Why I’m Glad I Worked in an Agency

There—I admitted it.

If you asked me how I felt about working in an agency about this time one year ago, the answer would have been different.

Back in 2007, when I started working in a full-service healthcare communications agency, specifically in the PR group, I didn’t know what to expect.

It took a few years of different projects and clients– some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t– for me to figure out that agency life wasn’t for me.

And that’s okay.

Some people are better suited for the constant change and customer service for the clients that is necessary for the agency setting. That just wasn’t for me.

But since I’ve changed back into an in-house setting—in a completely different industry and communications focus (a medical school alumni relations department)—I’ve come to realize something: I am glad I worked in an agency for the time I did.

I realize now that I learned some valuable lessons and practices that the agency setting imparted on me:

Interpersonal Skills 

Working within an agency, you have to work with and rely on lots of people—from the account team, to the traffic manager, to the creative director and graphic designer. It’s important to develop a rapport with these people and to navigate via interpersonal skills in order to get a project done.

Because of that experience, I am more cognizant of my interpersonal skills and identify how best to work with others.

Project Management

I have gotten a reputation as “the queen of charts” in my new job because for every project I work on, I have a project management chart to go with it. It’s ironic because if there was ever one thing I cursed the clients for, it was for the never-ending stream of Excel spreadsheets we had to draft and maintain again and again.

Now, I am using many of the same templates to ensure my projects are organized and my team is informed. How’s that for humble pie?


Remember how you had to prepare for anything for your client, especially when at an on-site meeting or when traveling? Just recently, I was with a marketing colleague for a film location scout with a production crew.  In addition to sending a summary email of our locations to the team beforehand, I printed copies of the schedule for everyone and also brought copies of our interview schedules in case we had some down time for a meeting.

And you know what? All of those copies came in handy! You can never be over-prepared for anything…

Measurement, measurement, measurement

I am so glad I had clients who harangued us constantly for benchmarks to accompany our strategy proposals. I used to roll my eyes if I had to benchmark or set metrics to one more tactic because it was an ongoing process.

However, working in a role that supports a fundraising capacity, I find myself constantly looking for ways to quantify and measure alumni relations. I have become the client asking my colleagues to help me set the metrics and benchmark my strategies.

As much as I was miserable at times in my agency life, I have really come to appreciate that experience because it has done me more good than I could have expected.

The lesson in all this?

Even a job you think you hate can actually be helping you. You just might now know it yet.

What do you think? Anyone else benefit from agency experience? Or have you had a job you hated but have come to appreciate after a career change?

Image courtesy of a very clever agency with a good sense of humor. 

March 14, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Career. 7 comments.

A Little Birdy Told Me…Week of 1/23/12

Happy Friday, all! Well, the warm “winter” weather has not stopped in the City of Brotherly Love. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I needed an umbrella and rain boots in January! Coming from the Midwest, I appreciate the cold winter season, so it’s a little bit of a bummer that it’s been so warm. There are still a few months left to hope for snow and chilly temps, as much as some of you may hate me for wishing so… But here’s something to not hate me for– this week’s links and posts of interest to share. Enjoy!

Alumni, Networking, and Career Services by @lizallen:

Here is a great discussion about the value of career services and one’s alma mater. I’ve found that when working in alumni relations, it’s helpful to think of value-add programs for the alumni—what’s in it for them? Liz Allen poses an interesting question to spur a discussion on her blog to that effect and how career services may be one of those valuable outcomes to keep alumni connected to their colleges/schools.

It’s also something to keep in mind for any graduate out there—see if your institution has any job/career related services next time you’re in the market for a new job!

Looking for and Securing Teaching Opportunities by @mitchellfriedmn via @worob:

Mitchell Friedman lays out a helpful post for anyone looking for PR teaching opportunities, but it’s relevant to anyone looking for teaching opportunities in general. Having the experience of teaching before (and being an adult student myself), I can attest to the value of teaching as a form of learning for the instructor.

Even if you think you have nothing to offer, you’d be surprised about how much you learn that you already know through teaching others.

Social Media, Journalism, and Breaking News by @kmueller62:

We all know social media can be a breeding ground for false death rumors, and what happened with Joe Paterno’s initially false-reported death is just sad.

Ken Mueller puts it all together in this thorough post about the relationship between journalism and social media, and how that has contributed to the breakdown of basic journalistic practices. As a former reporter turned PR pro, I appreciate that Ken (who also worked as a journalist and then in PR) sees the relationships, acknowledges the pace of new information, but still holds to the tenets of integrity in journalism and mass communication.

When It’s Time to Fire the Client by @ginidietrich via @spinsucks:

Okay all you agency folks out there—how many times in your darkest moments, working late hours, or doing some crazy project, did you ask yourself, “why can’t we just fire this client!?”

Gini Dietrich knows a thing or two about working with clients, so she tells an interesting story about her personal experience with a difficult client. I can only imagine how difficult it is to decide to fire a client and to walk away from a funding source, especially if you are a small practice or a solo practitioner. But Gini’s story highlights how she felt the experience made her team feel and how that affects the holistic picture when it comes to the agency-client relationship.

Hope you enjoyed these posts– feel free to share any articles you found interesting as well!

January 27, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , . Alumni Relations, journalism, social media. 1 comment.


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