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Agency Vs. Client: Deciding The Shopper Marketing Career Path

Agency Vs. Client: Deciding The Shopper Marketing Career PathI recently met with a fellow shopper marketer, who was looking to make a career change. And, inevitably, the question was asked: “Why did you make the switch from agency to client?” A simple question, but one that has ultimately changed the course of my professional development.

A little about me: I have worked on both the agency and client side. And even one time when I was both the agency AND the client (I remember writing briefs, and then presenting them to, well, me…thinking that they were excellent briefs!)

I spent ten years of my career on the agency side, where people brought dogs to work and slippers seemed appropriate for Fridays. And, currently, I’ve been on the CPG side for five years…and get excited because we can wear dark denim to our national sales meeting.

Needless to say, the culture, the work, and the overall attitude are just plain different. Both are very rewarding, but in very different ways.

I remember when I had the opportunity to interview for a client position—it was extremely difficult for me because I LIKED my job and LOVED my agency. But I knew if I stayed on the agency side too much longer, I would be a lifer.

That is not a bad thing! I just didn’t want to go through life only knowing what chocolate ice cream tasted like…when there’s vanilla…and butter pecan…

Agency work requires you to be on your toes every single day. That kind of adrenaline rush can be awesome—your days are filled with high energy brainstorms and creative reviews, but also, lost RFPs and the devastating blow of losing AOR status.

Some days you are weighed down with mind numbing tasks like status updates and budgets—and, of course, the soul sucking time sheets—but also, super cool creative pitches. Your hours can be extremely long, but your flexibility balances it out.

You get to work with weird and wonderful people who make you laugh and also make you cry when you can’t get a deliverable across the deadline. It’s the malaria of careers—you go from hot to cold, including the inescapable night sweats.

Client side is just as chaotic, but the energy is very different. Your deliverables aren’t pretty pictures, but spreadsheets (and lots of them!). Your presentations are focused on driving sales growth and reporting back on key metrics.

However, in our highly matrixed world, you get to be the deliverer of all things creative during the big appointments. You are the special guest star and your cameo role is FUN.

So, if you are thinking about making a switch, here are a few things to ponder:

  • Seek what you love the most—if you are truly energized by bringing to life a business strategy through creative execution, stick with the agency. If seeing your work translate into meaningful brand and category growth, go CPG.
  • If you want to make the switch to try the ‘other’ side, find a team with a strong leader that you admire. There’s going to be a huge shift in ways of working, and someone to help guide you through the transition is critical.
  • Both careers require you to work as part of a team. On the agency side, your go to players might change frequently, depending on the nature of the project. Client side is usually pretty structured, with each cross functional discipline represented Rarely do you get to ‘play salesperson’ whereas in the agency world you might have to pinch hit for a creative.
  • In my opinion, the ability to advance happens much more quickly in agencies while the opportunity to find new career paths is much more likely on the CPG side. Are you motivated by a title and increasing responsibility or does making a few lateral moves to build your skill set intrigue you?
  • Compensation and benefits can vary, too. Typically, CPGs pay more and the benefit packages are better. However, you tend to get more time off at the agency--Summer Fridays, end of year shutdowns, and every esoteric holiday off are common. So of the precious commodities, time and money, determine which one you value more.

No side is ever perfect, nor without its stress. BUT, taking a hard look at what motivates and drives you should help determine which side is best for you.

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Carolyne Klug

Carolyne Klug

Carolyne Klug is an experienced marketing professional, teller of stories, and deliverer of fun. She was recently recognized by the P2P Institute and NEW as a “Woman of Excellence” for her contributions to the Shopper Marketing field.
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