Marketing is just marketing, isn’t it? Agency or client side… We’re all one big family of marketers with a wealth of experience and a sack full of transferable skills that we can shift from one discipline to the next. When there are jobs in our clients’ companies they should simply welcome us with open arms, right? In fact, if we were to be honest, we actually think we’re the ones who make clients tick. Without us they simply wouldn’t have a clue.
How I wish that were true! However, it categorically isn’t.
I can disclose a strong personal interest here. As a marketer who moved from client side to agency side and back again I can exclusively reveal how I managed it, and the first recommendation I would make is: Don’t ask a recruiter! Twice I attempted to use a recruitment company; twice I was told quite categorically that it wouldn’t be possible.
But don’t dismay. Again, my personal experience proved that it is possible. However, I used that occasionally overlooked technique of networking to make my moves, and I managed it without the new-fangled online professional networks like LinkedIn, where people you met once in a corridor five years ago become potential routes into a new role.
Why is it so hard?
The question “so why is this so difficult?” is clearly one that I get asked often – almost on a weekly basis and often from frustrated and angry AMs and SAMs who see me as a “job-blocker”. Sometimes when I’m feeling facetious I give the very plain answer “because on the agency side you get paid to do all the stuff a brand manager / product manager / marketing communications manager specifically doesn’t do. That’s why they pay you those retainers and ad hoc project fees. Precisely so that they can get on and do all the other things that their roles demand and you don’t do.” And, to take it one step further, the fact that you even need to ask “so why is this so difficult?” expresses how little you appreciate the differences between the types of job and therefore how intrinsically unsuitable you are.
It is those agency side candidates that understand the differences without being told that are most likely to be successful in making the switch. Because I was being facetious above and I do regularly see candidates who have been seconded to client businesses and operated in a way closely akin to any classic client side role. They have taken the vital first steps themselves to making the switch – they have started to fill those gaps between the two roles. They have started to understand why it is difficult, and until you do that, your search for a client side switch won’t even have got off the blocks.
If I can briefly slip into anecdote once more, I was meeting one of our clients the other day. They specialise in training and capability work for sales and marketing teams and they related a story about a particular training module they were asked to develop for a rather well-known agency group. They had been approached to try and display to senior account handler teams the variety of stresses and strains and calls on time that an average Marketing Director faces on a daily basis.
The training course involved a full morning’s role play exercise during which approximately 10 minutes of time was devoted to considering the work that the agency is producing. That’s 10 minutes of time that the client could spend considering the output of the agency during a full morning’s work! Whilst that may have been exaggerated to prove a point and to help agency side people understand their role in the bigger picture, there is an essential truth there.
So how can I make the switch?
Use your network, use your existing clients, use your own initiative and use your best friend’s uncle who happens to be Marketing Director at a major FMCG business. And finally, if you get desperate turn to a recruiter. To use one of my favourite phrases “We’ll do our best… but can promise you anything” because the sad truth is that our clients generally look for people who have done very similar roles for their main competitor. A trend that has simply become more and more prevalent over the last 5 years.
Louis Williamson is an ex-retail and integrated agency marketer turned marketing recruitment consultant. He established Tarsh Lazare Marketing Recruitment in late 2006.