10 November 2020

The road from in-house to agency – moving counterflow in search of an ethos

Nick Ford-Young

Switching from an in-house to an agency role in the midst of a global pandemic wasn’t an overnight decision. Having spent years working on the client side in the UK financial services sector and earlier in the Australian coffee industry, one thing became clear: a career is more than a monthly salary and progression plan.

It can be challenging working in an in-house marketing role when you don’t fully align with the product or service that’s being marketed. This was particularly prevalent as 2020 unfolded and I witnessed consumers and businesses grappling with the social and economic earthquake that drastically impacted every ounce of normality.

With these thoughts in mind I had to ask myself: with the world going in the direction it’s going, things can’t stay the same, can they? Is change overdue? Why do I feel drawn to shifting my direction in search of more substance? What would happen if I pivoted during such a turbulent time?

So, here’s what led me down the path to agency land:

Diversity of experience, and the opportunity to work with brands whose values I share

Working in-house gives you a remarkable insight into how a business works, why it works or why it’s being challenged by the market, all the while providing a deep understanding of its particular sector. But with this structure it’s easy to lack access to the brilliant, game changing ideas that are generated outside of that bubble. So often in-house marketers may not have access to platforms that offer real-world insights or that help deliver audience-led data, inadvertently creating limited reach or compromising the effectiveness of external communications.

Once I learned about the social listening tools and the sophisticated tech that can be incorporated in a marketer’s toolkit, I couldn’t understand why these weren’t being used by every business. It seems like such an obvious benefit to a modern business to use data insight and analytics as the basis for decision making and creativity, and a marketing function should be no exception. But where could I get the opportunity to wield such a toolkit?

Craving variation in my day-to-day became a constant thought: both in my progression plans and sector understanding. On top of this, working with brands that (even in the midst of a pandemic or a social transformation) do what their boilerplates say and deliver impact in their own unique way become a priority.

With these two things in mind it become clear that transitioning to agency would be able to deliver what I needed from my career; and I found an agency that doesn’t define itself by what it has done, but rather by what it could be.

Marketing is change, and sometimes is met with resistance

In bigger corporate environments, processes, team culture, budgets, and conflicting agendas can all unite and reduce a marketer’s ability to drive meaningful change – velocity can slow, decisions take time, deadlines are pushed back and technological tools are swiftly superseded to the point of obsoletion.

These factors are incredibly important for marketers to be aware of, as they can have a detrimental impact not only on campaign ideas, branding exercises or strategic marketing initiatives, but also on individual or team development goals. While many internal marketing teams pioneer new activity and implement effective change over time, it’s extremely apparent that when working with SMEs and start-ups, there’s an undeniable appreciation for change – agility and innovation are embraced with open arms.

Bringing in-house insights to the agency mix has its advantages. Client challenges and constraints are all too familiar, and understanding that the other side is continuously re-aligning all activity with strategic priorities, all the while juggling a myriad commercial priorities, has allowed me to fully appreciate the work being delivered by both sides and the value generated from a robust agency-in-house partnership.

Empowered and powered by tech

In an in-house environment, demonstrating the value behind intangible marketing KPIs is an ongoing narrative that, without access to the right tools, can be difficult when substantiating ROI.

Working agency-side for the last five months and alongside stakeholders with interesting (and frankly, enviable) skillsets has been eye opening – add being empowered by technology, using data to solve client problems and demonstrate performance, well, you’ve got yourself a perfect introduction to the new working world.

Being a contributing force to a business’s growth is something that both environments offer in spades. With that idea in mind, however, being driven by the need to know more, do more and see more by working alongside a tech platform has been instrumental in understanding real-world changes, consumer sentiment, media activity and more.

Through this endeavour I’ve finally found the answer to one of my questions – change is overdue, and it’s been happening at Boldspace.