Tales From Agency Life?
June 25, 2008 7:46 AM   Subscribe

PR/Marcomm Filter: What's it like to work for a PR/Marketing/Ad agency/firm?

I'm currently a jack-of-all trades comm person, working for a small non-profit. I'm considering my next move. I do everything here - copywriting, speechwriting, graphic design, web coding/design, newsletters (print and e-newsletters), annual reports, brochures, one-sheets, you name it. I'm constantly busy, but there's nowhere to go, promotion-wise. My experience doesn't seem to be specific enough for a lot of the corporate-type marcomm jobs out there ("5-7 years experience in the healthcare industry") so I'm considering all my options.

So what do you have to say about the day-to-day life of your average account exec? And where could I go from there?

p.s. I spent 10 years in an editorial role in the broadcast news industry, which is why I'm leaning toward the PR route.
posted by producerpod to Work & Money (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Account teams are probably the easiest places in agencies to hide the fact that you have no talent. There's an intangibility to the work that you produce, plus there are people to kick work up and down to. Consequently, some of the wrongest cocks I've ever met, I've met in account management for Marcomms agencies.

I'll go further: They are, in point of fact, everything that's wrong with the world.

That said though, anyone prepared to graft, and with the good spread of knowledge that you seem to indicate above, will do fine. AE's need to be able to cut through the crap when a client says "I need to incentivize cash flow through our digital marcomms offer." or when a developer says "It'll take 3 days to get it to spit out valid XML." (While at the same time, preserving the ability to reverse this process and polish the odd turd.")

Those who are good are generally recognized as such and prosper. Those who are demonstrably cock-ends languish in middle management for the rest of their days. (I base my opinions on the digital marketing end of the game where things are a bit more egalitarian. Traditional media agencies may be a little different.)

I'lll wrap it up for you: If you're used to working in-house (in whatever capacity: design, management, technical, creative.) then if you move over to an agency of any size you can expect to be doing more work, better and for less money in a third of the time.

Furthermore, the work is only ever rewarding in retrospect and, the older I get, the more I begin to suspect that the ultimate goal of working under these ridiculous conditions is that after 15 years or so you get to jack it all in and go be a jack-of-all trades comm person in a small non-profit.

Tell you what, I'll swap you. I have a window seat.
posted by Jofus at 9:13 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, I was also going to flag that traditional media agencies seem to be cutting back and shedding staff all over the place, whereas digital (touch wood) seems still to be strong. YMMV.
posted by Jofus at 9:17 AM on June 25, 2008

Unfortunately, in most agencies, account executives have been reduced to glorified project managers. The nature of the client/agency has changed from a partnership to a vendor relationship in the last ten years. Instead of working closely with clients to gain their trust and help solve their business problems through marketing, clients now have rosters of multiple agencies, with the cheapest agency getting the most projects, regardless of quality.

The client/agency relationship is now focused on billable hours in relation to each specific project, instead of a long-term multi-faceted return on investment. Even the largest of clients now hire the largest of agencies on a per-project basis. I truly believe in proving an agency's worth to a client, but the bigger agencies will never be able to sustain themselves in this new model.

This makes for a very shitty work environment. Higher-ups end up telling you to do whatever you possibly can to keep the client happy. This results in asking your creatives and producers to simply pump out whatever they can in the shortest period of time. Then you get shitty work which the client hates and they fire the agency anyway. And no matter what you know to be the right thing to do, you can't possibly tell the CEO of an agency with 10,000+ employees "no."

The flipside: I now work at a small (20 employees) agency that does marketing for advocacy groups, government groups, and non-profits and it's worse in so many ways, but at least I leave at 6 every day.

If you don't care about going to hip parties where they serve you McDonald's cheeseburgers, or getting totally wasted at Cannes, don't work for an advertising or digital marketing agency.

Wish I could give your more direction as to what to do instead, but I'm on that same path...
posted by anthropoid at 10:15 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Maybe I can offer a more positive view. I work at a non-traditional marketing agency (for the last 8 years) and I spent a few years on the AE team. In my experience, the job is very much a balancing act between being an advocate for the client and their needs while not selling your agency short. You obviously need to go out of your way to keep the client happy, but you can't do it at the expense of profitability (within reason, of course) or your sanity.

What I can say, is that with a bad client being an AE is terrible. You essentially get yelled at from all sides a lot. However, if you're working with a good client who is open to ideas and with whom you have a shared vision its a great experience.

But I will second the thought that being an AE often involves a lot of project management. Comes with the territory.
posted by tundro at 12:54 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: I had that role in the in-house agency for a large organization and didn't really like it. It was like I had all of the responsibility and none of the power. Often my recommendations to clients were ignored and when things went wrong I took the blame. Thank yous were rare when things went well - even when I moved mountains. Not that I am searching for validation, but it was tough to keep enthusiasm. I had to be the bad guy against my own coworkers or external vendors on behalf of my clients. That was sometimes hard because it was important to maintain the relationships because other clients depended on them. Or my clients got mad when I told them I had already spoken to my coworkers about whatever issue they were calling on (that was pretty strange, that they were angry that my coworkers and I actually share info).

I almost took an similar position at an external agency but decided against it. Overall, it's a lot of sales, hand-holding, putting out fires and maintaining communication. It was a lot of fun at first - especially when stuff I worked on was produced (I LOVED going through the newspapers or riding the subway and pointing out stuff I was involved with to friends) but I got burnt out pretty quickly.

I wouldn't let the job descriptions deter you - a lot of places construct an ad for the ideal candidate, but people are willing to accept industry-switchers, etc. Most places would rather you have the knowledge and learn the industry specifics than the other way around.

FWIW, I moved to the corporate world with little problem. I found that smaller companies look for "jack-of-all-trades" types while larger corporations are more specific (i.e. one person manages SEM campaigns, another only does e-newsletters, etc.). If you like having your hands in everything, try looking at smaller places. They'll be more flexible about ideal candidates too probably. Good luck.
posted by ml98tu at 1:34 PM on June 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All great comments - basically confirming what I thought in the first place, but thought I was just a jaded former producer with a skewed view of the world.

Back to the drawing board.

@Jofus: Wouldn't that be great if you could just enter into a job exchange program for a week or so? I think everyone would benefit! I smell a web 3.0 venture...
As for nonprofits...Life is all about tradeoffs, I suppose. Either I'm working my ass off in a "stable" job that is vaguely unfulfilling, or dealing with the begging and budget unease that comes with a "business" that deals in fulfilling dreams but without the revenue stream.

@ml98tu: What makes your current situation different from now? I'm also considering whether corporate is the way to go, and would appreciate your input.
posted by producerpod at 7:29 PM on June 25, 2008

I wouldn't let the job descriptions deter you

Speaking as a career changer (and jack of all trades), I couldn't agree more. I would, however, suggest relying on researching the job market, strategic networking, and, ultimately cold-calling in order to find the position you want, instead of responding to want ads. Want ads are typically posted, and the responses managed, by HR departments (rather than the hiring manager), and they need as close a match to the requirements stated in the want ad as possible.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:40 PM on July 16, 2008

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