Better work life balance is luring agency staff to in-housing

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 15 November 2023
Source: Aziz Acharki via Unsplash

The boom of in-house agencies and bespoke agency models, with the illusion of better work-life balance, is attracting agency staff to in-housing, according to industry insiders.

Today's in-house agencies - and bespoke agencies such as Telstra’s new +61 - are more than just an extension of a brand’s marketing team and closer to a traditional agency environment.

This sophistication of in-housing is tempting agency people who are burnt out with pitch processes and doing more for less to jump ship for a better work-life balance.

A survey of almost 1000 people by creative, digital and marketing recruitment agency Creative Natives found the biggest reason people would leave agency life to go in-house is for better work-life balance. 

Creative Native survey

Ryan Kelly, founder and CEO of Creative Natives, said agencies need to be careful as more in-house agencies pop up and candidates are getting more interested.

“When hiring for in-house agencies, talent have been really attracted because those businesses typically provide the combination of the dynamic agency culture but also have better work-life balance,” Kelly said.

“Obviously every business has its challenges, but I know right now when we speak to candidates a lot are burned out by agencies because they're at a certain life point where they don't want to work those hours. 

“There has to be a collective responsibility from all agencies to help change that perception and create a more family-friendly culture, otherwise, there's going to be a continuous exodus of people leaving the agency world.”

Medibank last month announced a six-month trial of a four-day work week for 250 of its employees.

“How does an agency compete with that? Because in their eyes they could never offer that,” Kelly said.

“What agencies have as their drawcard is the variety of work and a fun culture but ultimately people have their tipping point - if you're stressed and overworked that takes away from the good culture and you don't want that anymore.

“I don't believe that ad people go to Award School to end up in a corporate machine, I think they want to work in an agency but their life circumstances push them into an in-house role.

“Of course there's various reasons why people go in-house, but there is a considerable number of people that are just over the hours particularly when they have a family and agencies can't accommodate that - it's a problem and it's only I think it's only getting worse, to be honest.”

Chris Maxwell, executive chairman of the In-House Agency Council (IHAC), told AdNews on average he gets three agency people a week privately reach out to him expressing interest in going in-house.

Some recent high-quality movers include Lauren Small to Optus and Richard Morgan to Woolworths.

While Maxwell agrees that the work-life balance piece is a huge attraction, that's not the only reason the in-house flood gates are open.


Chris Maxwell presenting at Australia's first in-house agency summit.

“The thought that you can do really great work in-house is becoming more real and exciting people,” Maxwell said.

“There was a perception that agencies are the ones who do all the great creative work and in house do kind of low level, executional stuff - that’s certainly not the case anymore. 

“I'm seeing more award winning, highly credentialed agency talent looking to go in-house and wanting to get their hands closer to a brand. 

“When I talk to the people who have gone from agency to in-house they enjoy feeling further up the chain, being closer to brand strategy, gaining commercial experience and seeing more detailed results of their work.”

To address this demand IHAC recently launched a careers program where members post open roles and job seekers can apply or register their interest for future opportunities.

On the flip side, David Sutherland, who has been general manager of Optus’ in-house Yes Agency for over six years, said he doesn’t see work-life balance always ‘better’ in-house and that wasn’t a reason for his jump.

“I think it's important to highlight that the advertising industry as a whole, comprising both in-house and external agencies, is continually evolving how we work and the environment we work in,” Sutherland said.

“From my dual experience of both in-house and external, I encourage actions on both sides to foster an environment that provides flex and work-life balance to ensure that people are positioned to do the best they can, and that it's important for the individual to work out what's right for them with their teams." 

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