To start off, I don't believe this is a universal rule. I know of a lot of fantastic marketers who haven't spent any time working at an agency. Everybody's career journey looks different.
That said, Megan and I have both spent time recently talking to college students who are in their final year or two of school and wondering what could be next for them. Personally, I've only been working for about seven years out of school, so I feel somewhat inadequate giving advice. At this point, some of those folks we get to talk to could be our bosses in a few years. You never know.
I've had the opportunity to spend 2/3 of my work life behind the walls of an agency. I think having that experience, especially early on, has helped me tremendously with my own career growth. Why do I think other younger marketers should try and get in at agencies at some point early in their career?
You learn how different organizations and people work all at once
One of the great things about agency life is the ability to work with a lot of different types of people with several different organizations. You get instant exposure to how different industries work, what their business nuances might be and how different people communicate expectations. Your clients will come to you with concerns and needs of all shapes and sizes. Learning how to tailor your marketing skills to a variety of challenges is a great catalyst to growth. And that's just working with clients and vendors.
Inside of agencies, you have an eclectic group of people and work styles under the same roof as you. It takes a lot of different personality types to come up with creative solutions, build them digitally, but still be able to make all of those deliverables come together on time. Not only are you learning to work within your client's expectations, you learn how to work with your own co-workers and communicate with people that may not be in your department and think like you do. It's a challenge sometimes but also a lot of fun.
Learn how to prioritize and manage stress
Deadlines. Expectations. Constant changes in scope. I found that agency life was rarely predictable. If you don't like change, don't work at an agency. You'll go mad.
You won't have one client or boss expecting one deliverable from you. You'll have multiple deadlines, sometimes simultaneously, with at least one of those projects experiencing some sort of "fire drill" situation before it comes to fruition. Agency life is quite stressful. However, learning how to mitigate that stress early on helps you with being calmer when future fire drills come up down the road. That experience helps place stressful situations into a better perspective.
Focus on proactive professional development
The one thing about working at an agency is that you are looked at to be the expert in your space. Now that marketing is changing by the hour, you're forced to stay one step ahead of your clients to provide value. That constant need to read up on everything new and take time to experiment with new tools is a great foundation to build early on. Even if you're being paid to be the expert, having that student mentality helps continue to grow and be valuable to whoever you work for down the road.
The networking opportunities provided in agency life are fantastic. You work with a LOT of people. Not only are you meeting and working alongside your clients but you may also be working with other outside vendor partners and building relationships on that front. My agency experience has allowed me to meet all sorts of people around Atlanta. For someone introverted like myself, it's been a great way to force me into more networking situations just through daily work.
You (hopefully) become a better client
You may not stay in the agency world very long. After 5 years, I'm now sitting client side. However, that agency experience will make you be a better informed client. Hopefully an easier client to work with. If you have that experience of being on the other side of the agency/client relationship, your expectations of the agency will hopefully be more realistic. You'll be able to give more grace to your vendors when you know it's needed but also be able to push back when you know you need to. Plus, I firmly believe the quality of work will likely be better from an agency that genuinely enjoys working with their client.
I'm enjoying being on the client side of the table right now. I always thought it'd be easier than agency life but I was wrong there. It's challenging in different ways. Any good marketing job should be. However, I know if I ever go back to the agency world in the next 30ish years, my client experience will help me be a more empathetic agency partner.
What about you? How has agency life helped you (if at all)?