A Creative’s Experiment: To the Client Side and Back

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About four years ago, I decided I was going to get out of advertising.

Headhunters would call with agency opportunities, many of them great. ‘Not interested,’ I would quickly explain. ‘Not working at another agency,’ I would tell them. I had bigger plans. Better plans. I was going to go in-house. I was going to transform a brand, and a company, from the inside out.

Since that time, many creative colleagues, myself included, left their agency jobs and headed for client-side jobs. An internal talent manager recently told me this has reached epidemic proportions, that agencies are bleeding top talent to tech companies and media concerns. 

And it’s no wonder. In addition to offering more competitive, fulsome compensation packages, these jobs also offer the best opportunity for advertising creatives to do what we do best – build brands. And they don’t have the endless layers, the Game of Thrones-level politics, and the stubborn clients constantly standing in the way of us bringing the blossom of our creative genius to full flower.

And let’s face it, anything is better than working in an ad agency (especially those with open floor plans) where you can lose your job at the drop of a client’s hat or business.

Is that what you wanted to hear? Well, none of it is true.

Actually, it’s true that the overall compensation is better. But that’s where it ends.

When you go in-house, you’re still pitching ideas to clients. Only now you work with them or, in some cases, for them. They aren’t always as ambitious or brand savvy as those you’ve grown accustomed to in advertising (yes, I did just say that).

Politics: there’s the same amount of politics, if not more, because where there are people, there are politics.

As for job security, you may think in-house jobs are safe since the “client” can’t fire the “agency.” But what you need to remember is in an agency you are the maker of the very product that keeps them in business. If you’re a great creative, your agency will always have a place for you. Conversely, when you go in-house, you’re not revered as the superstar, award-winning creative. In fact, no one cares about your Cannes Lion. You’re just support staff. And support is the first thing that gets cut when profits aren’t met. So don’t even bother unpacking it in the move.

Add to all of this no foosball tables, no beer fridges, no bean bag chairs, no dogs, no industry parties, no trips to Cannes, no anything that might even resemble fun. That’s corporate culture at it’s finest. Otherwise known as: The Complete Absence of Culture.

That’s not to say all client-side jobs are bad. If your creative vision, values and ambitions align, going in-house can be a brilliant, mutually beneficial, enormously fruitful relationship. Think Jony Ive partnering with Steve Jobs at Apple. But, if not, well, think Jony Ive partnering with Donald Trump in hell.

Great in-house jobs do exist. I know more than a few folks who have found that magical, mystical beast, that unicorn wrapped in glitter and rainbows, carrying a 20% bonus and an amazing profit-sharing plan in its mouth. And if you find your unicorn, by all means go! Don’t walk, run toward its warm embrace.

But if it’s not a magical unicorn job, stay where you are. Because here’s what I learned, or came to realize, at my in-house job: Advertising is about to get great again – it has to; it has no choice. For it to reach full unicorn status, however, it needs people like you, my ambitious, imaginative friend.

I know it looks more like a narwhal than a unicorn right now. But I’m not kidding. The opportunity to do something monumental, something career-defining, something industry-changing, is right there in front of you, lurking in your hipster-infested open floor plan.

Don’t wait for the brief.

Open your eyes.

Get to work!

About the Author:

Patrick Condo: ECD + Writer

Patrick Condo has learned from legends of the industry while working at top shops, such as Hal Riney, AKQA and TBWA\Chiat\Day LA. He most recently served as VP/ECD of Esquire, launching Esquire Network.

Patrick lives in LA where he shares a house in the woods with his young family and his stunning collection of autumn sweaters. He likes LA a lot, but freelances wherever he’s needed. Follow Patrick on Twitter and Instagram @patrick_himself.

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Patrick Condo

Author Patrick Condo

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A Creative's Experiment: To the Client Side and Back