Let’s get this out of the way first: both agency and corporate careers have their advantages. No. I won’t choose which is better because both have great benefits, both professionally and personally.
I’ve worked on both sides, and now I’m back in the agency swing of things. And from an agency perspective, there’s a lot to be learned about how the corporate side functions, and it can be helpful for anyone in marketing.
For instance: No. They aren’t dropping something in your lap at the last minute.
No. They don’t think of ways to make your creative vision a blur.
No. They don’t have it easy.
Yes. They understand your frustrations.
Yes. They love smart, out-of-the-box creative.
Yes. They want your ideas to succeed.
As a marketing lead for an over $3 billion company, I felt constant pressure amongst my team. The company name on your email signature will be heavily scrutinized despite massive successes. One typo, one missed deadline or undercooked go-to-market plan and there is a list of managers, directors, senior levels and c-levels longer than a Duane Reade receipt ready to question and reprimand.
It can be unnerving to say the least. And it was an absolute honor to work beside collaborators so committed to the brand.
So when I left the corporate world, I had a new respect for it. Here are the five main takeaways I’ve brought back to the agency side of life:
1. Never take anything personal.
It’s not personal. It’s business. Sure, that’s a cliché. But it’s true. Corporations value the work you turn out, but a first round of work is very rarely a final product. Final sign-off from a first-round look is essentially a unicorn. Expect changes, welcome strikethroughs and don’t wince at markups.
Why? It could be…
- New information the client has received.
- Insider knowledge on message or design preferences.
- Cleanup or changes that fit the brand guidelines more concisely.
- A previously unknown shift of campaign, strategy or direction.
- Revisions based on industry preferences.
2. There is immense value in rejected creative.
What’s good for business and what’s good for a portfolio are usually not always the same thing. In a corporate setting, creativity is mostly stifled and replaced with “current course and speed,” on-brand messages and/or objectives.
When we create good, out-of-the-box creative that may not be necessarily what they are “looking for” or “too far outside of the spectrum,” it builds great trust in all work and still sells the agency’s competencies (which can lead to bigger, more creative opportunities later).
If a client selects an option that you feel “any other agency could do,” think about why they didn’t just choose any other agency. It was because they liked your execution in not only the chosen deliverable, but in all the creative presented.
When a client says, “let’s see what you can come up with,” know it is your opportunity to impress. The client is giving you an open goal. Take the shot. The creativity and execution of your entire presentation may open a new door for future opportunities (maybe with bigger creative possibilities and budget).
3. Facts always outweigh opinion in decision-making.
Always remember that while corporations want creativity, they also want sound, solid reasoning behind WHY that creativity will work. That’s why it’s imperative that the more you can share facts, case studies, success stories, strategies and rationale, the more they listen and oblige the creative.
While they want something on their terms and in their vision, you can make them reconsider or, better yet, see how this creative approach fits within their vision. And that comes from presenting facts.
Bring validity to your creative by looping it back to successful marketing trends, popular brand examples or by calling out what their direct competition is doing or not doing. The more you PROVE your ideas work, the easier it is for them to move forward “as-is.”
4. Final never means final — until it’s finally over. (Maybe)
Any given deadline for an agency may be a different deadline for the corporate client; an agency’s core contacts aren’t the only decision-makers. In my experience in a large corporation, there were always outliers with new information. The result ranges from a slight course correction in your creative or a grounded flight until a new destination can be selected.
That means you just have to take it in stride and be HONEST (early and often) about the schedule so your deadline isn’t DOA.
And remember this: If the client initiated the deadline, they can and will move it. Their schedule is usually much different than yours. In other words, your hot rush may not even be a blip on their radar—which is why agencies experience a sprint to the finish line and go days, weeks, months before hearing back about some projects.
If this is the case, be diligent. Clients appreciate you being a “broken record” when it comes to their projects. It shows you care and you haven’t forgotten about them.
5. Client and agency are trying to accomplish the same thing.
The most crucial thing to remember is that client and agency are always on the same team. Going back and forth with changes sometimes feels like you aren’t on the same page with one another, but the end is the same for everyone involved. Creating good work that creates great results and leads to greater business opportunities.
Think of it like this: You and your client are both trying to cross the same finish line. The event just happens to be a three-legged race. So expect stumbles. Expect miscommunications. Expect a zig instead of a zag.
And expect to be in this thing together.