When scrolling through job postings, you’ll see job positions for both companies and agencies. You might think:
“I don’t have a preference and a job is a job. It doesn’t matter which company accepts me as long as I work hard, I will succeed.”
But that logic isn’t entirely accurate.
There is a huge difference between working in-house and working at an agency.
Choosing the wrong one might leave you feeling unhappy with your job and this will leave you being unproductive and performing poorly. Your preferred lifestyle, work environment, company benefits, and personality plays a huge role in your decision in choosing between working at an agency or working in-house.
Both in-house marketing and agency jobs have their pros and cons. It is up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
We have created a simple quiz that will help you easily make your decision. Read through our questions to help you choose between working in-house or at an agency.
Are you thinking about working in-house?
Well, let me paint a picture for you - just imagine working at Apple on their marketing team. Every day you clock in at 9 am and clock out at 5 pm. You focus on marketing Apple products and only Apple products. After a couple of months, you become a master in marketing Apple products. You have developed your skills in marketing for the tech industry.
Working in-house allows you to focus on one business and industry, so you can develop your skills at a granular level for the purpose of being the best in that niche market.
As a marketer for Apple, you are a part of the bigger picture. You’re focused on strategizing the entire marketing plan from top to bottom. You help Apple establish a cohesive message on all of their ads.
After a year of proving yourself and producing great results, you are up for a promotion. A couple of years pass and you will continue on being promoted to higher positions. There is a clear structure for you to follow in order for you to climb your way to the top, to be the Chief Marketing Officer for Apple.
Based on this, it is clear that working in-house provides you with a clear career path, structured workdays, and a focus on one company. Along with these positives, working in-house could potentially provide a higher salary, but recently agencies became more competitive with their pay.
Wow, that sounds great, but what are the negatives of working in-house?
Working in-house for a company like Apple sounds great, but that scenario doesn’t tell you about what’s the potential cons with working in-house.
In-house companies are typically larger in size and might cause conflicts not only from your department but possibly from others. For example, the finance department typically handles the budgeting and this might come into conflict with the marketing department if you want to ask for more budget on your potential advertising campaign. The finance department's decision will greatly affect your approach and next steps.
From an individual standpoint, you might become bored with constantly working within the same industry. Since you are limited to one company and only one company when working in-house, choosing the right company is really important. Unless you are obsessed with Apple products, you might not want to be a marketer for Apple.
When leaving the company or seeking a new job, you might not have a diversified portfolio. Employees at an in-house company tend to have less varied skills and you won’t have the opportunity to try out different digital marketing channels. If you want to look for another job, hiring managers might see that you lack practice in different industries and you’re only great at one particular niche industry and one set of skills.
Promotions and your career trajectory might not be as smooth as you think. Working in-house requires some corporate politics maneuvering if you want to be promoted. Even though you might generate great results, the person above you in the chain of command decides your future. Whether your boss likes you or not might be a deciding factor in getting the promotion you worked so hard for, and you’ll have a multitude of competitors vying for the same opportunity.
- Do you want to focus solely on one industry?
- Is structure something you want from your work?
- Do you prefer to focus on one company?
- Do you love working as part of a large team?
- Do you prefer a more corporate style work atmosphere?
Did you answer yes to these questions? If so, you are perfect for an in-house style job. If you answered no to the majority of the questions, continue to the next section and see if you are the right fit for working at an agency.
Now imagine working at an agency. Agency life is for those that are adventurous and excels in a constantly adapting environment.
You work with multiple clients in different industries, so you get hands-on experience in different niches. This is definitely great if you wanted to expand your portfolio. You can experiment and gain valuable knowledge in what marketing tactics are successful in different industries, and gain a ton of different business knowledge to boot.
You won’t become bored with the list of clients because an agency’s clients are constantly changing. New clients are added and existing ones might leave. That’s just how an agency works and that’s what makes a career at an agency exciting and growth-filled. As new businesses such as cryptocurrency fueled businesses and software companies form, you’ll have the opportunity to dive right in. This is also a double-edged sword. I will explain in the cons section why clients constantly changing isn’t necessarily a good thing.
On the plus side, at a marketing agency, everyone is passionate about marketing. It’s a building filled with experts in their specific departments. You will meet SEO specialists, PPC specialists, social media specialists, and many more. This is definitely a great opportunity for you to pick their brains and grow. You have the chance to acquire new skills and learn alongside talented marketers. Don’t be afraid of trying new roles. In an in-house position, you are hired to handle that specific task. For example, social media marketing will only handle social media marketing and pay per click specialists will handle only pay per click ads. But at an agency, you have the opportunity to put on multiple hats and provide support to your peers. There’s definitely a greater feeling of freedom at an agency compared to an in-house position since you aren’t trapped in a singular role.
I can’t stress this enough, but agencies are great learning environments. Regardless if you are a complete newbie to marketing starting off as an intern or a marketing wiz with over 10 years of experience, you’ll learn something every day. What’s different in an agency compared to that of an in-house position is that you’ll learn client management, multitasking, problem-solving, and more. With just a couple of years at an agency, you’ll gain valuable experience and establish a great foundation to excel in any marketing position.
Agencies allow for greater project control with limited overhead. People looking over your shoulder and being forced to constantly seek approval is definitely a major annoyance for people that just wants to get things done quickly. At an agency, you are given overall goals and campaigns to execute. Your clients get the last say in approving your work of course, but there is minimal oversight.
You will be thrown into heavier responsibilities and be a vital part of your client’s success. At an agency, even if you are at an entry-level, you will handle a campaign directly in some sort of way. You will definitely feel the weight of a company’s marketing responsibilities in your hands. This is great because you are actually doing something meaningful for the client instead of fetching coffee or something meaningless that you might do in a corporate in-house position.
Agencies are definitely a social environment. Agencies tend to be smaller in size, so there is a feeling of solidarity and a better sense of community in the work environment. You will meet everyone at your agency compared to that of an in-house position where it is impossible to meet everyone in different departments. For anyone that is outgoing, an agency is a place where you can network and make long term marketing connections with most of your colleagues.
Some agencies tend to have a better work-life balance and allow employees to work from home. Along with working from home, agencies also offer remote positions. This means that employees can work anywhere they want as long as they meet deadlines and handle tasks. Shameless plug: jetfuel.agency team members enjoy a large degree of freedom when it comes down to when and where they want to work, and a vast majority of our team rarely exceeds more than 40 hours a week.
You won’t like you are trapped at a corporate building and feel forced to go there every day. You can change your work environment. There is the possibility of working while traveling. Say goodbye to your typical mundane corporate work cubicle! If you want a change in atmosphere, you can choose a different location.
Every day can be a different coffee shop (am I right?)
But most importantly you can avoid commuting and terrible traffic. You don’t need to waste time sitting in gridlock traffic. Once you’re done with your daily tasks, close your computer and you’re ready to do what you want.
Dress code tends to be more relaxed which perfectly fits an agency’s relaxed work environment persona. People are tired of the typical corporate attire in which you are forced to wear button-ups. Marketers tend to be more creative and people love to show it with their sense of style. You don’t need to keep the same button-ups on rotation. You can dress however you like. Personally, I love to wear shorts in the office during those hot California summer days.
As you can tell, FREEDOM is the common trend you see in the benefits of a position at an agency. You can really spread your wings and work more efficiently in this less structured position.
An agency's clients can be like a revolving door. A new company signs a contract as another client chooses to leave which can create a sense of instability. You don’t know when one of your clients decides to choose another agency. Even if you like that client, they could be gone the next day.
There is a saying “jack of all trades, but master of none” that gets tossed around by former agency employees. At an agency, you might be forced to work on different marketing techniques. There are definitely all hands on deck situations meaning that the agency needs everyone to get their hands dirty and help each other to meet deadlines. With that being said, agency positions can potentially have a side effect of having longer hours compared to in-house positions.
When you experience some trouble or you have questions to ask, there might be a lot of time wasted due to back and forth conversations. You are working “for” the agency and not “with” the agency. It will take time to ask the clients to answer company-specific questions.
Many former agency employees tend to complain about blending their work with their personal life. Without a proper boundary of having your work only at the office, it sometimes feels that work spills over into your personal life. Handling clients could be a 24-hour affair. In certain cases, nightmare clients might be contacting you throughout the entire day and it is up to you to create your own work-life boundary.
Everyone hates talking to unfriendly clients, but as an agency marketer, you are forced to deal with them. It is your responsibility to please the clients, so on some days, it might feel like you are at the whim of the client’s mental status of the day. Client meetings and interactions are a common thing. I’ll be surprised if you can find an agency job where client communication isn’t mandatory for the position.
- Do you value the variety in your work and projects?
- Do you embrace unpredictability?
- Are you prepared to deal with clients?
- Do you prefer a fast-paced high responsibility work environment?
- Are you interested in working for multiple companies?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you have found your answer. You’re the right fit to work at an agency.
Another Alternative? FREELANCE!
Agency and in-house aren’t the only two options.
Are you shocked? Freelance is the third option if you want to try both of them. But don’t think that going freelance is your solution to your problem. Just like the 2 choices above freelancing can have its own pros and cons.
Your income depends on how much you’re able to work, so it could be as much as you want. But on some occasions, you might not be able to find people hiring and you won’t have a stable source of income.
As a freelance employee, you’re your own boss. You decide on your hours, work where you want, and even choose which companies you work for.
Just like an agency, you can build your portfolio by working with multiple companies. As a freelancer, you aren’t limited to work with one company. This allows you to practice your marketing techniques for different industries.
The problem with freelancing is that you are a salesman, account manager, and an accountant all at once. Since you are trying to find job opportunities, you need to have many skills under your belt to prove that you are better than other freelance marketers.
As long as you continuously develop your digital marketing skills, new job opportunities will come to you. Both working in-house and at an agency are great options. You will definitely learn a lot, but it depends on your preference. Even though this quiz leads you to a certain conclusion, don’t be afraid to try both.
Who knows, maybe you are a better fit working at the other option.
It is relatively easy to jump between in house and agency at the start of your digital marketing career, so don’t be afraid to jump around after all it is your marketing journey. Take control and see what’s best for you.
If you would like tips to ace your next interview regardless of working in-house or at an agency check out this guide.
What is your opinion with working in-house or choosing to work at an agency?