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Dec 03, 2003
How To

Switching from Agency-side to Client-side: What's it like, and is it for you?

SUMMARY: It's said that to be truly effective in an agency-role, you have to have some client-side experience on your resume. We asked Chris Coleman who's worked both ends, to share some of her hard- won info, including:
--5 characteristics that make the corporate world pleasurable for former agency-execs
--What to look for in a client-side employer
--Tips on landing a client-side job
--4 warning signs to watch out for
Chris Coleman started out on the client-side, but found corporate
marketing "very unpleasant." So she launched her own agency,
FolioZ, and ran it with great success for 14 years until the
tech-bust crushed Atlanta's B-to-B agency marketplace in 2001.

Now, she's returned to the corporate world as Chief Marketing
Officer for SecureWorks, an Internet security firm.

Thankfully this time things couldn't be better. "I have a CEO
who's a dream boss," she says -- and when asked if there's
anything she wishes she could change about the job, she responds,
"Weird as it sounds, the answer is no."

We asked Coleman for advice on how to get a client-side job, what
the change is like for agency execs, and tips on picking which
employer to go for to avoid unpleasant experiences.

-> Five characteristics that make the corporate world so
pleasurable for former agency-execs

1. "B" work is okay.

"When I ran an agency, it was essential that everything we turned
out was as good as we could possibly make it," Coleman says. "If
we had to stay after hours, if we had to rewrite the copy for the
third time because the client wasn't happy, we did, because the
work was the product."

At SecureWorks, the product is Internet security -- therefore,
the marketing has to be efficient, clean, and effective, she
says, but not necessarily perfect.

Getting the work done is what's important, not agonizing over every detail.

2. It's kind of like working for yourself

If you're moving into a management position, you have autonomy
over staff, budget, and time, just as you would when running your
own company.

"When you're a manager in corporate side, there's no one
collecting hours, no one doing time sheets, no one like a VP
saying blankety-blankety. It's up to you to make decisions and
use time efficiently," says Coleman.

On the other hand, it's easy to lose track of time. "When you're
on the agency side, you're selling time and ideas," she says. "On
the corporate side you're selling ideas and the effectiveness of
them." Time is no longer the commodity, so you need to be
especially good at time management skills.

3. You're focused on one company, one message

Working in her agency, Coleman sometimes found herself wishing
she could devote more time and energy to a particular client. Now
she gets to focus on one particular message across the board.

4. You have the luxury of being able to measure a campaign
properly over time

Unlike an agency where clients -- and even the marketing message
itself -- change continually, Coleman now has the luxury of
implementing a campaign, measuring it, then tweaking the strategy
based on real numbers.

"You can really see how all the things that make up a solid,
integrated marketing program can pay off when done consistently
and over time," she says.

5. Fewer meetings

"If 80% of your day is not spent on productive activity you're
wasting your time," says Coleman. Meetings, which often
degenerate into unproductive, unfocused time spent, are less
frequent at SecureWorks, she has found.

"If you're working with five clients you have five times the
meetings than if you have one client," she explains.

-> What to look for in a client-side employer

If you're flipping to a company that has no experience working
with an agency, you may have to overcome some sloppy marketing
habits on the part of the client. Ask yourself if you can deal
with that.

"If you come from agency side and have notions about the message,
the look, the presentation of the brand, then you'll probably not
be happy going into a place that couldn't care less about that,"
Coleman says.

Look for a company that sounds willing to help you make the
changes that you can bring.

Four warning signs to watch for:

o If you want to get into a company at the senior management
level, ask up-front whether you'll be given the chance to be
involved with strategic thinking.

"See what kind of response you get," Coleman suggests. "If you
get some push-back you can bet that once you get in the door
you're going to have to prove that you have something to offer."

o If you're replacing somebody, find out why.

o Ask to meet with key people on the staff before you accept
any job. If they won't give you access, "you better think twice."

o Take a look at the numbers. See how money has been spent in
your department, what the return has been, what money you'll have
to work with, and how much discretion you'll have to spend within
the allocated budget.

"If you don't have an allocated budget and the authority to spend
based on your best judgment, then you're not being hired for your
thinking," says Coleman. "You're being hired for your execution

-> Tips on landing a client-side job

To get a top-level job at a client -- and the opportunity to make
decisions on strategy -- you need a clear understanding of the
business: how does the money get spent, what are the margins, how
does the company actually work?

That means that you have to do as much due diligence and research
as you would for a new business pitch.

"You need to walk in telling the companies something that perhaps
they don't already know about their perception in the
marketplace, something they can be doing better or different,"
says Coleman. "You need to walk in as an expert in the field, not
as, 'Gosh, I can't wait to join the club, we're going to have so
much fun.'"

Look at the big picture. For example, when the person
interviewing you asks what you'd do first if you came onboard,
never start with a comment such as, "I think you should redesign
the logo."

"That's a classic example of one of those activities that could
take up 80% of your time and generate only 20% return." It also
shows narrow thinking.

-> Every agency exec should work client-side at least once

Even if your ultimate career goal is senior management or running
an agency, get corporate experience, Coleman recommends.

"You must have your ticket punched, it's essential. If you start
agency side, you have to go corporate for at least a while," she

If you're in an agency and your intention is to move up the
ladder corporate-side, do it pretty early in your career, before
you hit director level at the agency. "Somebody who's hit account
supervisor level or above and has no corporate experience is not
likely to be effective corporate-side," says Coleman. "The
animals are too different."
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