Agency vs client-side is the grass greener?

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 16 July 2015

Working at an agency in digital marketing has certainly got its prestige, perks and all round good-time vibes – we know, we've seen your beer taps, 'proper' coffee stations, Lego stuff, wooden pallet tables, tranquil pods, trophy shelves – the list goes on.

However, despite such aesthetics, and not forgetting the independent and global shops house many a great business leader and plenty of ambitious budding execs, the job comes with stigma of churn and burn, long hours, big demands and a dash of cut throat behaviour.

But are such stigmas unfounded and is it nothing but a swirl of rumour that lingers on after a few unhappy employees? Is there really a need for one to be far better than the other and does it really matter?

According to Indago Digital's “Agency v Client-Side” Digital Marketing Job Survey 2015, where questions were asked to digital marketers relating to happiness, money and thoughts on moving to the other side, just 15% of agency folk said they had ‘had it with agency and client-side is my next move’.

“There is a feel across both clients and agencies that client-side roles are better paid, work hours are less and enable a better life style balance - is this perception or reality?” MD of Indago Gary Nissim asked.

On the subject of job happiness, approximately 25% of both agency and client-side staff ‘love’ their jobs, and 60% of the total people asked describe their jobs as ‘good, but not perfect’.

Less than 3% of all people asked dislike their jobs.

Agency-side, about 28% said they weren’t happy with their salary – revealing that than 70% are happy with current remuneration packages.

Client-side comes in slightly lower, with 23% saying they were unhappy with their salaries.

“Why is the employee churn rate so high as per the MFA figures, if people are so happy?” Nissim questioned.

“A total of 85% of agency employees and 88% of client side employees say that they’re either happy or that their job is good. It doesn’t seem to be the money as only 28% of agency and 23% of client side respondents believe they are underpaid.”

He said if agency employees believe the other side is greener, then why are they happy with no plans of moving client side?

Nissim said perhaps the reason is that there is much more variation agency-side. The study found that 65% of agency people enjoy and prefer working on multiple accounts and 75% enjoy and prefer working on multiple verticals.

Regional client services director APAC, at tech, media, ad tech and comms recruitment company Xpand, Dan Sheppard, said it’s a very difficult topic to have an opinion on, both client and agency side roles have very diverse challenges and different rewards.

“I would think the initial appeal of in-house or client-side options would be based on the infancy of the team and the excitement of the journey ahead, most in-house teams tend to have programmatic on the agenda so there's another appeal for marketers who are not getting the exposure,” Sheppard said.

“Personally, we’ve found it really depends on the client as roles can offer very competitive salaries and interesting work comparative to agency, but there is a very evident inflation taking place on both sides of the fence for talent. That much we do know.”

The love of agency life

Aimee Buchanan, MD at OMD Sydney, said things often look greener from the other side of the fence and the general perception is that clients have more control over their days and hours, hence the view that they enjoy a greater work life balance.

“This being said, the love of agency life, and potentially the reason why many don’t want to make that jump over the fence, is the diversity of categories and brands that we get the privilege to work with,” Buchanan said.

“The strong agency culture, and the entrepreneurial spirit of being ‘in it together’ keeps many of us firmly planted on this side of the fence.”

Luisa Howard, ZenithOptimedia insights directorof research and experience, tells ZO that salary and work hours are not the key drivers of job satisfaction, and this is even more so for millennials who make up a large portion of our industry.

It ran a research piece across the top 10 global cities including Sydney, that looks at millennials and their career aspirations and found that job satisfaction is most influenced by a sense of achievement and growth, clear path of progression and recognition, as well as a strong sense of team and collaboration.

She said she's sure there are multiple reasons that drive the decision to work either agency or client side, but having worked agency side for 15 years, the top three reasons she has never been tempted to go client-side are diversity, at the cutting-edge and that contrary to popular belief, work/life balance is possible.

“Many agencies do lose a valuable part of their workforce to go client-side, when women look to become parents and seek a better work/life balance. ZenithOptimedia is highly supportive of its people and my experience allowed me to work part-time for many years while having young children, but importantly continued to support my career development,” Howard said.

“On top of this ZenithOptimedia actively push a work/life balance, with yoga classes, nutrition talks, massage and 'shit weather pizza day' - some of the many perks that make agencies a place you want to stay.

“Do people want a career that maximises both their earning potential and work - life balance? Absolutely, but, above all else people want a job that they love and that they are passionate about - making agency life the winning choice for many.”

Client-side view

Digital marketing manager at Contiki Holidays, Tim Connew, has previously worked agency-side at OMD, Ikon and Match Media.

Speaking on the pros and cons, Connew said agencies are a lot of fun, provide opportunity for exposure to varied industry segments and there's good and relatively quick progression opportunities.

On the flip-side, he said while the workload is not any different, it’s the pressure from clients that makes it seem like more. He said sometimes not having time to really understand the client’s industry as much as you'd like can be a downside, as well as at times agency-side you can feel under-appreciated as you are seen as “a middle man”.

He said client-side there is less pressure, or a different type of pressure, there's also more scope to make real changes, implement new ideas and there's flexibility with hours, working from home, family etc.

He also added there's the opportunity to work with completely different business units.

He said knowing exactly how what you do contributes to the business is sometimes not so clear from agency side, but client-side you are very much in the know and are much more accountable.

Participants in the survey were reasonably evenly spread between agency and client-side with the split being 56% and 44% respectively.

A total of 40% of ‘industry leaders’ asked were professionals working within larger companies with 100 or more people.

The largest percentage of participants had more than 10 years of experience (36%), closely followed by people who had been in the industry for only three to six years (34%).

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