What’s it like to move from in-house to agency?

If you’re an in-house IC practitioner working in London, what is it like to leave the city and work for an agency? Are there enough jobs? What’s the market like?

I have a guest post today to reveal the myths, challenges and reality of doing just that.

As a London-based comms professional, I’m well aware of the capital-centric thinking that exists here in the UK. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to events, courses and work.

Professional bodies including the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) and Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) have both worked hard to establish regional groups and events to burst that London bubble.

There is a plethora of IC agencies out there and plenty beyond the capital. Manchester and York are particularly bustling with IC activity.

Emily Cooter (pictured) is an internal communications practitioner with over 15 years experience.

She has worked for the UK Film Council, Local Government, the BBC and Nuffield Health, and now works for content marketing agency, Specialist.

She’s written for the All Things IC blog to share her personal views on leaving the capital and working for an agency. Stay tuned to discover what she’s learnt along the way.

Here’s Emily…

From Peckham to Clifton

Six months ago, I left my beloved Peckham behind and started a new life in Bristol. After 15 years ‘client-side’, I took my first account management role, joining a growing B2E service at Specialist, a content marketing agency based in Clifton.

It was a calculated risk, but my move was not apprehension-free of course…

With more and more people fleeing the capital, you might find yourself doing something similar in the future, so here are some myth-busting insights to get you started:

Myth 1: All the interesting IC jobs are in London

My biggest concern about leaving London was that opportunities to progress my IC career would be limited. Not so. There are plenty of roles out there if you look beyond your comfort zone.

A couple of calls to some reputable recruiters, and I had three interviews lined up in no time. Sure, if you’re leaving London, you won’t have as wide a range of positions to choose from, but the opportunities are there.

In Bristol there are at least three agencies specialising in IC; I’d imagine other big cities offer the same. And although IC as a discipline is flourishing, experienced practitioners are still relatively rare and therefore in high demand.

Myth 2: Isn’t account management really ‘salesy’?

I was worried about how I’d handle the commercial aspect of my new role. ‘Will I have sales targets to meet?’ I wondered, ‘How will I fare in this alien, cut-throat environment?’

In reality, I find this part of the job surprisingly enjoyable. Entrepreneurialism is encouraged, but there’s been no pressure to hard sell or cold call. In fact, the work we produce appears to sell our services rather well by itself, and one job leads to another quite naturally. If being empathetic to a client’s situation and explaining how we can help them is ‘selling’, then I’m selling. But I’m really confident about the quality of the solutions we provide, so there’s no need for embellishment here.

There’s a tangible quality to it too – after many years knocking about in huge organisations where the ‘bottom line’ felt very far away, there’s something refreshingly unambiguous about knowing that, quite simply, the more business we bring in, the more successful the agency will become.

Myth 3: You have to work horribly long hours though, right?

Again, bzzzz, incorrect. There are occasions when I need to put in extra hours to meet a deadline, or when two jobs come in at once, but I’ve always worked long hours in-house when necessary.

I can’t see a big difference here. We are required to be in the office every day (a good thing in my book), but start and finish times are flexible, and – for the first time in a decade – I have my own desk: a major plus point!

Myth 4: Isn’t it all a bit Nathan Barley though?

(Here’s a description of who Nathan Barley is in case you’re not familiar – Rachel).

Yes, agency culture feels a bit weird and cool at first. But if, like me, you love comms because you’re a creative, talented person who wants to work hard and produce high quality material, you’ll find yourself in good company in an agency.

There’s also a lot less red tape to cut through and much less anonymity so everyone’s more accountable and responsive. My colleagues actually want to learn about IC best practice – when does that ever happen in-house?

My knowledge and expertise is recognised and I feel listened to.

I do work with someone called Nathan and he might ride a BMX for all I know, but who cares, he works damn hard all day – he deserves it!

Deep breath

So fear not, in-house IC friends, you’re not necessarily tied to the big corporates of London town forever.

You have an awful lot to offer an agency, in fact. You’ve been the client – if you’ve been in the game for a few years, you’ve probably been in exactly their shoes before – so you’re really well equipped to understand their challenges, to know what’s achievable (and what isn’t).

It’s easy to spot how your agency can help.

And you never know, a change of direction might do you the world of good.

Oh, did I mention my commute is now a seven-minute walk? ; )

Post author: Emily Cooter.

Find me on LinkedIn, @ecoot on Twitter, or email emily.cooter@specialistuk.com

Thank you Emily.  

How can you make the change from in-house to agency or freelance?

Earlier this year I blogged about working as an independent practitioner.

Emily’s point about moving from in-house to agency and that being a benefit as you’ve been the client is a good one.

The way I work is based on the fact I spent a decade in-house. As a result of getting frustrated with the lack of clarity from agencies when in-house for example, I now work on a Statement of Work basis.

That means when anyone asks me to consider working with them, I create a document outlining what I understand their requirements to be, my recommended approach, the number of days (and therefore cost) and the output and outcomes.

This enables potential clients to manage their budgets, to know what All Things IC will deliver and to provide visibility into what you are investing in.

Having been in-house, I know how important it is to manage your budget and know exactly what you’re getting.

Stepping stones
Throughout my 18-year career to date I’ve taken various steps to vary my experience and work in different environments. I started as a journalist, then went in-house, then to an IC agency, then back in-house and I now work as an independent consultant.

All Things IC helps companies communicate internally through personalised consultancy and training. Internal communication practitioners say working with me increases their knowledge and boosts their confidence.

Personal reasons mean I’m unable to travel far from home for the foreseeable future. But thanks to the marvel of technology, I work with clients around the globe, often from my brand new shedquarters office space in West London, which is where I am typing this article right now.

I work as an extension of comms teams, which means you can draw on my expertise when you need an extra pair or hands or sounding board.

From a one-day to longer-term partnership, the variety of my work invigorates me and means I am constantly learning and helping others along the way. From 1-2-1 coaching with Comms Directors to creating bespoke Masterclasses for whole teams, there’s never a typical week.

I’ve also trained internal comms agency employees via one of my public or bespoke Masterclasses. I join forces with IC agencies from time-to-time to consult with them for my clients or one of theirs.

Are you thinking about making a move from in-house to agency? Or perhaps you’re moving city or country for professional or personal reasons – if you have a story to share with other All Things IC readers, do read my guidelines and let me know.

I’ve collated some resources below from both camps – moving in-house to agency and vice versa. I hope you find them useful.

Further reading about moving in-house or leaving in-house:

Is moving from an agency to in-house PR always the best thing? – by VMA Group

Spinning plates – my move from PR agency to in-house job – Guardian

How to make the move from in-house to creative agency – Source

Moving from in-house to agency – KISS

In-house or agency: which role suits you? – PRWeek.

Best of luck with any career plans you’re making at the moment.


First published on the All Things IC blog 9 October 2017.SaveSave



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