Advice, Inbound Marketing

Agency vs In-House: The Marketer’s Career Dilemma

Every now I get asked by job hunting marketers  “Which is better? Agency or in-house marketing roles?”  Of course, the answers is a huge, “Well it depends!” Having done both in-house and agency inbound marketing work, I can attest that they both have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages.  Ultimately though, I think it depends on where you’re at with your own career and what type of skills or experiences you’d like to gain.

The Case for Taking an Agency Marketing Role

Even though I’ve been in-house for the past 3 years, I wouldn’t trade the agency positions I’ve had for anything! Agency work that’s client-facing is invaluable for developing a lot of soft skills around pitching, networking, or customer service that you likely wouldn’t have as many opportunities for if you were in-house. Chances are by taking an agency gig, you’ll  get exposed to a lot of different industries (unless it’s a super niche agency) and get to do marketing work for different companies which can keep things from getting boring. It’s also nice to be an environment where your coworkers all speak something of the same language because there’s redundancy in your roles instead of being the only “search marketer” or the only “content marketer” on your team.

I’d recommend agency work to people who are either just getting started with a marketing career but want to specialize in a specific area or marketers who’ve only done in-house work for a long time, but aren’t sure where to go next. It’s a great opportunity to see what marketing is like in different industries and can help you build a portfolio of work and a lot of connections in a short amount of time.

The Case for Taking an In-House Marketing Role

Agency roles definitely aren’t for everyone. Having redundancy in roles within an agency creates quite a bit of internal competition for assignments and feeling like you must compete for accounts can create a lot of tension that is counter-intuitive to fostering a team-centric working environment.  This also happens at in-house roles where there’s role redundancy, but it is the norm of agency environments.   If you’re the type of person who can’t stand the idea of feeling like you’re in constant competition with your coworkers, you’ll likely be happier going in-house.

In-house roles also tend to lend themselves more toward achieving success via collaboration. I’ve always felt like I was part of an actual team more when working in-house. Plus, getting to work with people who aren’t just always thinking about marketing can be refreshing.

Stability is another factor – in the agency world you live and die by your clients. Not just but their deadlines or last second requests, but a lot of times when agencies end up losing big clients they often have to lay off employees. When you’re in-house you live or die by your funding source – in the venture-backed world your job is only as secure as your last round of funding. In non-profit – it’s only as stable as your grants and donations. If you’re public – whatever your stock price is and bottom line. Takeaway? If you’re in-house chances aren’t as high for losing your job if your company loses one customer.

As for a recommendation – if you’ve only had exposure to marketing in an agency environment and aren’t happy where you are now, you should really consider an in-house gig! Even if it’s not a long-term thing, getting to feel more connected to your work within one organization can help you develop some serious empathy and ideas for your future clients.