Career Hack #3

Both Sides Now

So you want a career in advertising or marketing. The big question is on which side of the fence? Client side or agency side?

Warren Hunter, Chairman, DMW Direct and Kent Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Highlights for Children, Inc.

Why I Love Being on the Client Side - Kent Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Highlights for Children, Inc.

One of the coolest things about the field of data-driven marketing is that there is such a broad range of jobs and industries involved.   Early on in your career it can be a challenge to figure it all out.  Here’s a confession: I am a CEO and I am still figuring it out.  The best thing is that whether you are well along in your career or just starting out, much of your success will come from being curious, from maintaining a desire to learn and an openness to change.  I work for Highlights for Children, Inc.  We are a diversified educational publisher.  Currently, we are most well-known for Highlights magazine and for being in the doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms. I love being part of something where we focus on serving our customer from beginning to end.  All of our teams have their own areas of focus.  But when we are at our best as a company, each person feels like they are part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than just their team. Our teams have to think things through from soup to nuts.  From ideation, to creation, to operation and execution, and all the way through to customer service.  If this sounds good, you might prefer the client side of the industry.

We get to go deep into thinking about our markets and customers, even as we have the excitement of bringing many different ideas and tools to bear as we serve those customers.  On the client side, you work in an environment where the whole team is focused on a customer or product segment with alignment and consistency.  This can be very rewarding, particularly if you already have a passion around those customers or around the products your company produces. I like the focus, the consistency, the feeling of being dedicated to the products, the mission, and the customer.

Life on the Agency Side – Warren Hunter, Chairman, DMW Direct

I started my career on the client side working for a relatively modest company manufacturing office machines. In my final job on the client side, I had brought in several agencies to help our team accomplish our goals. However, in a short amount of time, one agency really “got it” and we were funneling all our work to them. It was then I realized that this was where the excitement was and I wanted to be a part of it. So, I joined that agency in 1988 and have been there ever since. 

The pace in an agency is faster and the learning is continuous. Results are always in the cross hairs. This is not the 9-5 life you might have on the client side. This is delivering on whatever the client needs in the face of (sometimes) ridiculous time frames. This is life where you get to work with a number of different clients, different products, all of the off and online media — and where clients expect you to be the marketing expert, filling in the blanks for them.

This is the world of 24/7 availability. An east coast agency working with a west coast client (or vice versa) needs to have account people on extended hours to accommodate the time differences. I get email from our people at two in the morning as well as during the work day.

Depending on your constitution, this is where the excitement lives. After landing a new client, you have to come up a fast learning curve to know as much about their business as you possibly can. After all – they are coming to YOU for help.  The expectation is that you are a smart marketer – a smart ad person. And they expect you to understand their customers, their markets. If you go to work for a large agency with large clients you may only work on a single client (which is sort of like being the client). But in the world of mid-size agencies – everybody gets to work on everything – including more than one client in more than one industry. Fun? You bet. Hard work? Count on it.

Which Side is the RIGHT Side? – Kent and Warren

Of course, there is no right answer when thinking about starting out on your career path - either side can be the right side. You will figure out what’s best for you by trying roles in different companies over time, and that journey can provide you with great skills and experiences. Your goal now should be to find a job where you will be happy, where you will have a passion for what you are doing. A job on either side will provide you with many opportunities to learn. But across our industries, we need bright students like you to join the data-driven marketing field. It won’t take you long to figure out where you’d rather be. We look forward to working with you whatever side you choose.

Read more career advice in Career Hack #4!