Posts Tagged ‘agency’

Agency vs. in-house communications: One career, two different worlds

September 5, 2017

People always ask me, “Which do you like best – agency or in-house?” Or, I find myself in talks with a recent graduate who will be on the fence and wants help weighing the pros and cons of each. No one wants to potentially miss anything happening on “the other side.”

As someone who has worked in agency, done a fair amount of independent consulting and has also worked in corporate communications – I can say, you gain rich experience in each and both can be equally rewarding.

In my experience, below are some of the contrasts.

Breadth versus depth of work

In the agency and consulting world, you get a wide range of experience working with different clients who make up different sizes and industries. While you may not become an expert in any one industry, this side of the business allows you to explore a breadth of PR, cultivate media relationships across a variety of beats and discover what you enjoy most. On the other hand, corporate communications offers PR pros a deep understanding of one brand and its assets. The good news? These folks become brand and industry experts. The bad news? You could get pigeon-holed in an industry that you don’t want to work in forever.

“In my view, there is a ton of upside to working in-house. The team is completely focused on common goals, you become more experienced in one industry and you can focus on just doing great work versus billing time,” said Scott Castleman, TransCanada.

Doing what you love.

Unfortunately, not all clients (and industries) are created equal. You may be extremely passionate about telling one brand’s story and fired up about advocating for a specific issue/cause, while you’re not so jazzed about another client’s work.  A pro in corporate communications is, you have the opportunity to seek out an industry or issue that you’re passionate about and put all of your energy into it every day.

The “team” can look very different.

One of the great advantages to working at an agency is being able to bounce ideas off of fellow creatives who understand what you do. Whether you’re testing different messaging, thinking-thru a crisis response or vetting a media pitch – you have a team of communications professionals you can learn from and who can offer valuable feedback. Often times, collaboration with other seasoned PR pros is harder to come by in-house. Your colleagues might be all very smart people at their jobs but when it comes to marketing communications – they just don’t get it (and that can be frustrating at times). The product itself can also be less quality, not having the benefit of collaborating with other, like-minded professionals. As the old saying goes, ‘two heads are better than one!’

“Many strategic communications students or new grads start in agencies where teams of skilled professionals and a solid manager can test their capabilities and determine strengths…That leads to advancement within one’s agency or leaping to an in-house position. This is the career path I see most often,” said Mike Fulton, The Asher Agency. 

Getting the greenlight.

At an agency, waiting to get client approval on every single landing page, ad, story angle, speech, op-ed, etc. can mean deadlines getting pushed back. However, based on my experience working in-house, getting sign off from legal, execs and IT is easier and much quicker.

To sum it up from my point of view – if you like specializing in something and prefer more structure, in-house communications may be the best option. On the other hand – if you dig more variety in your work, then agency is the way to go!


A 2011 graduate of the IMC Program, Bridgette Borst Ombres is a former television news reporter turned PR and marketing professional with a decade of experience working in the communications field across agency, corporate and nonprofit sectors. Bridgette is the director of marketing and communications at a tech company in Pittsburgh and also consults for a variety of businesses.

She is a member of PRSA Pittsburgh, serves on the TEDxPittsburgh committee, the co-founder of Not Your Mama’s Book Club and volunteers as a mentor at WVU Reed College of Media.

Secrets to Starting Your Own Agency: Agency Owners Tell All Part I

March 30, 2017

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Marilyn Heywood Paige shares the real-world application of IMC in marketing agencies.

Not into 9 to 5? Thinking about starting your own marketing firm? Before you jump in, ask yourself if your primary desire is to practice integrated marketing communications (IMC), or if you love the idea of running a business and managing others who practice IMC.

When I graduated from WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications master’s program, I started my own marketing consulting firm. Within two years of launching, I merged with a larger full-service marketing agency in Denver and never looked back. In my short stint as an agency owner, I learned that there’s a huge difference between running an agency and working in one. They require very different skill sets. So, while I liked utilizing the skills, I’d acquired in the IMC program, using them accounted for just 30% of my day as an agency owner. The rest of the time was spent networking, selling, managing vendors, billing, and accounting—things I didn’t especially want to do. I learned that I didn’t want to run an agency, I wanted to work in one.

If you’re not sure if you want to go solo, or if you’ve decided it’s the right path for you, here are words of wisdom from agency owners to help you understand more about running your own agency.

So You Want To Start A Marketing Agency

I polled successful agency owners from around the country (and a few in the UK) on what their biggest lessons were in their first year running their agency. There were a few themes they all had in common, so here is the summary of their wisdom on finances, charging for your services, and demonstrating your value to the client. In my next blog, I’ll reveal what they had to say about hiring employees and getting clients. Learn from their mistakes and shorten your pathway to profits.

Finances

Many agency owners I polled outlined the need to get your finances in order and not just hope it all falls into place.

Be Strategic

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“The biggest lesson I learned was how important it is to be lean and strategic with spending and ALWAYS aware of your financials. Without your arms around your financial situation, you’re not able to make informed decisions, flex/spend/save where you need to and ultimately, you’ll put yourself out of business.”
Karen Cummings, founder, Radiant Marketing

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Dave Hartshorne, director and digital consultant at dijitul in the UK concurs. He says, “Get your finances in order, and the rest will take care of itself. Management and accountancy software should be implemented into the business before you even start talking to customers.”

Charging for Your Marketing Services

It’s one of the hardest things to do, and the most necessary. Knowing what to charge is difficult, and many first-year owners struggle with it.

Be Confident in Your Abilities

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Will Coombe, Co-founder of Sharpe Digital an SEO company in Central London said, “In the beginning, we did not value our time enough. Looking back, there was a lack of confidence to set our fees high. This attracted the wrong kind of client and meant we were taking on too much work for not enough compensation, all leading to stress and a lack of growth.” His advice is to, “Have the confidence to charge more. If the service your agency is offering is truly exceptional and delivers value to your client, set your fees higher than the market average. This will qualify the prospective client and mean you can do a better job for more pay when they work with you.”

Coombes said it well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t charge much, your client won’t value your service, no matter how good you are.

Do More Than Good Work

Many new agency owners think that if they just deliver a good service, customers will appreciate the work, referrals will come, and the business will flourish. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Show Your Worth

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Toby Danylchuk, co-founder of 39 Celsius in San Diego had extremely sage advice. He said, “Never stop proving the financial value of your work to current clients. You are a line item expense, and if you can’t prove the value of your work, the client will leave. For example, ‘Here’s how many leads we delivered this month at an average cost of $x per lead – this led to $x of revenue. Or ‘We improved the conversion rate on the site by x% which increased sales by x.’ “

Danylchuk continued, “If you can’t demonstrate what the economic value is of the work you are doing for your clients ongoing, they will either judge your work as a cost not worth continuing with, or competitors will pitch them, and they will run off to be someone else’s client. Never stop selling your value!”

Danylchuk is dead right. There are hundreds of digital freelancers and agencies in any given metro area and thousands across the country with whom you will compete. Clients often suffer from shiny object syndrome, a condition which makes them think that someone else has the magic bullet, so they are too often easily lead astray.

So how can you, the newly-minted college grad, compete? By doing your research and taking their advice. I will cover agency owners’ tips on hiring employees and getting clients in the next blog.

You can start your own agency. You just need to be smart and informed about it. Stay tuned for more great insights from successful agency owners who started from where you are now.

Marilyn Heywood Paige is the Vice President of FiG Advertising and Marketing in Denver, Colorado. She earned her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University in 2013.

Other articles by Marilyn Heywood Paige

Five Ways IMC Prepared Me For Agency Work

January 26, 2017

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Marilyn Heywood Paige shares the real-world application of IMC in the agency setting.

Wondering how your IMC program compares to work in the real world? Read on to discover five ways that WVU’s IMC Master’s program will prepare you to succeed in a marketing agency.

Multiple Weekly Deadlines

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You may groan at how many papers there are to write every week. (I know I did.) I took two courses at a time, so the pace of the work was vigorous. The assignments were very challenging, and juggling two classes meant there were multiple deadlines every week.

Agency work is pretty much the same. At any given time, I have twelve to twenty clients relying on me to deliver results. In a busy week, I can deliver a finished project to a client every day.

There Is No Late

There were many nights I was stressed out during my degree program and worked feverishly to get my assignment in on time. Turning in a paper late meant a grade of zero, so there was no late. Ditto for agency work. Clients don’t care if you have the flu or picture2overslept. If their newsletter doesn’t get out on time, or their website isn’t finished when you promised it, they will no longer trust you. They will soon be looking for another agency, and you get a zero on your paycheck. And honestly, it just feels bad when you can’t meet your client’s expectation, so you learn to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to avoid that scenario. (You also learn to manage your client’s expectations more effectively, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Writing and Grammar Matters

There is War and Peace amounts of writing in the IMC program. Between class discussions and papers, it’s a ton of writing every week. Add to it that APA style is not just encouraged, it’s enforced, and you have a fairly strenuous demand on your writing skills.

Other than having to provide copious citations, the amount of writing in IMC is comparative to the writing I have to do at my agency. Between emails, proposals, blogs, picture3websites, white papers, media releases, and social media posts, I can write 5,000 – 10,000 words a week.

And yes, APA style and grammar matters. When you are being paid to write for a client, you are representing their brand, so bad grammar, misspelling, or misquoting a source is a big deal. Plagiarism has even worse consequences. If you copy and paste an article from a website and put it on your client’s site, Google will lower their SEO rankings and possibly penalize the website. Just like in school, don’t steal someone else’s words without citing it or adding a backlink.

Capstone Course

Perhaps the most valuable course of all was the Capstone because that’s where you get to put all the pieces of your coursework together and demonstrate your competency in each.

Being able to see a brand from the complete 360 will make you unique in your field. There are endless numbers of specialists and experts of particular channels. However, few of our peers have true proficiency in evaluating an entire brand and knowing how to drive results in an integrative process. Working at an integrated marketing agency, I use the skills I learned in my program and the Capstone course every day.

Continuous Learning

Every week there were handouts and textbook chapters to read for class. The program’s accelerated pacing necessitates constant reading.

Agency work is similar in that marketing channels are constantly evolving. I have to stay up on what’s happening in social media, e-mail marketing, marketing automation and other channels if I want to remain competitive with other agencies. I never want a client to ask me about a tactic I’ve never heard of, so I read. Often.

If you’re thinking about working in an agency when you finish your IMC degree, the program is a great way to prepare for the demands of client-based work. You can read more about how to get an interview at an agency and how to land an agency job if you have no experience.

Marilyn Heywood Paige is the Vice President of FiG Advertising and Marketing in Denver, Colorado. She earned her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University in 2013.

Positioning Yourself For An Agency Job Even If You Have No Experience

November 29, 2016

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Marilyn Heywood Paige shares the real-world application of IMC in the agency setting

How To Land Your First Job at A Marketing Agency: A Two Part Series

Part I – Positioning Yourself For An Agency Job Even If You Have No Experience

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You have a shiny new IMC degree that you’re pumped to put to good use. However, the jobs you’re qualified for are so entry level you fear you’ll poke your eyes out every day at work. While you may have the knowledge, you don’t have experience in the field. So what do you do to snag your dream job in a marketing agency? Here are five ways to position yourself to get your first agency job.

  1. Create an Online Portfolio

    Even if you aren’t a web developer or a designer, having an online portfolio will differentiate you from other candidates. While you’re at it, make sure your resume looks like a convincing marketing piece as well. There are tons of templates available for both print and online resumes and portfolios. Find one that works for you.

    If you’re afraid of not having anything to put in your portfolio, read on.

  2. Take Initiative

    It’s never too early to start putting your marketing degree to work. Belong to a church? Ask them if you can take over their email newsletters. Have a hobby you’re passionate about? Write a blog about it. Are you a member of an association or club? Build their website, shoot a video for them, or take over their Facebook page. Whatever skills you have in marketing, find a way to demonstrate them. Keep logs of your efforts, and wherever possible, have metrics to show your efforts helped the organization.

    Being able to display that you have done marketing work even as a volunteer will help a hiring manager see your passion, initiative, and ingenuity. It’s also the stuff portfolios are made of, so get busy.

  3. Practice Writing

    If you didn’t major in English, you probably weren’t tasked with writing a lot in college. Marketing requires mad writing skills, so if you don’t already have near perfect grammar and sharp writing skills, start reading marketing copy and trying to emulate it.

    What is marketing copy? Blogs, white papers, email newsletters, magazine ads—anything that is positioning a product or service is marketing copy, and you need to understand how it works and how to create it. Google it; find books on it; scour the internet for good examples of each type of writing. Then practice writing your own comparable pieces. If you want to dive in and learn to write copy, visit CopyBlogger.com. They have one of the best online learning hubs for copywriting. Even if you aren’t writing for an actual client, if you have solid writing samples in your portfolio, you will be far ahead of other prospective candidates.

  4. Get Certified

    The more skills you can bring to the table that are useful to an agency, the better chance you have of being hired. Just about every digital agency works with Google AdWords and Google Analytics. If you are certified in either one or both, they will see you as someone that they can get value from starting day one. Google offers free training online, and there are other places around the web that have courses to help you pass Google’s certification tests. It takes an investment of time but is well worth the effort.

  5. Be Teachable

    There is nothing wrong with being inexperienced. Everyone was at some point. Being teachable and willing to do the work to become an expert in your field is one of the most attractive qualities in a new hire. Having writing samples and Google certificates will be proof of this. Showing how you consistently asked for more responsibility at school and at prior jobs goes a long way too. Even if none of your work experience is related to marketing, demonstrating that you took on new projects and saw them through, can differentiate you from other candidates.

If your dream job is in an advertising or marketing agency, these five tips will get you closer to achieving it.

In part II of this series, I will give you tips on using old-school tactics to get your foot in the door to land an agency interview.

Marilyn Heywood Paige is the Vice President of FiG Advertising and Marketing in Denver Colorado. She earned her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University in 2013.

How To Name A Marketing Agency

April 13, 2015

The first surprising thing I discovered in my IMC Capstone journey is that naming a marketing agency really tests your creative skill. Idea? Google it. Already taken. Better idea? Backspace and Google again. Also taken.

It’s a process I recommend starting before Week 1 if you can. I learned to prioritize the “how” of my then yet-to-be-named agency. How did I want my agency to approach a client’s project? That starting point inspired me to then relate my concept to less-literal names, finally leading me to a winner.

During this process, I stumbled upon a helpful agency name graphic I hope you’ll find just as useful.

While I mostly recognized the Founder names, the other categories offered the most inspirational ideas during my brainstorming process.

Because Capstone requires you to thread your agency’s unique approach throughout your integrated marketing proposal for the chosen client, take some time to build a strong foundation for your project. Having a clear agency identity makes writing other sections in your project easier to accomplish because you have a defined perspective to work from.

WVU IMC alum, current and future Capstoners: What advice/comments/questions do you have about naming a marketing agency?

-R