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Which is for you? In-house vs agency

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

When following a career in marketing, a huge part of your decision making is to decide whether to work 'in-house' or for an agency. 

What does this mean exactly, how does life vary between the two and what are the pros and cons? On first glance, they might look quite similar, but in actual fact there are important differences.

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While it might not matter which path you follow immediately on graduation, once you're established in the industry you do need to think about where you'll want to be in the long term. This is because while you might be in the same sector, the differences between how an agency and in-house role are perceived becomes more acute and changing between the two is not always that simple. 


One of the main differences is that if you work 'in-house' you will know the ins and outs of the company, be devoted to that company and give its clients and products the attention they demand. You tend to work across a broad range of projects but within one sector so your experience will become very specialised.

In this environment, you will also be able to manage budgets, make decisions and devise strategies. 

For example, as a graduate on Tesco's marketing scheme, you'll be exposed to all the nuts and bolts of their marketing strategy including customer insight; local and store marketing; brand marketing; Tesco and Clubcard Reward; online, digital and media publishing. 

Top in-house employers include: Google; L'Oreal; Innocent Drinks; GlaxoSmithKline; Nestle; Coca-Cola Enterprises; Adidas; Estee Lauder Cosmetics; Tesco; Sainsbury's; Aldi


In an agency, you may find yourself working across a whole range of projects across different industries.

This plethora of clients can help newcomers experience the many aspects of marketing that come with servicing different accounts, thereby giving you a broader understanding of marketing, media and advertising. 

As your agency has been employed by another business or individual though, you will be at the beck and call of your clients and you will be expected to create and implement solutions and campaigns to their deadlines.

It's unlikely that you'll have the final say over the campaign and depending on the deadlines imposed; the hours tend to be longer within agencies. That said, you'll be exposed to lots of different campaigns and budgets which is valuable experience as you find your feet. 

Profile: Sarah Warby, Marketing Director at Sainsbury's.

Sarah read Engineering at Oxford before joining Unilever as a Brand Manager. She went on to become Marketing Manager at Heineken, before becoming its Innovation Director. In 2012 she joined Sainsbury's where she has responsibility for all of their marketing activity as well as customer service and experience, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and corporate affairs. 

It's also worth noting that agencies can fall into two camps. Those that focus and specialise within particular products and those that focus on campaigns. For example Procter & Gamble (P&G) is a global leading consumer product company, looking after brands such as Olay, Gillette, Pantene, Ariel and Pampers.

As a brand or marketing manager with P&G your remit will therefore focus on looking after a particular product.

In contrast, M&C Saatchi is a networking advertising and campaigns agency. On joining, graduates spend ten full weeks training covering everything from strategy, creative and production in all communication disciplines. You then begin work either as an Account Handler or a Strategist. 

Top agency employers include: Unilever; Procter & Gamble; Saatchi & Saatchi; Aegis Media; Carat; M&C Saatchi

How to decide?

Much about it is personality and you'll find that a large part of your decision will rest on this. Some people are more suited to agency work than in-house work from the outset. If you enjoy different challenges and managing multiple types of projects, as well as a fast and more versatile pace of life then agency work is more for you.

Some candidates are tempted by this 'cool' agency lifestyle and like the idea of burning the candle at both ends. They also like the idea of working with diverse clients - potentially for both the public and private sectors and for different types of clients.  

At an agency, it's arguably easier to stay across cutting-edge technologies and trends, in part because an agency will employ lots of creative minds with different specialisms and skillsets. You'll not only work alongside these people, but you'll also have the opportunity to socialise with them giving you lots of great opportunities to talk to them about what's going on in the industry. 

While by no means a universal fact, working 'in-house' generally has shorter hours, tends to be more structured and has a larger support network. In-house your role is a crucial part of the business structure - and therefore you'll be more exposed to how your role sits in the organisational structure and hierarchy. 

It's likely you'll work with and alongside different departments - sales, commercial, business development, strategy, finance, operations and product management. You'll gain a greater awareness of how a business functions top to bottom and how it all works together. At the same time, working in-house can bring a greater sense of ownership and so if you're someone who likes focusing on one thing and seeing it through to the end, including analysing its success and impact on the business, you might be more suited to an in-house role. 

Read: A Day in the Life of a Marketing Executive

Why it matters

At the start of a marketing career, it is relatively simple to move between the two sides; however, once your career is more established, many companies on both in-house side and agency-side are reluctant to employ marketers from the other side of the divide. 

Of course that said, it's not impossible but this is something of an industry fact and, as such, it pays to find out as much as possible as early on in your career to ensure you the make the best choice for yourself. 

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Even if you're still undecided about working for an agency or in-house marketing company, get your research started by taking a look at our marketing and PR graduate jobs.