In this blog, Laura, Head of eCommerce Recruitment here at The Candidate, speaks about 'The Perceived Culture' between eCommerce and Agency companies. With contributions from industry professionals on both sides of the fence, this blog is a must read for all career focused digital professionals. 

After working for over ten years for an independent media sales house, I have gained invaluable first-hand experience working alongside media agencies and direct clients / e-commerce businesses throughout the North of England. Now, as Head of eCommerce Recruitment for The Candidate, a Digital Marketing Recruitment Agency in Manchester, I have a keen interest in understanding the differences between these sectors and how they influence and shape the recruitment process for candidates who are looking to work within these two, often very different, environments.

The aim of this post is to offer guidance and insight to those who are currently considering a career change. I will split this into three separate blog posts, the first looking into the culture and perceived culture, the second into careers within both environments (exploring progression, structure and salary brackets) and the third looking to discover the relevance of gaining experience working on 'both sides of the fence', transferable skills and also looking into the roles that we most frequently recruit for within both.

Laura Walters

Part 1 - The Perceived Culture

My background has meant that I have often been the 'middle man', working between direct clients and agencies to ensure that creative, compelling campaigns run successfully and within budget. This meant numerous face to face meetings with both parties to take/create the brief, present ideas, ensure the smooth running of the campaign and finally reporting back with results ensuring the ongoing maintenance of the account to secure repeat business. I have been immersed within both environments all of my working life and have a wealth of contacts and close friends within each. As part of my new role at The Candidate, I am working hard to secure relationships with candidates from all fields whilst also focusing on growing The Candidate's eCommerce presence by providing the best client side recruitment service that I can. My colleague, Simon heads up the recruitment on the agency side and we work closely with the full team to ensure that candidates are presented with a full range of opportunities across both eCommerce recruitment and advertising agency jobs.

Throughout my career I have heard people voicing their desire to 'work client side', to 'get back into agency life', to 'gain all round experience on their CV' or to just 'do something different'. Agency culture is often thought of as a way of life, with social events aplenty and an environment that allows staff to work across different sectors, with a range of budgets across a number of brands and accounts. From my experience, eCommerce culture is believed to offer more of a structured working day, with companies allowing their employees a more focused work/life balance and in depth knowledge of their specific client or product base. Client side roles also tend to offer a more substantial all-round salary package, with regular pay reviews and target related bonuses; overtaking their equivalent agency counterparts but the variety of work load and wealth of experience is likely to be less abundant.

It is important to note that if you are considering a change from agency to client side, or vice versa, cultural fit is something that you must strongly consider.  Agencies often offer flexibility ie: flexible working hours and opportunities to be out on the road meeting suppliers. I'm not saying that agency life is always more flexible, some client side roles are equally / more flexible however candidates need to do their research. The client-side culture may end up being stifling if they like the socialness of agencies or too time consuming if you enjoy leaving work behind at the end of the working day.  We are seeing a real shift in clients who are taking this 'agency culture' in house, redesigning their office space to make them trendy, quirky working environments, offering flexible hours, encouraging break out zones and a 'media smart' informal dress code.

To ensure that you pick a company that has the right culture for you, speak to one of the team, here at The Candidate. It is as important for us to meet with our clients as it is to meet our candidates so that we can take into account that third dimension; personality and culture fit. 

Duke Tanson        

Duke Tanson has a wealth of experience in market leading companies - both client and agency side.  "Agency and in-house organisation offer two different cultures, often with overlapping features. Most agencies, specifically the big ones, are quite fast paced and offer the opportunity to work on different brands in various sectors. Career progression can be great as the agency grows and wins more clients. Most in-house clients on the other hand tend to be small portfolio of one or two brands to work on. The environment is usually relaxed and consists of a small team focused on all aspects of digital. This offers the opportunity to acquire skills in all the digital specialism, something you don't necessarily get in an agency. The salary scale on average is better than what agencies offer. The choice between an agency and in-house opportunity depends on the size of the organisation and the individual's stage in their digital career."


Matt Janaway        

Matt Janaway, Senior Head of Digital (eCommerce, SEO and Online Marketing) at Central Source feels that "working in an agency can be a completely different ball-game compared to working in-house as different sets of skills are required. If you really want to master the art of digital marketing, I urge those who are new in the industry to try your hand at both to give you the best chance of gaining the experience needed to be confident in your role. Within agency work you will learn how to manage your time best and lots of your day will be spent managing clients expectations and questions. As soon as you move to working in-house, you have to take the responsibility to help the company grow instead of managing a multitude of websites."


Chris Turner        

Another leading agency industry figure, Chris Turner  believes the following;"The culture within agencies is one of learning, variety, camaraderie, challenging but fulfilling work and ultimately rewarding.  I would say that during my 10 years working within advertising agencies I have found the variety of work both in terms of clients and people ultimately fulfilling from a professional and personal perspective. The varying sectors in which our clients operate and the constantly evolving challenges we face together provides a diversity and scope to our work that I personally enjoy and thrive on. From a people perspective I think there is a certain unique camaraderie that comes from working within an agency, likely derived from the breath of great people that you engage and work alongside. I would recommend to anyone, whether you ultimately see your career future client side or not, to spend time working in an agency for the both of the above experiences."


Recruiting for the two sectors is also very different. The agency world is a smaller pool of candidates, another reason why it is important for our team to look to client side candidates to fill agency roles, to allow the infiltration of specialist knowledge and to add knowledge from 'the clients' point of view' (and vice versa). The roles that we work on are another major difference with agencies having both PPC recruitment and SEO recruitment top of their list, whilst client direct roles tend to be less specialised, looking for individuals who have superb all round digital marketing knowledge who can manage a budget across a variety of channels from start to finish. 


Greg MacKenzie has recently made the move from the agency recruitment team into the eCommerce team and he feels that "although recruiting for 'agency' and 'client-side' has many similarities, there are some stand-out differences that really define what type of role a candidate is looking for. Cultural fit plays a massive part in agency recruitment, whereby each agency has its own personality defined by its values and workforce. On the whole, this is less apparent in client-side recruitment, due to the variety of internal departments."


I hope that this has given you an insight into how to secure a role in either marketplace and also how we look to recruit as a team to find the best fit for each individual. My personal recommendation is to come in and meet us here at The Candidate HQ! Let us inform you of all of the different opportunities, companies and cultures that are available, we will be able to advise, support and guide you along the path to finding your dream job within the digital marketing world.

We are always interested to hear your feedback and please look out for the next instalment of my blog...... The differences in career paths, within both agency and client side environments, exploring progression, structure and salary brackets.



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