Today, it’s not unusual for marketers to have worked agency-side at some point in their career. But while marketers increasingly make the transition from agency to brand, it is less common for them to move in the opposite direction.
Having client-side experience could give agencies the inside track and help them truly understand the challenges facing brands today, but with lower pay, limited opportunities and less brand control cited as some of the barriers for moving, what’s in it for marketers?
The future of agencies was the topic of a recent panel discussion at Advertising Week Europe. Agency luminaries gathered in front of an audience made up almost exclusively of agency staffers to ruminate on what they need to do to meet the needs of clients, now and in the near and long-term future.
One of just a handful of marketers in the room made the perfectly legitimate suggestion that it might have been a good idea to get a client perspective on the panel and if agencies want to better serve marketers’ needs, they need to hire more people with first-hand experience of running brands.
The number of people moving from agencies into marketing positions is increasing at a rapid rate, swelling the percentage of marketers who have agency experience on their CV. A recent study by executive search agency Grace Blue found almost 40% of senior-level marketers had an agency background, up by almost 15 percentage points compared to two years ago.
Explanations offered in Grace Blue’s analysis include the need to hire talent that can execute tasks that were previously outsourced and the advantages of having a “wider industry perspective”.
Anecdotal information gathered for this article suggests higher average salaries for marketers, while long hours and ungrateful, ever-more demanding clients were also cited as prompts to switch.
When you’re client side it’s your baby. When you’re agency side you’re at best babysitting.
Roger Hart, Aesop and Fable
Indeed, “the grass is greener” reason was cited by former TBWA chief strategy officer Amelia Torode at the Advertising Week Europe panel.
“The outflux of talent seems to be going from agency to clients. As agencies, we need to be honest about the long hours, nights and weekends. It’s maybe that the grass is always greener but there’s a perception that if you move client side you can regain some the control over the way that you work.”
It would, therefore, not be widely speculative to conclude the converse is the reason the same numbers are not moving from clients to agencies at anything approaching the same rate. That marketers are put off by the Mad Men-esque perception of ‘work hard, play hard’ clients. Of course, the truth is more nuanced.
Stepping out of your comfort zone
The list of senior agency executives that have moved from marketing positions isn’t the longest, with the same names often cited as exceptions that prove the rule. One name that comes up time and again as an example of someone who can boast significant achievements as a senior marketer and agency executive is David Patton, now global director of Young & Rubicam Group but previously senior marketer at Sony, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo.
Marketers do not lack the skills needed to secure a role agency side, he says, the “concerns and considerations are similar”. If there is anything missing it is an unwillingness to step out of their comfort zone.
“When it comes to careers, people don’t tend to chop and change. When you look client side, people tend to stay within their sectors so maybe clients tend to look at [moving agency side] as a switch in their career rather than building their career.”
Master and servant
Movement is also being curtailed by the perception that agencies cannot offer marketers the depth and…