Want to Switch from Agency to Client
June 11, 2014 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Hey all, this is a tough one. The long and short of it is, my work at the ad agency has grown stale and my biggest client is revving up its own internal digital strategy team. I want to be on that team and there are several positions that would be a good fit for me. Among other things, I would have a better commute and more money; plus the invigorating effect of a change of scenery, work, etc. BUT I have to clear it with my bosses at the agency.

This client has asked us to help fill these positions, so they clearly value our input on this stuff. I've worked with these people for more than 4 years and helped develop their digital capabilities, serving as an external strategic consultant as well as creative lead. What I want to do is approach my "main" boss in a way that makes it clear that, if he supports my candidacy, he will have an ally at a key account, etc., while also making the point that I will eventually go somewhere else.

Has anyone ever done this kind of thing? I have colleagues who have in the past but this was some time ago. I'm tracking a couple of them down but would love to hear what you all think about this.
posted by Mister_A to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm confused - you work for an ad agency, and your biggest client is developing their own in-house department to take over what they previously outsourced to your company? So in other words, your company is losing part of that business, whether you take a new job or not?

So they want to hire their own employees now. You want to apply for that job. Unless you have an enforceable non-compete in your work contract, or your client's contract with your agency says they won't hire away the agency's staff, then you don't really need to clear this with your boss. If this is the case, apply.

If there are other non-competes or non-hire agreements in place, then I suggest going to your boss with the idea of a hybrid work relationship - you would take a new job with the client, and the client appoints you as their liaison to the agency for all continuing agency work. That allows you to keep the agency in the loop and continue feeding valuable work their way.
posted by trivia genius at 12:19 PM on June 11, 2014

I almost did this a few years ago, but ultimately decided not to because I was afraid of burning bridges. I later talked with someone at the agency where I had been and mentioned in passing "oh, I was about to accept a position from Client XYZ" and my ex-manager said "yeah, we knew, we were pissed and you would have really been leaving on bad terms if that had happened."

So, um, tread with caution.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2014

trivia genius, no, that's not the situation at all. This is a multinational corporation that is developing a strategy group that will operate across their 12 or so public-facing brands. My current agency will not lose a dollar and could, theoretically, benefit from having a well placed ally on that strategy team.

And yes, OF COURSE I have a non-compete, and OF COURSE it will be a huge cock-up if I try to get the job without consulting my current employer. Please, instead of making assumptions that may harm the quality of answers I receive, ask questions. I am glad to provide more detail.
posted by Mister_A at 12:29 PM on June 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would try to get the job first, being careful to not double-cross or undercut my current employer (I work for an agency myself). Once I got the job I would worry about explaining things to my employer.

I was offered a job by a big client once, but I turned them down, although it was a difficult choice and loyalty to my agency employer played no role whatsoever, beyond ensuring I behaved ethically throughout the process.

After I made my decision I did let my employer know, which he appreciated.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you have a job already. Perhaps consult with a lawyer about your non-compete? I don't know how those things work really, it would seem awfully hard to enforce, especially if you were communicating using your own email address, and if you were not leveraging know-how and resources from your agency to get the job.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:31 PM on June 11, 2014

Yeah, true KokuRyu. Part of the issue is, on a practical level, my boss is well regarded and has many friendships among key officers at the client company. AND, since they've asked us to help them find people, it seems like it would be ill-advised to present myself without talking to the boss man. Fairly certain they would ask him about me if they got my resumé.
posted by Mister_A at 12:34 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Long story short, I think I'm looking for a compelling, not-too-threatening way of saying, "I will be leaving soon. I will either become a big supporter of yours at a key client, or a competitor at another agency."
posted by Mister_A at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2014

You might want to ask to anonymize this question. Safety first! :)
posted by pazazygeek at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2014

I appreciate your concern. However, I consider my ability to respond more important than protecting my anonymity.
posted by Mister_A at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2014

You write:
Long story short, I think I'm looking for a compelling, not-too-threatening way of saying, "I will be leaving soon. I will either become a big supporter of yours at a key client, or a competitor at another agency."
Why not just say this?

Are you just looking for advice on how to rephrase this? Whether to do it in person, by email, or another form?
posted by Leontine at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2014

The problem is that "I will be leaving soon, can I go to this client?" can lead to "actually, we don't need you at all".

I'd leave out the implied threat, and say something like "Client is setting up an internet digital strategy team, and I'm really interested in getting involved with that, especially as I'd get to continue to work with Company. I've been offered a job there, but do not want to leave here on bad terms. How can we work this out so it's a win for everyone?"
posted by jeather at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm going to suggest a different strategy: Seek a champion inside the client company who will go to bat for you with your boss. "Say, boss, I know you're very happy with the work of Mister A over there, but we'd really love to have him be a part of our team because a), b), and c). I value our relationship enough that I wanted to come to you about this, directly." Zip lip and wait for response.

Finding the champion shouldn't be hard. Surely there is someone sufficiently highly placed whom you could turn to. Communications should be on the phone (to request an appointment to talk) and in person (to discuss the situation). Do not put anything in writing.

This could prove to be a difficult task for the client champion because doing it implies that you're THE guy. Client may not be prepared to make that commitment. Tricky? Yes. Given all you've done for client, however, it sounds like it's in their best interest to keep you close. No harm in a discreet approach.

Good luck.
posted by John Borrowman at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2014 [10 favorites]

Leontine, definitely need to do this in person. Funny, after my comment, it occurred to me as well that maybe that's exactly what I should say. I'm also looking for any anecdotes about what happened next - whether grudging acceptance, enthusiastic embrace, utter denial, whatever, and how that impacted relationships in future. I like to wargame these things and consider as many scenarios and responses as possible.

But yeah, the first thing is I need to sit down with the boss and have this talk; would appreciate advice on this.
posted by Mister_A at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2014

Well, that is a very good idea, John Borrowman, and worth pursuing.
posted by Mister_A at 1:11 PM on June 11, 2014

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