Yvette Pistorio

Corporate to Agency Life: Differences Between the Two

By: Yvette Pistorio | April 10, 2013 | 

Corporate to Agency Life: Differences Between the TwoI come to you to talk about the differences between corporate to agency life because I’ve done both.

I worked on the corporate side for the first five years of my career.

Only recently (about seven months ago) did I join an agency.

Moving from corporate to agency life really showed me how different they are – and it’s not just billable hours, managing multiple accounts, being responsive at all times of the day and night, and client reports.

The pace, culture, day-to-day duties and tasks, income, purpose – really, everything is different.

Corporate Life

On the corporate side, things happen a lot more slowly. I forget where I read it, but the best analogy was when someone said it’s like being stuck at a red light. You’re waiting for the light to turn green; wait for it…wait for it…alright, maybe there is a mechanical issue with the light.

It takes longer to champion your cause, negotiate for resources, and see your projects through to completion. On the flip side, you have the opportunity to truly come up with an idea, follow through on your recommendations, and finish the project.

The good thing about a corporate setting: You have a much deeper understanding of the business, its culture, and the job role. It provides longevity and stability, but it lacks variety. There tends to be more conflicting objectives, not just between departments, but sometimes in your own team. And you have to become an expert at political maneuverings, which I found just annoying.

Agency Life

If you like a fun, fast-paced environment, collaboration, and continuous learning, agency life might be the right fit. Tasks and decisions come quickly. Actually, everything moves at a much faster pace.

There is continuous learning which is fun, but not easy. You get to work with a variety of clients and sectors, and you get to see a breadth of strategies. It requires you to know a lot about, well, a lot. Your clients expect you to bring your A-game every day, so there is a lot of note-taking and studying. You have to stay ahead of current news, trends, and technology. After all, your clients shouldn’t tell you what to do; you’re the expert.

An agency also affords you the opportunity to try your hand at different specializations. What that does, especially early on in your career, is give you the ability to find what you do and don’t like. An agency can also be filled with more experienced and wiser professionals who can help teach and mentor you.

On the downside, you aren’t privy to internal client discussions and sometimes are told about new initiatives much too late. You also most likely work longer hours, including nights and weekends.

Corporate to Agency Life

I can’t say I prefer one more than the other, because they are so completely different. Both have their benefits and drawbacks. Neither side is cushier than the other, but I will say life at an agency has kept me on my toes and I’m never bored…ever.

Do you prefer agency or corporate work? Why?

About Yvette Pistorio

Yvette Pistorio is the shared media manager for Arment Dietrich. She is a lover of pop culture, cupcakes, and HGTV, and enjoys a good laugh. There are a gazillion ways you can find her online.

  • margieclayman

    Thanks for the insights, Yvette. I’ve been an agency woman my whole professional career (coming up on 10 years now) but I have a lot of insight into how things work at the corporate level. Your description of agency life is spot on. It’s a facet of agencies that a lot of people on the outside don’t seem to grasp!

    • margieclayman 😀 I didn’t know what to expect at an agency. I knew it would be a lot more work, but didn’t realized how fast-paced it would be and how much work. It’s great though and I’ve learned so much in such a short time.

  • HowieG

    Great post Yvette! The biggest difference I see is that a Brand/Corp business has a goal of maximizing the return on investment for money spent on agency work. Agencies on the other hand have a goal of maximizing their billable hours regardless of the ROI.
    This holds true in other areas of the corporate world. But if Brand X spends $50 million a year on agency work would an Agency ever be honest and tell the client ‘You spent $50 mil a year, you can get the same bang for $25 mil a year’…which means reducing billings, laying off workers etc.
    I see this now on a project I am sub contracted on. My direct client looks at things especially for social media as ‘What can we do to increase billings’ vs ‘does this make sense for the client’. I on the other hand willingly turn away hours I can sell when they don’t make sense.

    • HowieG Thanks Howie! I agree too. At an agency you definitely want to maximize the billable hours as best as you can. Great point.

  • Give me agency or give me death.

  • John_Trader1

    Haven’t worked on the agency side but I hear it’s a wild ride compared to what can often be described as the more serene corporate setting. I can tell you that your enthusiasm for working in an agency is quite palpable and makes me want to try it! However, sometimes I feel that because of the fact that I work for a smaller, private, global company the pace equals that of an agency lifestyle with the absence of multiple clients.
    I am now living the agency life vicariously through you YP.

  • Someone said it here yesterday on the subject of brain/barnstorming: at an agency you’re surrounded by like-minded creatives. I always found that a huge advantage. The atmosphere was more electric in the agency than at my clients’ offices.
    Also, I would recommend everyone learn to record their time as if they’re billing a client. It gives you a very good perspective on what your priorities are versus what they should be. When you’re on the agency side, you know how much time a press release, for instance, should take. If you spend two or three times that amount, you know you’re wasting the client’s money. Over at the client, time is not necessarily money. That’s how things get endlessly reviewed and rehashed.
    Finally, when you’re in-house, you spend a good deal of time justifying the value of what you do to those around you. That gets tiring.

    • RobBiesenbach Agreed on the like minded creatives. I agree the atmosphere is more electric even though Arment Dietrich is virtual. I collaborate a lot more than I did in a corporate setting.
      Love the recommendation too! I never realized how long it took me to write a news release or blog post until I had to bill time for it. And you’re right, that’s how things get endlessly reviewed and rehashed. 
      And oh the justifying…can be so frustrating!

  • Definitely agency life for me. I love the variety in clients, projects and challenges. Being a part of an agency, in my experience, has forced me to think more critically and be more resourceful. I also thrive in a fast-paced, full-plate environment and can’t stand all that gosh darned red tape. Also, based on my experience, I have been privy to internal client conversations at agencies for the most part so not sure if I completely agree with your point there … however, I could have just been lucky!

    • KateFinley I completely agree…that and ginidietrich have taught me to think more critically and be more resourceful. 
      Sometimes you are privy to internal conversations, sometimes you aren’t. I think it depends on the client and how open they want to be with you.

  • I have been on both sides too and agree with your description. I have never worked for a company that didn’t have its own chaos and red tape to deal with. The only question was whether there were managers who were interested, active and available to help move things along.
    The one thing that really drove me crazy corporate side was what happened when someone would go on vacation or take maternity leave. It often felt like things would stop because no one would fill in for that missing person.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Oh, good point…whether there were managers who were interested, active and available to help move things along. That’s so true!  And the vacation thing drove me crazy too. It’s not like the department is going to fall apart of someone is out of the office for a week. When I went on my honeymoon a few years ago, I was out for 2 1/2 weeks and it was like everything was going to fall apart, but obviously it didn’t.

  • Yvette – I completely agree with you! I made the transition shortly after you did and it is  nice to actually feel like you’re getting things done, which takes much longer in house. And you’re right I’m never bored!

    • rachaelseda Definitely never get bored, that’s for sure! I can cross things off my to-do list without getting approval first which is nice and makes me feel productive.

  • I’m glad you’re settling into your agency life, but I suspect, as your career advances, you will find that political maneuverings exist regardless of which “sphere” you’re in… I’m not saying that’ll happen at your current place of employment, but it’s very much there. 
    I’ve been both in-house and on the agency side, as you know, and I think most “agency people” can settle into an in-house gig, but there aren’t that many who can make it work the other way around. Because agency life IS difficult, especially as you get further up the ladder. There are a lot of pressures – especially on the new business side – that you might not face if you’re in the corporate world. But I think having that agency mindset – being able to juggle multiple balls well – is priceless – and that’s one of the reasons I’m very glad my career started in the agency world.

    Btw in terms of what’s a faster pace – I found, when I was in-house at a nonprofit, it was WAY faster than anything in the agency world and probably a lot of corporate workplaces. I still remember one of my professional colleagues asking if I found it too slow. I said: “BWAHAHAHAHA!”

    • Shonali Hahaha!! Yes, it’s too slow, please speed it up! Hahaha! Too funny.
      I’m sure there are office politics everywhere and maybe I don’t see them because I work at a small agency. 
      Phew, I’m glad I was able to setting into the agency side!! It’s been a struggle, but I think I’m finally figuring it out.

      • yvettepistorio Shonali Well, shoot, if we can’t engage in generalizations and stereotypes, this isn’t going to be any fun!
        And, yes, when I worked in-house for an elected official, things never moved faster — very high stakes. So you never know …

        • RobBiesenbach yvettepistorio Shonali Right?! haha!!

  • This is a bit of a tangent but …. that’s often the case with me :-).  I recently met an individual who is a staff member for a statewide official (in the context of this post that would make him more “corporate”). When I asked him about Twitter he said, “well, I don’t am not really “into” Twitter, I just RT my boss’s twitter account.” I would think that mindset might be easier for an agency person to fall into (not a good agency person, but an agency person b/c of being less invested). It always makes me said when someone responsible for their organization’s twitter account says, “but I don’t really like Twitter” (I have heard this more than once). What a loss for a relationship their organization could be creating and an image it could be crafting passionately.

    • biggreenpen You know, I wasn’t the biggest Twitter fan when I first started using it. I didn’t get it, but after a few years I saw how it can help brands. Plus I’ve built so many relationships through Twitter both personally and for companies I managed social networks for. The more I use it the more I like it. 🙂 But I feel your pain. Luckily we have great clients. One in particular doesn’t like Twitter, but she still took the time to get to know the platform and now she’s crafting tweets and sending me things to share so it’s been fun to see how people evolve with a little push.

  • SpinSucks

    CattJames Thank you for sharing Jim 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    CPRSNational Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    tarynwismer Thanks for sharing Taryn 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    ArgylePR Thanks for sharing!!

  • SpinSucks

    rachaelseda 😀

  • SpinSucks

    SavannahJessie Do it, it’s been a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing Savannah 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    RobBiesenbach Lol!! You sound like jasonkonopinski

    • RobBiesenbach

      SpinSucks jasonkonopinski Ha! I knew I heard that somewhere! I will call it an homage, not a rip-off!

  • SpinSucks

    John_Trader1 😀 Thank you!!!

  • SpinSucks

    giesencreative Thanks for sharing Jack!

    • giesencreative

      SpinSucks Great post! I’ve only worked on the in-house side so far, so it’s great to see the pros/cons laid out so clearly.

  • Steve Kirstein

    You make several good points. As someone who has also navigated “both sides”, it’s my observation that most of these issues depend totally on the organization for which you work, rather than an agency or client model. There are slow, bureaucratic corporations but also very nimble, fast-moving ones – certain people thrive in one or the other – I prefer the latter. I also believe that the corporate longevity and stability, as you describe it, is a thing of the past.
    As for agencies – agree with some of the other commenters that the politics can be equally onerous/dysfunctional. Your point that you have to be “on” all the time is true – and was a part that I particularly enjoyed – but I wish that your comment that “your clients shouldn’t tell you what to do; you’re the expert” was more the norm in practice rather than the exception.
    Thanks for the post!

    • Steve Kirstein My pleasure Steve! And I agree it depends on the organization. I have a mere six years of experience, so the post is based solely on that. I too wish the “your clients shouldn’t tell you what to do; you’re the expert” was the norm too. It’s the norm at Arment Dietrich!

      • Steve Kirstein

        yvettepistorio Steve Kirstein “It’s the norm at Arment Dietrich!” nice – A: Always B: Be C: Closing! 😉

        • Steve Kirstein Always…Sometimes when I ask a question, @ginidietrich will say to me: “You’re the expert, you tell me.” Lol! But it’s good practice and makes the clients happy.

  • Kirk Hazlett

    I’ve always been a corporate guy myself. Like being a part of the “Mother Ship” and being able to develop a solid understanding of all that goes into the development and presentation of our products or services. Agency life didn’t do that for me.

  • Great points. If often takes our new developers some adjusting as well.  The biggest adjustments are working with what the client wants and billable hours versus doing extras they think will be better. Getting used to doing what the client asked and was quoted takes time. The other is multi-tasking, most programmers want to start on one thing and see it thru prior to moving onto the next. We do not have that luxury here, its switching gears all day every day!!
    In the end, once they adjust I think (hope) they prefer the challenge of never knowing what their next project is and always being challenged by the lastest thing and always doing something new!

    • sydcon_mktg Yes, constantly switching gears! One hour I’m writing about the manufacturing industry, and the next it’s leadership or breastfeeding. I enjoy the variety. It keeps me on my toes and I get to learn about a bunch of different industries.

  • I completely agree with the description of corporate PR benefits…I’ve always been more comfortable in a corporate setting because I’ve been able to be a part of the “Mother Ship” and can more fully provide advice and counsel based on my in-depth knowledge of “how the sausage is made.” Agency life didn’t do that for me. Great post!

    • KirkHazlett Thanks Kirk! I was way low on the totem pole in the corporate setting so most of the time I had to get approval from a number of people and things got pushed aside which is unfortunate. I have enjoyed both so far, it just depends on what you like more.

    • PattiRoseKnight

      KirkHazlett And gotta love the corporate side – without the corporate side there would be no agency side 🙂

      • PattiRoseKnight KirkHazlett yvettepistorio Very true on that one, Patti, although Yvette and the gang might claim that *we* need *them* ore! 😉

  • VZWandrea

    eveypistorio SpinSucks Interesting post! Agree w/ Steve: You’ll find diff agencies or corp cultures over time. Important to try both.

    • @VZWandrea Agreed and I’m glad (and fortunate) I’ve been able to try both.

  • eveypistorio

    iarlabyrne Thanks so much for sharing!

    • iarlabyrne

      eveypistorio my pleasure, Yvette!

  • eveypistorio

    NickWilcox2 Hey Nick! Hope all is well 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • eveypistorio

    ValettePiper Lol!! Thanks for sharing Valette 🙂

  • eveypistorio

    DavidaPride Thanks for sharing David 🙂

  • eveypistorio

    VictoriaGestner Thanks Victoria! Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  • eveypistorio

    giesencreative Thanks for sharing Jack 🙂

  • eveypistorio

    John_Trader1 Thank youuuuuuuuuuuu!!! 😀

  • TomPick

    Insightful post Yvette, thanks for sharing. Having also worked on both sides,  I love the flexibility and variety of agency life, but it can be hard always being the outsider.

    • TomPick Thanks so much Tom! I love the flexibility and variety too. Keeps me on my toes.

      • PattiRoseKnight

        yvettepistorio TomPick not to mention we really work our butts off – there is no such thing as 9 – 5 on the agency side.

        • TomPick

          PattiRoseKnight  yvettepistorio True Patti, but it seems that 9-5 is becoming quite rare on the corporate side as well. You’d have to work for the (rapidly shrinking) US Postal Service to get those hours these days. 🙂

        • PattiRoseKnight

          TomPick PattiRoseKnight yvettepistorio I will plead the 5th – my ex husband works for the post office but will say – yep you are right about that

  • SpinSucks

    JoelleTweeted Thanks for sharing Joelle!

    • JoelleTweeted

      SpinSucks Why yes, of course. Much love to the team and hi ginidietrich!

  • SpinSucks

    bowden2bowden Thanks for sharing Randy!

  • SpinSucks

    belllindsay So is it weird if I thank people for sharing my content on both my twitter handles?! Just curious…

    • belllindsay

      SpinSucks I don’t think so….

  • SavvyCopywriter

    Great post! I actually switched from Corporate life to Agency life because I thrive in a more fast paced environment. Sometimes this has its drawbacks, but for the most part, I love it. And I can say with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t change where I’m at for the world. Thanks for sharing this!

    • SavvyCopywriter Thank you!! Everything has it’s drawbacks and politics, but I’m enjoying Agency life so far.

  • This pretty much sums it up. I’ve never really worked on the corporate side, but it seems like a lot of hurry up and wait.
    However, in my current role, I serve only one client, so it feels a lot like working on the corporate side.

    • PattiRoseKnight

      bradmarley Hurry up and wait is what we called the LA freeway LOL!

    • belllindsay

      bradmarley Funny. In TV land ‘hurry up and wait’ was our catch-phrase. For everything!

  • eveypistorio

    charlesmeadows Thanks for sharing Charles 🙂

  • PattiRoseKnight

    Agency life is all I know but I have been known to say at time I feel like the jack of all trade but the master of nothing LOL!

  • This is an age old discussion that never gets tired as the industry morphs and new people enter. I ‘practiced’ PR for 17 years before going freelance and only 4 of those years were on the agency side. My first PR job right out of university was with Burson-Marsteller and I always say I got my training in the trenches! As everyone is saying, there are always pros and cons to both but I personally preferred the corporate side vs. agency side. I found that the pace didn’t depend on corporate vs. agency but the leadership of the organization. When I worked for a newspaper where there were deadlines constantly looming, the PR/marketing/communications people were expected to react at lightening speed and projects had very tight timelines with high expectations.

    I’m working independently now which is more like an agency, but I have the reins rather than being an entry level account executive as I was at the beginning of my career!

  • eveypistorio

    KamillaBerdin Thanks for sharing Kamilla 🙂

  • eveypistorio

    nateriggs Thanks so much Nate 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post.

    • nateriggs

      eveypistorio : )

  • wagnerwrites

    thejoannadm Thanks for the RT!

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  • thomasknorpp

    IliyanaStareva SpinSucks naaaaa. In house all the way. 🙂

    • IliyanaStareva

      thomasknorpp Why? What are your reasons?

      • thomasknorpp

        IliyanaStareva things move fast, bigger impact, true ownership over what you do, exciting to work within and influence big companies.

  • Great points, Yvette. I went from small, government lab…to large, multinational company…to large telecom…to large consulting company…to principal in a company.  Those large companies drove me nuts in regards to the speed of change; however, you had great job/salary stability and a safety net if you were a top performer.
    Move to consulting, and there is no safety net or salary stability. If you are a top performer, and willing to move anywhere, you will always have work…but it can definitely be stressful.
    And then becoming a principal of a software company just magnifies both the stresses and the rewards. Lots of that fast-paced collaboration, and you have opportunities to work on multiple subject areas/domains – so the mind stays sharp!
    If I ever have to get another job after this one, I’d probably either own another one…or work for a smaller, boutique firm which would be the equivalent of a smaller agency.

  • eveypistorio

    chrismccale Thanks so much Christina 🙂

    • C2HM3

      eveypistorio chrismccale LOL NP Been on both sides! They both have lots of lessons to learn!

      • eveypistorio

        C2HM3 chrismccale Agreed 🙂

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  • tonyro333

    The majority of my work has been on the corporate side, and I basically give it a big heartfelt “meh”! Maybe I’m jaded or spoiled, but I just find corporate life about as exciting as watching cement harden. I really prefer the culture, approach & attitude of an agency. Unfortunately in this era of belt-tightening, recruiters and (I fear…) agency CDs/ACDs take one look at my CV and immediately pigeonhole me for a lack of variety. It’s quite frustrating. I’m open to suggestions here!

  • tonyro333 Do you have any agency experience?

  • Tony Romano

    ginidietrich My apologies for the delay! Have been back to this page since..oh, about the second week of August *smh*
    Anyway to answer your question, yes. Hasn’t been steady, but I started out agency-side in my 20s and loved it! More recently, consulting has allowed me to work for weeks/months at various local agencies–again, love!!–but unfortunately, at the nadir of the Recession (Dec’11) I was offered a FT position in corporate, which I took and still regret to this day.

  • Tony Romano It’s odd, then, you would be pigeonholed for lack of variety. Sounds to me like you’re not talking to the right agencies!

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  • Taking into consideration the pros and cons of working for a PR firm versus corporations what job would best fit your preferences and abilities explain your reasons