know every nuance of the account. It also means that you don’t have a lot of exposure to different types of accounts.
Being in-house, your overall marketing and data skills should improve with the exposure you’ll get to related departments. However, your PPC skills won’t develop at the same rate since most of your co-workers won’t be able to help you, and you have limited access to different types of accounts.
If you are at a small company, your job duties change significantly. Often, you might even be a one-person shop. You’ll have to know PPC, SEO, email, CRM, and analytics. In small companies, be prepared to wear many hats and learn a lot about every aspect of marketing. The drawback to all this diversity is that you will lack internal resources to help.
The larger the company you work for, the more room there is for advancement within the PPC department, marketing department, or even switching to analytics, service, or product departments. Your career path can also veer away from marketing, and there’s often lateral movement available to see how marketing in different departments will work.
Working in an agency doesn’t revolve around a single company’s goals. You’ll be exposed to many PPC accounts. This exposure to multiple types of accounts, people across the industry at various companies, and having co-workers who can provide valuable PPC input, are among the most significant benefits of being at an agency.
Opportunities for internal mentoring are plentiful. You can learn PPC in-depth from more experienced teammates. This can help you to branch into anything from ecommerce video advertising to B2B account-based management. You will be exposed to many strategies and be challenged to come up with your own for new and existing clients.
Managing multiple accounts also comes with some issues. You will lose an account. Sometimes it might not even be your fault. It’s not uncommon for one of your clients to hire a new Director or VP of Marketing, and that person wants to bring in their old agency, thus firing you. In other cases, the company wants to try something new. You will learn to deal with all types of people and companies, for good and bad.
Your goal is to keep the client happy. This means that if something goes wrong or a client changes their internal strategy, it can throw off your entire day. It’s not uncommon to have entire days spent putting fires; you think your day will go one way until a client calls, and suddenly everything gets flipped around. You will develop strong time management skills, organizational skills, and learn to be flexible on the fly.
The major complaint about working at an agency is your clients. Some clients are slow to implement required tracking, or they forget to send you a crucial data export. When you are in-house, you can push people to get you something. At an agency, you can only push so far until you have to make do with what you have.
Agencies are often on top of the latest and most significant trends. However, they can’t always act upon them without their client approval. This often makes agencies seem slow to react to changing conditions when it’s not their fault. If you see a great opportunity, you usually have to reach out to a client, schedule a meeting, let them get internal buy-in, and then finally, you get approval.
Learning to develop excellent communication and interpersonal skills will help tremendously at an agency. The better your client relations, the easier it is to get things done.
Within an agency, if it is purely PPC specialized, your lateral movement is just jumping from one team that does what you do to another team that does the same thing. Your upward mobility is generally related to your boss, leaving the company or the agency growing and needing to build a new team. In larger agencies, there is more opportunity for lateral movement between teams and marketing disciplines and upward mobility into team leadership.
Which Should I Choose?
You should choose both. No, you can’t do this at once. However, working in-house for a couple of years lets you understand the meeting structures, approvals, how stakeholders work, how campaigns fit together, and so forth.
Working at an agency gives you tremendous exposure to all types of accounts and other smart marketing people.
Once you’ve done both, then suddenly, if you are an agency working with a company, you can often guide getting approvals, helping create processes for legal or brand review, and have the patience of understanding internal meetings.
If you are working in-house after working at an agency, you can learn to work with multiple teams, understand how their processes flow, and make sure your agency is working on how you need them to work and can be leverage other aspects of their agency.
Having one to two years of experience in both agency and in-house life gives you a great breadth of knowledge of how these teams function, and it makes you a better marketer for it. You understand the internal data flow of companies and the creativity and experience that agencies bring.
Most people prefer one over the other. I’ve worked with people who went in-house for two years and just got bored working on the same account and preferred exposure to constantly shifting accounts and having to come up with new strategies. I’ve worked with people who went from an agency to in-house and loved being able to dig into a single account and make all the data connectors talk to each other and work across marketing teams.
Once you’ve worked at an agency and as an in-house marketer, you’ll know what your preference will be in the future. That will lead to a much happier work-life for you by choosing the type of marketing job role that fits your skills and personality.
Agency and in-house life are different. In both cases, you’ll be working on PPC and marketing tactics. However, the way you work and the breath of accounts vs. the depth of an account are quite different. Until you’ve experienced both, you’ll never know which is best for you.
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Work at an agency or in-house for one to two years (even three if you love it) and then switch for another one to three years. At this point, having experience in both will make you uniquely situated to work at either since you understand “the other side.” You'll pick your favorite, making you happy, while having a skill set that is suited to working in any environment. Wherever you land in a PPC role, you’ll be far ahead with the online training and Advanced PPC Certification you can get from Simplilearn.