10 reasons client-side is the better side (and 5 reasons it isn't)

10 reasons client-side is the better side (and 5 reasons it isn't)

Words by Sam Navin. Image by Jess Ramsey.

In-house creative is a different world to agency. But what makes their grass so green, and is it the right pasture for you?

Agency land seems the obvious choice for creatives wandering out of whatever university or course they did. However, it’s not the only option. Many companies are bringing creative capability in-house, and saving themselves a motza in agency fees while they’re at it.

I jumped over the fence seven years ago, and I’m now at my second client-side posting. There are a number of reasons why that was – and still is – the right decision for me, and here’s a taste of them for your perusing pleasure.

Why client-side is better

1.    They’re quicker to make the call
This isn’t the biggest reason why, but chronologically, it was my first. I was over the agency I’d been at for a few years and just wanted out, stat! I was at second interview stage with two other agencies – one where those meetings were four weeks apart, and the other five weeks.  

Then, a designer friend who’d begun an in-house job about six months earlier told me of a writing gig going where he was. I threw my hat in the ring, and two days after my only interview I was offered the role (with an apology for tardiness, no less). What’s more the offer was attractive, which brings me to my next reason...

2.    The money is often better
I say often because we all know there’s good money in adland, but it tends to only sit around the top. Young ad kids are generally paid a pittance.

My first agency job garnered me a salary of $24,600, and that was package (another annoying trait of agencies). Granted, that was back in the early noughties, but even still it left very, very little to play with as a country youngster renting in Sydney.

When I first went client-side, I took a casual $25K-odd pay rise from the mid-weight role I’d worked my way up to agency-side, and super was spoken of as a plus. So, when the agencies I was slowly interviewing at asked if they could counteroffer, I politely declined, knowing that they wouldn’t come close.

 Adding to that, my underlings are paid considerably more than anything I got in agency – one came to us without any formal experience and started on over $10K more than I was on when I left adland.

3.    You have more of a say
When you’re in an agency, you can push and push and push your good work, but still the call comes down to the client.

Often feedback comes secondhand through account service, and there’s minimal opportunity (or indeed time) to rebut or even seek a compromise.

Client-side, I find out who the feedback has come from and go and have a chat. Working for the client, you are also the client. Added to that, your team are the keepers of the brand, and thus able to simply say no to a piece of work if no compromise can be found (unless it’s coming from the CEO – but even then we have an audience). You seldom get that kind of sway in an agency.

4.    You get told how great you are
Agency-side, you occasionally get praise for your efforts – a quick pat on the back or slap on the bum (what HR department?). But being one of numerous creatives expected to slog it out at the whip and will of the client, you have to do something pretty special to even get that.

In-house teams are generally smaller, and the skill set is considered so unique and different in the corporate environment. It’s not uncommon to be profusely thanked for your efforts, and oftentimes there’s a recognition and reward scheme in place to formally acknowledge your efforts (that reminds me, I’ve got a bunch of points to redeem).  

5.    The hours are better
Sure, there are busy times, and I myself am known for staying back somewhat regularly (but that’s because I’m a perfectionist, not because it’s expected of me). In an agency, it’s standard practice to work back and share takeout while you’re trying to crack that big brief. It’s often hard to maintain a life outside of work as you’re constantly cancelling other engagements for the sake of the job.

Client-side, the hours can be quite flexible – start early finish early, work 9 to 5 or, like me, start late and finish late – provided you get your lot done.

And it’s not uncommon for superiors to tell me not to take on certain projects because I don’t have the time (within a standard work day, that is). Then when the going gets tough, it’s time to call in the freelancers. 

6.    There’s no such thing as pitch mode
Let me repeat that to you: there’s no such thing as pitch mode. I know that this is somewhat related to the previous point, but I feel it warrants its own callout, don’t you?

No more all-nighters or lost weekends working on a mystery brief.

No more watching your agency spend twice your annual salary trying – often in vain – to woo yet another group of ingrates. No more pulling some of your best ideas out, wrapping them neatly and placing them under the pitch tree only to see them brushed away like last season’s toys by petulant, pampered client-sided people… oh wait. 

7.    You get more time on the side
Again, this is somewhat related to the previous points, but worth its own mention. With a reasonable workload and an accepting creative culture, not only do you have time to invest in a side project or two, it’s thoroughly supported. Some of the more motivated colleagues I’ve worked with have literally run their own small agencies on the side.

8.    It tends to be more stable
Generally, once you’re in and proving your worth, you’re in. Granted, something big like a change of CEO followed by half a marketing department being let go could change that (yup, that’s what happened a few years into my first client-side gig), but other than something as dramatic as that, you should be fine. You’re saving the company money, helping their marketing agility and protecting the brand from the inside – that’s a pretty bloody good asset to hold on to. 

9.    They’re parent friendly
I’m not a parent, but there are plenty of them around—for good reason. Flexible hours, flexible days if needed, and it’s not uncommon during holidays and the like to have kidlings join us in the office for the day.

10. You get to understand the other side of the fence
Do you ever find yourself wondering what those crazy, stupid people on the client-side are thinking? Why didn’t they go with your award-winning idea? Why did they choose the safe route rather than the clearly more creative one? Why weren’t they wooed by your agency’s lavish pampering and pitch? Well, it needs not be a mystery any longer, as you begin to learn the motives behind these decisions. You won’t always agree, but at least you can understand the method behind the madness.

11. Bonuses
Yep, it’s a bonus reason.

A lot of companies still have generous bonus systems in place. If you’re lucky enough to be made full time and you keep up your end of the bargain, you’ll be enjoying an added cash injection once a year.

In summary
So, there you have it, the reasons that client-side is the right side. So now, I’m just going to leave you with your pondering, kick back and enjoy myself here in this paradi...

Nope. I can’t do it. I can’t sit here and pretend that it’s all sunshine and lollipops on this side of the fence.

Sure, I love it over here, but there are a lot of things that I miss about agency-side, and here are just a few of the reasons that you might well want to stay put.  

Why agency side is better

1.    Awards
You can wave goodbye to your pencils and your lions, as there’s no such thing once you go client-side. So if awards are what drive you, stay put and put in those hours.

2.    Fun
Sure, we have a bit of fun in our office, but it’s not the same as an agency and it’s definitely not the norm in a corporate environment. There’s no work bar for Friday night freebies. There are still a few parties, but far less. And there’s a distinct lack of foosball, pool tables, Hot Wheels and computer games. (But hey, you’ve got more time for that stuff outside of work.)  

3.    Bragging rights
It may sound fickle, but you have to admit – it’s pretty cool to work in an ad agency. And it becomes even cooler when juxtaposed with your mates in finance or fire engineering or public service. And somewhat cooler than your former colleague who went client-side.

4.    The big jobs
Generally, client-side jobs deal with a lot of customer and internal comms: DM, eDM, digital, social, a bit of radio and OOH, lifecycle, retail, tactical and all that fun stuff. But seldom is there a brief for TV, let alone an open-ended brief looking for a completely unique, creative solution. Those briefs still go to you guys in agency.

5.    Aesthetics
Again, a bit fickle, but it is a good-looking existence in advertising. You work in attractive offices with attractive foyers and facilities, you work with attractive talent in attractive locations, and you’re an attractive and fashionable bunch with attractive colleagues to boot. It really is an attractive industry to be in.

I’m sure you have a lot of your own reasons for loving what you do and where you do it. Or maybe you don’t, and a complete change of scenery might be the right move for you. But, wherever you are and wherever you decide to go with your career, remember: just because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it doesn’t mean that it actually is.

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We open on small budgets...

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