When working in digital there’s a big decision that you have to make, do you want to work client or agency side? This decision could stay with you for the rest of your career as many people stick with this choice long term and adjust to life in either one. If you’re interested in having a career in digital, this section is going to be invaluable to you. I’m going to go over the pros and cons of each side and hopefully, by the end of the lesson, you’ll be able to make an informed choice as to which one suits you.
There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to each one, it’s really down to your personality as to which one would be best for you. Let’s take a look at the work first of all.
As a quick overview, client-side just means you’re employed in-house for a large company. You’ll spend your time working exclusively on their digital products. I have found that if you really like digging your teeth into a project and becoming an expert then this may be the best place for you. Projects here generally have longer timeframes and dedicate more time to research and testing. You can really craft what you create and become a specialist.
When you’re agency side, things are a little bit different. Here you’re going to be working for lots of different companies, possibly at the same time. As there are plenty of agencies out some even specialize in a specific genre. I used to work for an agency who exclusively partnered with fashion brands.
If you’re looking to improve your portfolio quickly and you get excited about the thought of working on some pretty diverse projects, agency side maybe for you. It’s really an exciting, fast-paced environment with tight deadlines which can push you to your creative limits. You could be even brought in on the process of pitching for new work. This can be quite rewarding and depending on where your clients are based you may do a bit of traveling as well.
When choosing the right path for your career you need to think about progression. Because of their internal structures and large scale, when working in-house you usually have an annual review to discuss your progress. For many, this formal process works better and having goals to work towards and clear achievement targets make things a little easier.
Agency side here can again be quite different. Due to the fast-paced environment, the turnover of staff is usually higher and if you demonstrate your skills and show value to the business you’ll be rewarded. It can be a lot less structured but if you’re more of a risk-taker then this can be seen as an opportunity to quickly move up the career ladder.
An important factor when choosing any career is work/life balance. For many designers, this could be work hard, play hard and others who have families a more settled approach works better. Again it depends on your personality but let’s take a look at how this works on both sides.
When working in-house at a client typically there is more structure. 9-5 is the norm but if you want a bit of flexibility on this then it’s usually possible. Clients are more accepting of flexible hours and fitting work around your responsibilities. This all depends on what type of business you’re in but on the whole night owls are not a common sight in the office.
If you choose to work for an agency then be ready for some turbulence in your day to day schedule. Depending on deadlines and workload this can really fluctuate. Agencies understand that work/life balance is important and doesn’t want to burn their staff out but certainly there will be long hours needed to make some deadlines. You will be expected to be a team player and at some agencies not being flexible will affect your career progression. Most agencies are great but it really depends upon the owner and some may try to take advantage of you, this is becoming less common but something to bear in mind if you have a family and a structured day is important to you.
Now time to discuss a taboo subject for many, money. In-house at large companies, you will normally receive a marginally higher salary with an annual bonus depending on what type of business you are in. At the top of this pyramid are financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies if you’re after the big bucks. Most large companies also offer great benefits such as health insurance and have set pay scales meaning that there is a level playing field for everyone.
Agencies historically have failed to live up to in-house companies in this department. In recent years though things have begun to change and if you’re looking for a more custom offer tailored to your personal circumstances then there may be more flexibility here and worth discussing.
A final decision that you may want to think about is company culture. Working for a large company a few years ago is a different ball game from today. The old corporate feel of yesterday is being replaced by a more laid back, google style of culture. You won’t be surprised to see ping pong tables and open plan offices now in most skyscrapers. Depending on where you work things will be a little different but on the whole, jeans are becoming more acceptable and the tie is being left at home.
The Agency side has always been seen as cooler. The work hard / play hard attitude is evident to see but things are becoming increasingly similar as companies play catch up.
Choosing what side to work on is a decision that will affect your life as well as your career. It’s really important to weigh up all the pros and cons of each before you decide what’s best for you and your family. In the next section, I’m going to throw a curveball in and discuss a possible 3rd option, a startup. This could be an option for you if you’re more of an entrepreneur and ready to take a risk to possibly become the next tech billionaire, see you there.