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Why agency experience is so damn valuable


When I was in my early 20s I heard the question for the first time:

“Do you have any agency experience?”

At the time, I didn’t. But, I quickly realized I had better get some because it was all anyone on the agency OR corporate side was talking about. At least, that’s what it seemed like.

And, in the past 20-plus years, not much has changed.

Agency experience is still virtually a “must have” in the PR, comms and social media worlds.  Why? Well, that’s what I want to explore a bit today.

I was spurred to tackle this topic after a conversation with a friend who’s in a hiring position with a large company here in Minneapolis. She was re-iterating the need to find potential team members with agency experience.

If you’re reading this, and you DON’T have agency experience, you’re probably wondering the same thing I was when I was in my early 20s: “What’s the big deal about agency experience? Do I really need it?”

The short answer to that last question is “yes!”–at least by most accounts.

The answer to the first question requires more elaboration. I tend to think there’s four big reasons:

1: Agency experience makes you a better corporate consultant

Make no mistake about it, just because you got a job on the corporate side, doesn’t mean you’re not “consulting.” You’re still serving “clients”–these clients just happen to be fellow employees (most likely executives or senior vice president-types). So, all that consulting experience you gained from the agency side is awfully handy. I’m talking about the softer side of our industry. How you manage expectations. How you run a meeting. How you follow-up after a meeting. How you deliver bad news. The consulting part, I would argue, is often the biggest part of most corporate jobs (especially the higher you go in the organization).

2: Agency experience makes you a better multi-tasker

My traditional agency experience is pretty limited. But, I definitely consider my solo practice “agency experience”. First and foremost–it’s taught me how to better juggle multiple clients and priorities. Because again, on the corporate side, you’re going to be serving many masters. Just like you did on the agency side when you worked with 3-5 clients at a time. Right now, I’m working with six clients–if you count ACH Communications as a client, which I do. That’s a lot of juggling–and it’s taught me how to prioritize my work and my days in new and different ways. It’s a “hyper-priortizing” that agency-types have a tendency of doing better than others. And, it’s a skill most hiring managers are looking for.

3: Agency experience tests the bounds of your stress tolerance

I adopted a mindset from a colleague years ago–it goes something like this: When you think you’re stretched to your max, you easily have 20 percent more to give. Translation: When you think you’ve hit your limit, keep pushing. Then, push some more. This is something agency (and now, solo) life taught me quickly. Instead of trying to manage your stress, push the bounds of it. You might be surprised how well you handle it. And, I think that was at the root of my old colleague’s quote. And, it’s the mindset and ability many hiring managers are looking for as jobs often require you to deal with difficult personalities, manage impossible deadlines and deliver bottom-line results.

4: Agency experience trains you to work on deadline

Yeah, I know corporate folks have deadlines. But, when you’re on the agency side, it’s different. A deadline’s a deadline. And you either hit it, or you can show yourself the door. That’s the attitude that’s often bred within agencies. And, they have to so they can compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Again it’s not that corporate folks don’t operate under deadlines, it’s just that agency folks are hard-wired to hit those deadlines every single time. Or else. That’s the difference. And that’s the mindset hiring managers are seeking.

So, that’s what makes agency experience so damn valuable.

Agree/disagree? I’d love to hear from my friends who are hiring managers on the corporate side on this one.



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