Corporate vs. agency: to what design are you inclined?

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Corporate design versus agency design, a simple case of good versus evil or is it a matter of choice? Is it the dark and light side of the force or is it simply a matter of preference? So many questions… but where are the answers?

I have worked on both sides of the proverbial fence, currently applying my trade on the agency side, but it wasn’t until I move from client side to agency life that I truly realised just how different they are.

It’s not just the pace, day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, billable hours, working on multiple accounts, client reports, tight deadlines, variety of work, or even the fact that with some clients you need to be available at all-times of the day and night – everything, really is different.

Corporate life

On the client side, things tend to happen at a more manageable pace. Not to say that you don’t get tight deadlines, but generally the workload is more spread out. Marketing calendars, schedules, budgets, projects, campaigns and company collateral are usually all decided on at the beginning of the year. With that out the way you have plenty of forewarning and can plan ahead, do more research, and spend a little more time on projects. On the flipside, and depending on the size of the business, you can sometimes sit with mediocre tasks in-between the bigger projects or campaigns.

A good thing about a corporate setting is that you only have one client or brand to worry about. You have a much deeper understanding of the business, its culture, the people, and the job itself. It provides longevity and stability, and the structures that are in place provide a sense of security, not to mention that most corporates offer some pretty sweet packages and benefits.

Some negatives would have to be the numerous meetings and loop holes you have to go through, more often than not there tends to be conflicting objectives, not just between the different departments or your own team, but sometimes between management and the rest of the team. And probably the biggest annoyance would have to be the on-going politics.

Agency life

A few words to describe the agency setting would be fast-paced, dynamic, fun, competitive, lifestyle, multiple clients, stressful, different brands and industries, and continuous learning. If all this sounds amazing then agency life might be the right fit for you. Tasks and decisions come at a much faster pace. Deadlines are tighter, workload is usually heavier, and clients expect things way quicker than is sometimes humanly possible.

If you’re like me, the continuous learning part is fun, but it’s not always easy, especially when you need to learn how to do something that you’re either not interested in or have a difficult time wrapping your head around. The fact that you get to work with a variety of clients, brands and industries is cool, and you get to work on a multitude of strategies.

This does, however, require you to know a lot about everything, and if you don’t, you’d better learn it quickly. Your clients expect you to bring your A-game every day, and most of the time they act like they are your only client. You have to stay up-to-date with industry news, trends, technology, and even what other agencies are doing. After all, a client shouldn’t be telling you what to do or what another agency is doing better; you’re the expert and you need to blow their socks off every day.

At an agency you are afforded the opportunity to try your hand at different things, whether it be new industries, technology or specializations. This is great for you, especially early on in your career, as it gives you the ability to find what you do and don’t like, not to mention give you more experience and knowledge, which is crucial if you want to become a sought-after commodity. Another cool thing is that most agencies have one or more truly experienced and wiser professionals who can help teach and mentor you.

On the downside, not all agencies can afford to pay as much as corporates, the structures and benefits are not always there, and sometimes the environment can be a bit too laid back. I also found that sometimes you just have to work longer hours, including nights and weekends, either to get the work done or because you’re juggling too many things at once.

Converting to agency life

I have worked on both sides now for about the same amount of time and after the dust has settled, I can’t say I prefer one more than the other. Both have their positives and negatives, and both are so completely different. I wouldn’t say that either side is cushier or more beneficial to one’s career than the other, because it depends on the individual. I will say that if you like structure and need more stability in your career then corporate is the way to go, on the other hand, working at an agency has kept me on my toes and every day holds something completely new and exciting.

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