Should you work at an agency or in-house?

Seb Atkinson of Selesti
Seb Atkinson of Selesti

If you’re currently looking for a graduate role or an internship, you may have seen that many of are available either at agencies or in-house, particularly in industries like marketing, PR, and web design. Agencies in this industry typically provide services to a number of clients, while working in-house sees you working on projects for your own employer. But which of the two should you look to start your career in? We’ll take a look at the differences below.

Jump in the deep end

In an agency role you’ll need to be able to hit the ground running, working on several client projects as an assistant to one or more executives. As a result, those who begin their careers at agencies often learn new skills rapidly, but the learning curve can be steep!

A main benefit of working at an agency is you’ll learn about and help solve problems for a variety of clients in different industries, giving you a breadth of knowledge that people working in-house are less likely to experience. “Working at an agency means each and every day is varied”, believes Katy Crouch, Search Marketing Executive at Selesti. “It allows me to excel at what I do, applying my skills and expertise to a range of projects.”

This breadth of experience is great personal development for later in your career, showing your adaptability for working with different challenges, as well as exposure to other industries you may want to move in to later through an in-house role.

Agency roles are also ideal for anyone set on a specific discipline, for example PR, online marketing or web development, because you’re more likely to be up to speed with the latest industry developments, whether by being around more experience staff or by visiting industry trade shows and events.

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Hone your skills with a single client

While agency roles give you a breadth of knowledge, an in-house role can lead to a more focussed knowledge of one industry. You may carry out similar projects as at an agency, but the main difference is you’ll be working with a single client – your employer!

As a result, chances are you’ll be more deeply involved in projects from the beginning to end, potentially teaching you more than at an agency where you may be working in a team, or pick up a project only after a client has committed to it.

This is the experience that Verity Prentice has found in her in-house role as a PR Assistant at Hallmark Care Homes, where she identifies and pitches newsworthy stories to newspapers. “Every day varies… I am out of the office visiting other care homes almost three times a week, suggesting ideas for content, interviewing residents, team members and covering events.” Verity is able to see a project through from start to finish, which is a great thing to add to her CV.

While you’ll have a more in-depth knowledge of a single industry working in-house, you’re also likely to gain skills in other areas as you move up the ranks, becoming responsible for budgets, HR, or taking ownership of several related projects such as PR, email marketing and social media campaigns. Again, this is great for your personal development.

Different cultures

Another thing to be aware of when choosing between working at an agency or in-house is that the two typically have very different cultures. As you’ll be spending around 40 hours a week at work, it’s important to find a workplace you’re comfortable at.

First up, agencies tend to be smaller companies with younger staff, often with a “work hard, play hard” attitude to work. While you’ll be expected to put in a great deal of effort to please your clients, potentially working longer hours, the office will no doubt be filled with fun equipment like table football, ping pong, Xboxes and if it’s especially trendy, slides instead of stairs.

Meanwhile, in-house roles tend to follow a more traditional work culture – think “business attire” dress code, working in a cubicle rather than an open plan office, and a more rigid hierarchy of managers and pay scales. And while everyone is theoretically working towards the same objectives, there can still be the issue of internal politics, where your department will need to fight for budget against projects from other departments.

On the flipside you’ll likely benefit from a more predictable working day between set hours, which some see as a more balanced lifestyle, as well as more generous perks and benefits associated with working at a larger company, such as better pensions, private medical insurance, and even a company car.

Where should you start?

As you’ll have seen, there are benefits for starting your career both in-house and at an agency. Both are viable places to start your career, and if you find it’s not for you, you’ll still be able to switch later on. Choosing between the two may be a case of knowing whether you have a specific role in mind and want to apply that to a range of clients, or alternatively if you’d prefer to get stuck in to a role wearing different ‘hats’ in a single industry. The decision could also be down to whether you see yourself working your way up the corporate ladder in a big company, or start your career with creatives in a young, innovative company, and whether you prefer a traditional or modern working environment.

Post by Seb Atkinson of Selesti

Andy Morgan

Web Marketing Officer

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