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?

Preparedness

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. 

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

7 Comments

  1. Wendy Blackburn replied:

    Thanks for this reflective post, Krista! I just had a discussion with our (agency) HR dept. yesterday about why, often, agency-to-agency account staff hires do better than corporate-to-agency hires. Agencies can be an intense environment in which you don’t even realize the amount of things you’re learning or the skills you’re picking up. And while people on the corporate side certainly have internal “clients,” it’s just different than having “real” clients. In short, as you point out, client service and agency life is not for everyone. But it can be an incredibly rewarding experience, even if it’s only one stop on your career journey. Congrats on your new gig!

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing that insight, Wendy! I’m sure agency HR departments are especially interested in hiring and retaining the right people. I was lucky my agency HR department made opportunities for me to change from client-serving to internal-serving capacities. Although I decided to make a career change, I appreciate all those experiences in hindsight.

  2. Joshua Brett replied:

    As always, you make a great point. Even the worst work experience of my professional career taught me some valuable lessons about working with people, managing resources and how to handle unexpected challenges.

    Wendy, you also make a great point about the challenge of going from a corporate environment to an agency environment. I encountered this first hand when interviewing with several agencies (I have since just landed another corporate communications job). But someone with corporate experience can also be advantageous to agencies. They may know their industry more thoroughly than someone who only has worked in an agency environment. And their knowledge of the challenges clients face (satisfying shareholders and “The Street,” etc.) would help in building relationships with clients.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks, for sharing your experience, Josh! It’s assuring when you can see the silver lining in situations…even if it’s in hindsight.

  3. A Little Birdy Told Me…Week of 5/12/12 « PR in Pink replied:

    [...] I used to work in a full-service agency, so I was used to organizing branding workshops and understanding how reputation is conveyed and communicated as it related to our clients. [...]

  4. Philip replied:

    Great story Krista. Having been on the Agency side of the business for 25 years I agree wholeheartedly. Perhaps the best testimonial to your points is the fact that the largest poachers of my staff over the years have actually been our clients. They saw the tremendous value, training and expertise the staff brought to their organizations.

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing that, Philip! I also saw a handful of my account colleagues have the opportunity to move over to the “client side” from time to time.

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