It can be a surprise when someone swaps a job in marketing for life on the agency side. However, moves by high-profile marketers, including Jo Kenrick (formerly at B&Q) and Jim Hytner (ex-Barclays), are a reminder that their knowledge and skills can prove invaluable to agencies. Moreover, working agency-side can offer marketers fresh and exciting challenges.
Kenrick, who was previously B&Q's marketing and customer proposition director, and came in at number 52 in Marketing's Power 100 last year, joined Fallon on 7 September.
She now heads the agency's £70m Asda account, and her experience, gained at companies including Camelot and Woolworths, makes her uniquely qualified to oversee the business.
Meanwhile, Hytner, who is currently commercial director at Top Up TV, will take up his role as president of Universal McCann EMEA in November. His long marketing career includes stints as marketing director at ITV and Barclays.
They join a long line of top marketers who have ‘jumped the fence'. Recent examples include David Bainbridge, who left the BBC to join MCBD last September; Neil Simpson, whose previous employers include Vodafone, Coca-Cola and Adidas, became chief executive of Publicis London in 2007; and Sony marketer David Patton took the helm at Grey London the same year.
‘Marketers have the inside track on what it is like to be a client, which enables a strong and productive relationship,' says Patton.
While agency people have a strong understanding of communications, they do not always appreciate the other aspects of business that marketing directors worry about, such as planning, risk management, retail and negotiations with commercial teams.
Marketers can also contribute an understanding of how the decision-making process works for clients. ‘A client marketing director might seem to make all the decisions, but everyone has a view on what they are doing and they have to negotiate with a number of colleagues to get their support,' says Kenrick.
Scott Garrett, director of Synergy Sponsorship, has previously held marketing roles at Heinz and Nike. He points out that marketers joining agencies also tend to bring a great deal of patience. ‘Clients move more slowly and it is important to understand the number of people in a company who are affected by what an agency does,' he argues.
An awareness of these factors gives agency-side marketers a high degree of empathy when dealing with clients. ‘To be able to look a client in the eye and say you have been in their shoes gives them enormous confidence in your ideas,' Garrett adds.
At the same time, the more slow-moving nature of client-side business is often the factor that drives marketers to make the switch to work in an agency environment.
Karen Connell, now head of client development at branding agency 1HQ, spent 16 years as a marketer for companies including Cadbury Schweppes, United Biscuits and Virgin Drinks. She found that shifting to an agency offered an escape from cumbersome corporate processes. ‘On the client side, everyone, from HR to the finance team, feels qualified to get involved,' she says. ‘Big organisations tend to be process-driven because of their size. The energy and pace at agencies makes them a more satisfying environment to work in.'
Working agency-side also allows marketers to get more involved in the creative side of the business, a factor Kenrick says had a big influence on her decision to make the shift. Garrett argues that it is crucial for everyone, client-side or agency-side, to have experience of how things work on both sides of the fence.
‘My job moves, from agency to client and back to agency, have stemmed from a desire to round out my experience and enhance my career,' he says.
Making the switch also enables marketers to work with like-minded people at different levels of companies and from different sectors. Hytner acknowledges that his impending move to Universal McCann was fuelled by curiosity. ‘As a client, you work in just one industry, be it financial services or TV,' he says. ‘At an agency, you can work across lots of different categories.'
Ways of working within agencies and marketing departments can also be very different, motivating some marketers to move agency-side.
Marketers are normally put under huge pressure by colleagues in their company's commercial team. In contrast, at an agency there is likely to be greater collaboration, and the work is often more creative and fast-moving. ‘Client companies also have a tendency to be more "straight" and heavily regulated,' says Garrett. In a nutshell, agencies are perceived to be more fun.
Nonetheless, there are also those who have made the move from agencies to marketing roles. Rick Bendel, for example, relinquished his position as chairman of Publicis to become group executive marketing director at Asda in 2006, and he is by no means alone.
Ultimately, experience is at a premium, and being able to see things from both marketer and agency perspectives can help foster stronger working relationships and, in many cases, more effective marketing. This is, of course, the common goal, on whichever side of the fence marketers may find themselves.