5 July 2019

Why candidates should consider agency

By Susan Redden Makatoa, FPRIA

As headhunters in the communications space, the Temple team often meet with people to have career chats. We talk through we’re they’re at now, where they would like to go, what gaps they might need to address in their CVs and about where the career opportunities are

In these meetings I always ask – would you consider agency? Then I quietly grit my teeth for the answer, which is more often than not “no”. Which, I think, is a great shame. Agency has so much to give in terms of experience, learning, creativity and variety.

Before you @ me, I’ll freely admit I could be biased after spending around 15 years in agency – I obviously drank the Kool-Aid early. But I wasn’t blind to the drawbacks.

Were timesheets a pain in the bum? Oh my God, yes. Were there occasional long nights and weekends? Yep – a Federal Government department that gave us 72 hours over the Australia Day long weekend to respond to a pitch deserves a dishonourable mention here. Were there times when clients asked the impossible? Absolutely – wanting mainstream coverage for bronze Ayrton Senna busts comes to mind.

I’ll tell you now though – it was ALL worth it. I had no idea what to expect when I went from in-house to agency, but I worked hard and in return was given the opportunity to work on some extraordinary campaigns. These included the Free Peter Greste project, breaking taboos with “Let’s Talk About Dying” with Palliative Care Australia, hosting a media conference for the Prime Minister and another for Prince Harry (AKA best day at work ever), innovation projects for MYOB and Microsoft and the Evocities campaign to encourage Sydneysiders to live, work and invest in regional NSW cities.

I also watched on in awe as colleagues helped get life-saving medicines listed, ran compelling awareness campaigns for bowel cancer, meningococcal and arthritis, somehow got a Ford on top of the Opera House for New Year’s Eve, launched Netflix into Australia and worked with clients to change policy and legislation. I saw the magic happen in creative brainstorms as ideas got bigger and bolder, and when we were the calm heads in a crisis. I also got to know/admire leaders in other agencies who themselves were delivering for their clients time and time again. As a long-time champion of women in leadership, I’m quietly thrilled that many of these are female and that there’s a friendly-but-competitive camaraderie among them.

Now, as a recruiter, I can tell you that agency experience tells me something about the candidate before me. He or she is likely to be nimble, a quick study, disciplined in planning and using time, able to juggle projects and deadlines.  I know he or she will be highly accountable and transparent in relation to their work because agencies need to show the value they are bringing. If they’ve worked in media relations, I know their pitching will be on point, and if they’ve been in a specialist firm their sector knowledge will be strong. Consulting skills and being known as a trusted adviser are key to leadership roles across the board. These are excellent qualities and highly attractive to employers of all types – agency, corporate, government and not for profit.

Whatever your level, if you’re thinking about your next move, you might be surprised what agencies have to offer. Many are now offering flexible and agile working, paid parental leave, dedicated training and development programs, work exchanges and sabbaticals. Larger firms often have a network of experienced contractors so there is opportunity there too. Companies often bring large projects to agency they can’t do themselves, like launches and transactions, so you work on the best projects. Because you have the helicopter view of a range of industries and channels, you’ll figure out quickly what you like and what you’re good at. This sort of exposure can take decades to achieve in-house.

If you’ve been anti-agency until now, I’d urge you to reconsider. You could gain sought-after skills and experience over a year or two, or you could, in time, end up leading the business.

Susan Redden Makatoa
Director, Search
Temple Executive Search