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6 key differences of working agency vs client side - Insights

6 key differences of working agency vs client side

As the new Creative Lead here at bolt, I want to tell you all about my transition from an in-house role to marketing agency life. There are lots of similarities and differences between the two sides of marketing. I think it would be interesting to share my experience and insights into the process.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve worked with some big-name brands you’ve definitely heard of, both client-side and agency side. This has not only provided me with many challenges, but it’s also provided great learning experiences. Although these lessons may not have felt great at the time, in hindsight they’re invaluable to how I perceive my creative projects now. I once remember my marketing manager at a steel company asking me to make “steel sexy” – well that was an unexpected challenge!

Here are the differences I’ve experienced since transitioning from big-name to startup brands.

Positive change of pace

I’ve recently moved from working in a strong corporate environment with a large brand to a more relaxed, consistently paced agency environment. The ability to breathe, take a step back and gain perspective on your work is really refreshing. You can think about the decisions you’ve made and how they’ll impact your audience.

Improve team collaboration

The option for a collaborative working approach is something that I’ve found more challenging as part of in-house roles mainly due to siloed working. When you’re working towards one business’ vision, it’s easy to lose sight of new ideas that could freshen things up. It’s great to be back at the agency side where there’s a team to bounce ideas off. It’s essential to gain some perspective and ask other’s opinions of your work.

Utilise your software and skills

Startup’s require guidance and have firm trust in their choice of incumbent design partner to bring their concept and ideas to life. I’m a massive advocate of working smarter, not harder – and both agency side and in-house rely on the swift turnaround of most projects (every client would love to have everything yesterday).

For me, working smarter is about utilising the software and skills we have in our toolkit. Efficiency is a huge part of creative and allows you to spend a lot more time in the thought process behind the design. I’m a lover of Adobe InDesign and supporting the functionality with Illustrator and Photoshop where possible. Give me paragraph styles, object styles and templates all day long. I guess this approach is consistent on both the agency and client-side.

Learn industry standards

When it comes to creativity, agencies are the hub of industry with great appeal and we strive to maintain a stimulating environment for our team and clients. I’m a firm believer that working in-house with a single brand adds great value to your skillset. Especially early on in your career, in-house companies teach strong industry standards that are a welcome addition to any portfolio of skills. 

See vision become reality

There’s a sweet spot between brand knowledge and creative freedom, and this is possibly the most satisfying part of my role. That moment when design becomes effective, the client is excited that you’ve understood their vision and you truly feel a part of their brand. This feeling definitely occurs more on the agency side.

More constructive criticism

However, the challenge on the client-side of marketing is that, as a designer, your most effective work isn’t often recognised. As a design’s effectiveness negates the need for feedback, you hear a little more constructive criticism from your clients. As their brand is their baby, you need to get everything spot on. Then when you’ve fulfilled the brief, you’ll never hear of it again. You’ll be onto the next project that you’ve probably been juggling at the same time and the cycle continues.

Compared to in-house departments, startups offer a lot of freedom and flexibility when it comes to creative. But understanding their aims and goals is crucial to delivering solutions with longevity. To summarise, the swap from one brand to many brands isn’t really a change in working, but a change in thinking. The majority of the thought process behind the brief is identical, it’s just the visual that we can control. 

“Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations.” Paul Rand

Everything here at bolt is great fun and I’m super proud to be the newest member of the family. This is not because we have creative freedom, we can make an impact, or that we have dogs in the office, but because we are trusted as designers for our skills – and that recognition is paramount. (Saying that, the opportunity to share my workday with my rescue dog has been a treat – she loves it!)

Written by: Hannah Benton
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