Doing the right type of work isn’t the only key to having a fulfilling career. You also need to do it in the right way, for the right people.
If you’re exploring digital marketing as a profession, there’s one very important decision you need to make early on: do you want to work in-house as part of a digital marketing team, or do you want to work for an agency, helping out multiple different companies, possibly across multiple industries?
Use our eleven questions to figure out which will suit you best. (If you’re already on your career path, use these to decide whether you might want to make a switch!)
Question #1: Do you want to specialise or generalise?
Agency: In an agency, you’re very likely to specialise in a particular aspect of digital marketing – over time, becoming a real expert in this.
In-House: If you like to wear lots of hats, in-house work could well be for you. Depending on the size of your team, you may be performing a wide range of tasks.
Question #2: Do you thrive on fast-paced work?
Agency: High-tempo, high-expectation agency jobs can be a real buzz for the right person … but if this is a bad fit for you, you’re likely to find it a stressful way to work.
In-House: Working within a company usually means set hours and a shorter working week, though you’re unlikely to find your skills and knowledge progressing so fast as in an agency.
Question #3: What do you want to learn (and how)?
Agency: You’ll be learning from other industry experts, and you’re likely to be on the cutting edge of new developments. If you enjoy learning fast, this is for you.
In-House: Without such a steep learning curve, in-house work might suit you best if you’ve got a lot of other challenges going on in life. These roles also allow you to learn from industry and business experts; great if you want to stick with a particular industry long-term.
Question #4: What attitude do you prefer?
When you work in an agency, you don’t really get the time to focus on one project, one client, and one website. In an in-house role, you have to think long and hard before making any recommendations, and you start caring for the website like it’s your baby.
Agency: In agency roles, there’s a focus on getting things done and achieving milestones – one of the reasons for the fast pace mentioned before. Some marketers find this feels a little empty, others like the practical approach.
In-House: When you’re working in-house, you’ll usually find that there’s a greater sense of unity around a particular goal, or for a cause.
Question #5: What sort of variety do you want in your work?
Agency: You’ll be working with lots of different businesses in an agency – probably across a range of industries. The details of the work you do, though, will often remain pretty similar.
In-House: Although your role will be limited to one company, you’re likely to have a range of responsibilities. If you quickly get bored, this can be great – but it may also mean you end up taking on work that you’re less suited for.
Question #6: Do you prefer efficiency or effectiveness?
Agency: Inevitably, there’s a strong focus on billable hours in agency life – which means an emphasis on being efficient and getting things done quickly by following specific processes. It’s a great way to develop your time management skills.
In-House: When you work within a company, you’ll have more time to reflect and experiment – potentially leading to more effective ways of working, with a quality over quantity approach.
Question #7: Are you passionate about a particular industry?
Agency: If you live and breathe marketing, agency work is likely to be a good fit! You’ll also have the opportunity to work with lots of different clients in different industries – allowing you to explore new interests. (Some agencies do specialise in specific areas, e.g. travel).
In-House: You’ll be much closer to the action within a particular industry, working alongside colleagues, and building up your CV within that industry as well as boosting your marketing skills.
Question #8: How fast do you want to progress in your career?
Agency: You’ll be learning and moving faster, and gaining specialist skills. Most agencies are small start-ups: if you can’t easily move up within your own agency, it’s often not hard to get a job at a different one.
In-House: Working for a small company can be a blessing if they’re growing fast … but it’s not so great if the company is going to stay small and there’s no room for your role to develop.
Question #9: Do you want to make the decisions?
One of the most frustrating things about agency work is making stellar recommendations and seeing them go unimplemented. Once you hand off your recommendations, there’s only so much you can do to get them put in place: nagging only goes so far.
Agency: Your clients are, ultimately, your boss! While you can advise them for or against a particular course of action, they’re the ones who make the final decision.
In-House: You’re much more likely to be closely involved in decisions about the projects that the team undertakes and the strategies you use.
Question #10: Do you want team parties when things go well?
Agency: It’s great when things go well for a client, but there’s often a sense of anti-climax in an agency – perhaps because you’re far from the action, or because the client is keeping you on your toes.
In-House: Reaching your goals in-house can be a lot more rewarding and fulfilling, as there’s a real sense of achievement and celebration. This can really help you forge strong relationships with your workmates.
Question #11: What happens when there’s a crisis?
Agency: You’re often in the firing line if something goes wrong, like a Google algorithm change sends your client’s website plummeting in the rankings. However, as with celebrating, there’s also a sense of distance from the action.
In-House: When you work in-house, a crisis can cause many sleepless nights: even if you’re not the person who caused it, it’s your responsibility to sort things out. You’re right in the middle of things – this time, in a bad way. (Though you may thrive on the sense of challenge!)
There’s no one “right” choice – whether you’re happy in an agency or an in-house role depends a lot on your personality and what you want from your work life. You may find that each has some pros and cons for you: we suggest going through the above questions and spending some time considering exactly what you want in each area.
We hope this helps you start off on a great career path!
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