“We can go to this one which is grotty but you can get a table, or we can risk it and go for the fancy one that’s always full,” said Darren.
“Fancy,” I blurted without hesitation.
So we went to the fancy place for coffee, I love fancy coffee.
Objective one achieved. I had secured a spot in the fancy coffee place sitting across from Darren Bentley. Darren works for MoneySupermarket and has been fundamental in the building of one of the best in-house digital teams in the UK. I was keen to know why he moved, whether he values agency skills over in-house skills and his tips for staying at the cutting edge.
Sipping on a latte, Darren gave me a potted history of his working life. It all began working in a marketing team in-house where he stayed for four years. He worked across a number of online channels but with a strong focus on Paid Search. He then moved to an agency where he spent four more years honing his Paid Search skills. At this point, those of you with good maths will realise that Darren had been working in Paid Search for eight years – he wanted to broaden out. He could see where the exciting new disciplines of programmatic and broader biddable media were going and wanted access. In his view this wasn’t going to happen in an agency because the teams are “often very siloed” – they have a “wide client focus but narrow delivery remit”.
The conception is that agencies have all the clever tech but whilst this may be true you most likely won’t have access to it or they will rely on centralised group trading desks to deliver campaigns. The attraction of moving to MoneySupermarket for Darren was that they were bringing every part of the digital process in-house, including the trading desk, and he was to be involved in all areas. It was hard work – “It took about a year to set up all the tech” – but it seems to be paying dividends both for the company and for Darren personally as he is now instrumental in the operation of all biddable and programmatic disciplines.
Darren has been at the core of essentially creating a digital agency in-house, I wanted to know whether, when hiring, he took into account if the candidate had come from an agency or in-house. “It’s irrelevant,” was the immediate reply. Surely there must be some pros and cons to hiring agency staff over in-house staff or vice versa? Not according to Darren. “For graduate or junior roles I am looking for a high level of engagement with the digital world. It’s about natural aptitude and where they want to go.” For more experienced candidates he wants “people looking for breadth of knowledge and remit”. He needs people who can demonstrate “what they have done to engage with their desired discipline,” so which people in the market are they keeping an eye on, which conferences have they attended and what blogs and industry press they read.
This is partly because moving in-house means you can’t be lazy about staying up to date with the market. Darren conceded this is harder in-house than in an agency but as long as you are self-motivated it is not a problem. As a newer recruit, the support you receive on this point will vary, especially in-house. At MoneySupermarket though, you are in safe hands, having launched their Digital Academy in early 2013 which aims to keep everyone up to speed across the breadth of the digital market, and with considerable training and development investment made across the company.
Although not a problem in-house, Darren explained that one of the benefits of working for an agency is that you have access to a wider range of market information. This is because you have larger teams working across different verticals all focused on digital media and all talking to each other. Further to this an agency will often be part of a large media group which means you will be on the radar of the big publishers, tech providers and media owners giving you access to them for training and knowledge share.
Before winding up our conversation I delved into a favourite subject, that of working hours. Interestingly Darren said that his initial in-house role was at small company so he had to work “silly hours” simply because there were fewer people to do the work. Now at MoneySupermarket he works longer hours than when he was agency side because “I am doing work that keeps me engaged. I work long hours because I want to, not because I’m fighting client fires and have to.”
And with that we left the fancy coffee shop behind. Darren had some really interesting angles dispelling some of the common misconceptions about moving in-house. He did echo one opinion that keeps cropping up and that is when you consider a move in-house, make sure you share the values of the company, like where it’s going and enjoy the work. So, you need to enjoy where you do your work – I suppose that’s why I chose the fancy coffee shop.