One Year Out of the Agency LifeTweet
Things are very different from agency to in-house. I wouldn’t trade my time at agencies for anything, but I am also very happy to be in-house. Being out of the agency life for the past year has been great. I have grown a lot as a PPC manager and as a professional. Being on the marketing teams of both Best Buy and Rasmussen College has taken me to a level that I don’t think I could have obtained at an agency. Working with world-class marketing teams day in and day out has been a great experience. I’m going to outline some things I miss and don’t miss about working for an agency, and some benefits of working in-house.
What I Miss
- The teams and people I worked with every day. I worked with some great people over the past few years, and the agency folks still hold a special place in my heart. I think a big part of the bonding that happens at (good) agencies is that everyone works their asses off; so you can relate to the pain and you grow close as a team. The crazy artsy and hip guys at Lightburn and the ferociously talented Team Honey Badger teammates at Zeon are still friends to this day.
- The beer. Seriously. It’s probably nationwide, but the two agencies I worked at were in Milwaukee, the beer capital of the country. We had fridges stocked with beer and the 3pm beer on Friday was perfectly fine. “Friday” was used loosely…it could be any day that deserved an icy cold beverage. That’s unheard of in-house!
- The variety of verticals and types of clients I worked with. I love to learn about product and services; it’s just in my nature. I’m a Jeopardy type of person and just thrive on knowing facts. Agency life fueled that fire to learn, and I worked with too many vertical industries to list. If we start talking shop, I can probably relate to one of the products you’re marketing.
- The dress code. I wore a t-shirt and jeans for over a year straight at my first agency. The second was more formal, but they recently went to all casual too. Today, I wouldn’t be wearing a T and jeans, but it would still be nice to have the casual dress every day.
- The office buildings. Both agencies were located in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. That’s basically the artsy hip area of downtown. Old Cream City brick buildings were rehabbed and made into some very cool offices. I definitely miss all of the character of the exposed timber and brick buildings.
The variety of work. I managed PPC mostly, but I also managed email marketing, some light SEO, comparison shopping engines, affiliate programs, retargeting, display, and conversion optimization for clients. It was A LOT, but it was fun to learn and manage.
What I Don’t Miss
- Selling, selling, selling. I got to the point of being angry at clients for not understanding why they need online marketing. When you do it every day and see the amazing returns, it’s hard to sell why people should do it when they are stuck in the non-digital age. Multi-million dollar companies were only spending $5k a month online, when they probably had a print budget of $500k a year! It was mind boggling how hard it was to sell the value. I don’t miss that at all.
- The thought of automation and that PPC was an on/off switch. This was an issue internally and client-side. I had a leader think it was pure science. The amount of art and experience-based skill that PPC takes is hard to explain, but you need a mix. A bid management program does not mean account managers can handle 8 accounts. With quantity you sacrifice quality.
- Reporting for 8 clients the first week of every month. The task itself was awful and took me away from actual management. Then the meetings to explain the reports on top of that. I just got burnt out on managing the account, the client, the reporting, basically everything. I think other agencies are better at breaking out the tasks; but I was on small teams and we had to do it all.
- Small budgets.I can’t believe how small budgets were for some companies. I worked with multi-million dollar companies and many of them only spent a few thousand dollars a month on PPC. Often times less than $10k per month. And that was the limit, it was so hard to convince clients to invest incremental budget. Not a problem in-house. I have been managing at least a few hundred thousand per month (can’t get into specifics). If I need more, I simply show the yield curve or give data on the opportunity lost if we don’t increase budget. It’s how marketing should work.
How I’ve Grown In-house
- Data-driven sums it up. When I was at agencies, we made data-driven decisions, but we really didn’t have the time to analyze online marketing as much as we should have. It was just an economic problem. The clients usually didn’t see analysis as a value-add, so they only payed for management. And the client load was so high that we, as account managers, didn’t have the time or energy to put into full analysis.
- In-house = time. Time to analyze and time to put proper time into the accounts. I don’t sit around staring at GA or Omniture. I spend time creating Excel pivots, charts, graphs, keyword valuation formulas, yield curves, A/B testing with confidence factors, etc. The list goes on. It’s advanced, it’s scientific, and it’s extremely valuable.
- I think about one account 24/7. The focus and dedication to one account, versus 8 or 10 or 20, is extremely important. The value that I can add to one account far surpasses anything I could add to multiple accounts. It’s a luxury that I am enjoying at the in-house position.
- Time to think and learn. When I was on the clock, logging client hours, I didn’t have a lot of time to figure something out. In-house I have grown many times over from where I was at the agencies, just from having time to do things right.
- Complete buy-in from the company. I just had to throw this in, because it makes all the difference in the world. I fought tooth and nail to get companies to understand how valuable PPC and online marketing is at agencies. In-house, I never have to argue about the value. And that lack of explaining value has added years to my life!
- Account Reps! I can talk to Google & Bing reps whenever I want. They help with builds, analysis, alpha & beta products and even (if you spend a lot) send you gifts! I could not go back to a small agency account, where you are nobody to the search engines. It is a nice perk.
You can tell that I am a bit skewed towards loving the in-house life right now. Of course I miss some aspects of the agencies, but in-house is pretty amazing. But if you haven’t worked at an agency, I think you are missing out on a great experience and it can make you grow very quickly as a marketer. And if you haven’t worked in-house, I don’t think you know what you’re missing. Of course a lot has to do with what company you work for and what position you are in, but my two in-house experiences have been very good. I’m not ruling out returning to the agency world eventually, but for now I’m happy in my home.
Let me know what you think in the comments! I’d love to hear where you are now and what you think about working in-house or at an agency.