From agency to client: Making the switch

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Managing a brand in-house and working with one or more brands in an agency environment are two complementary but distinct functions. If you want to move from one to the other, what should you keep in mind?

Managing a brand in-house and working with one or more brands in an agency environment are two complementary but distinct functions. If you want to move from one to the other, what should you keep in mind? 

Peter Giorgi, who took over as CMO of Celebrity Cruise Lines in April, has navigated these career waters himself. Giorgi is an agency veteran himself who spent eight years at CP+B before a stint as the global head of advertising and content at Airbnb. 

Here's his take on how to transfer those skills from one side to the other — and why client-side pros should think hard before jumping into the agency waters. 

How much mobility is there between agency- and client-side work? 
There’s a significant amount of mobility for folks with the right kind of agency background, and the right mindset. The strategic and creative athletics that underpin the best agencies will always open doors to client-side roles, particularly as more clients look to bring creative in-house – you’re seeing this across Silicon Valley now at some of the most valuable companies in the world. An agency background teaches you to be a doer. And clients need doers right now. 

Is this kind of move easier at a certain level of seniority? 
There’s probably no perfect time to make the switch. My experience was that a lengthy agency side career gave me some distinct advantages in a client role but left me with some political and organizational gaps when required to operate in a more structured client-side environment. In general, you’re more likely to find a truly impactful client role with more experience, especially if it’s on a diverse range of creatively effective brands.

If you want to make the switch, are there questions you'll have to address that are different from competitors who are sticking to one side or the other? 
The biggest question is whether or not you can adapt to a completely different environment. Agencies have become world class at fostering creativity — so agencies can end up feeling kind of like Montessori Day Camp for grown-ups. Clients aren’t always like that. The agency mindset requires you to think of creative solutions to your client’s business problems. As a client, those business problems are your responsibility and the solution may be something you never would have considered from the other side of the table.   

Is moving from one direction to the other easier, do you think? I.e., is it easier to convince a client you can own a brand after you've supported multiple brands in an agency environment? 
I have yet to meet someone who’s gone from the client side to the agency side and loved it. Great agencies have an unreasonable allegiance to bringing brilliant ideas to life. And that’s something that tends to require you to prioritize the preservation of the idea above everything else, as impractical and irrational as that can be. The ambiguity and inherent messiness of the creative process can be hard to accept, if you’re used to more structure and predictability. 

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