Kao: Agency-side vs Brand-side - Which is Better?


Have you previously considered moving between the agency-side to the brand-side? Or vice-versa? Having made the switch a few times myself (most recently back to agency), I wanted to share two of the biggest thoughts I have when considering both. If you are having similar thoughts, hopefully these help provide a different viewpoint as you consider options.

#1: Depth & Breadth of Experience

On the brand-side, there is a depth of knowledge you gain through every program you create, every vendor you work with, and every result that you drive. The experience when you just know something is awesome, fight for it, and then see a sustained +1,000% increase? Validating!

On the flip side, the breadth of what you can experience can be low if your time is spent navigating internal politics, gathering support, and getting stakeholders to green-light your project. Sometimes, just building the business case itself to start can be a months-long endeavor that ends in a de-prioritized project.

On the agency-side, there is a substantial amount of unique partners, programs, and approaches we experience and support through our entire client base. If a client has a challenge - we’ve likely experienced and worked through it. That breadth of experience across the team and our entire client-base is part of what clients are able to tap when working with us.

On the flip-side, it can be frustrating at times if you make a solid program recommendation but unable to get the client to implement them. It is generally understood that the inner workings & politics drive the priorities, but the lack of visibility doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Both breadth and depth of experience are important to growth and I'd highly recommend experiencing both!

#2: Perspective & Expectations

In an agency, it's easy to get caught up recommending programs left and right. You have so many ideas that it's simply overflowing and you really want the client to implement all of them! How could the client not understand the importance and value of implementing your recommendations? This would be so impactful!

However, understand the expectations of your role - you are here to support the client and help drive their success. Just as important as driving strategy and executing flawlessly is to provide the support to your client to help them sell the idea internally. You may have convinced your client, but your client needs to convince others in their company too!

As the client, it's equally easy to get frustrated at how your agency does not understand that you have other priorities and resourcing roadblocks. How can they not see that you need to build a business case before we can even start working on it?

Similarly here, understand the expectations of your role - you are in the driver's seat, responsible for hitting your numbers, navigating internal waters, and more. Be explicit to your team in what you need and why. It never hurts to be overly communicative - your partners are more than willing to support you!

In a great partnership, understanding both sides of the picture makes for an immensely better working, and ultimately successful, relationship. Agencies become champions through their Clients becoming champions.

What Do You Do With All Of That?

Assuming you've had a moderate level of exposure into the above, you're already well-equipped to start putting it into practice! Regardless which side you are on - understand the roles, challenges, and expectations - and use that to drive for mutual success of the partnership.

If the other (new) side sounds interesting, understand the key differences in the life and expectations of the role before jumping in. But if you've checked that box, jump in and go for it. You will develop and grow to drive your future success!