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In-house to agency: from being the client to becoming the marketer

July 22, 2021

There is often a lot of conversation around client-side vs agency – the pros and cons of each and which is the preferred career path, with most leaning towards one or the other in very distinct camps. But what happens when your career has taken you down both routes and led you to moving from being the client of the agency to the agency itself?

I recently joined ClickThrough Marketing as head of content after six months working with them as their client. While it can almost be described as seeing behind the curtain in a somewhat modern take on the Wizard of Oz, for me, it wasn’t so much joining the other side but more a sense of returning home.

I started my career at a traditional PR agency and quickly became enthralled with the nature of working on multiple clients, yet I never really saw myself as an “agency person” – even when joining a multinational digital agency, my somewhat naivety didn’t think there would be a substantial difference in ways of working between the two. I’m a marketer and marketing is surely the same wherever you are?

On the other side – making the case for needing an agency

Venturing client-side was something of a revelation for me. While I could fully immerse myself in a brand and the company’s ethos and history, gone was the sole focus on one area – digital. I was now a part of larger conversations and involved in most aspects of the business due to the challenges faced and the diluted number of people within the team.

While it was liberating to no longer be one of many cogs in a multifaceted machine, but instead more the engine, not having multiple channel experts around me was incredibly jarring. Despite being the Digital Marketing Manager, there were more pressing tasks to tackle in laying foundations and getting our house in order before any strategic activity could commence.

It was here that we knew support in the form of an agency was needed. Having been on both sides of the fence, what struck me was how invaluable experience of client-side and agency combined is – I know the challenges in-house teams face and the, at times, lack of marketing understanding senior stakeholders can have. Working in agencies, I know there can be smoke and mirrors – from pitches littered with bells and whistles, to speeches filled with buzzwords designed to mask over a lack of direction. I’ve seen, heard, and occasionally, been a part of it all.

How I used my agency experience to spot a strong pitch

Putting our business out for tender led to witnessing a number of pitches and it was interesting to see how various stakeholders assessed what impressed.

From my time in agencies, I knew I wanted to see how they would be an extension of our internal team, drive performance to hit our KPIs, how we benchmarked where we were to where we wanted to be, and how the channels integrated to deliver a holistic strategy.

While I can appreciate an aesthetically pleasing deck, I wasn’t looking for style over substance, yet many of my peers were drawn in by high-quality graphics and animations without absorbing the content within them. Others had opinions on how many people were a part of the pitch team – I don’t need an army, I want to know who and how many specialists will be on the account and, from experience, prefer to hear from the specialists themselves rather than a pitch team.

Why I embraced being an “agency person”

Knowing the nuances helped to establish the legitimate from the fanciful and, once onboarded, the first call with the ClickThrough team induced a surprising feeling of homesickness. Being able to have an hour each week talking about everything digital and hearing about the latest algorithm updates or trends was almost heart-warming – spending my working days in other areas, while beneficial and knowledge building, made me realise how out of loop I was becoming now it wasn’t my primary focus at all times.

Being in-house is a fantastic experience – a different pace and working solely on one brand from end-to-end is something I thoroughly enjoyed. But I’ve discovered it isn’t sustainable for me – I love working with a mix of verticals and the different marketing challenges each faces.

Having knowledge shares with other channel team members means I’m always learning and keeping abreast of the digital evolution. The ClickThrough way ticked all my boxes as a client and transitioning over to becoming one of its employees became an obvious next step for me – although perhaps a slight anomaly in the marketing world.

My time in-house and agency side over the course of my career means I’ve been lucky enough to encounter the good, the bad and occasionally the ugly. No two businesses are the same, but the fundamentals are – you don’t have to definitively be one or the other, variety is the spice of life after all, but you’ll always have at least a foot in one of those distinct camps.

By Stefanie Keeling - head of content, ClickThrough Marketing

Stefanie Keeling is ClickThrough Marketing's head of content. She devises overarching content strategy in-line with SEO and PR to identify opportunities, drive performance and create full funnel, targeted content for consumers. She has previously worked in-house at leading homeware and gambling businesses, in addition to iProspect.


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in-house content
Agency culture
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