Navigating the agency universe

Stars. They’re nice enough, but they all look the same from here don’t they?

In truth, they vary a lot. The smallest known star is OGLE-TR-122b, which is 96 times the size of Jupiter (6,711,456km in radius). HR5171 by comparison is 900,000,000km in radius. That’s over 134 times the size. To put that in context, the average British male is 175.3 cm tall. If OGLE-TR-122b was the height of the average man, HR5171 would be 22,789 cm tall – the height of Number One Canada Square, the tallest building in Canary Wharf.

Not all things that look the same are the same. Last week, Dan explored the perception that all agencies are the same. What’s the reality?

Digital Universe

Media agencies have media clients, search agencies have search clients.

Media agencies are trading houses. They make most of their money by using their trading leverage to access great rates on media and sell it on to their clients with a margin on top. They’re not built around performance marketing and they don’t tend to win their clients on this basis – they win a lot of their search business through media clients.

Search agencies, on the other hand, live and die by the search sword. Performance-driven clients tend to choose a specialist search or performance agency to manage their search activity.

So what difference does that make?

Quite a lot. The types of clients you’re working on will determine the type of work you’ll be doing and certain types of clients tend to use certain agencies. A global FMCG for example will tend to work with a global media agency – if you’re running a lot of above-the-line activity, it makes sense to select on this basis – especially if search isn’t the main part of the marketing mix. If you’re working on this sort of account, you might be sitting in planning meetings and thinking about how to integrate search with offline campaigns or helping to use search data as an insight tool to inform the comms teams on consumer behaviour.

A pure-play ecommerce company on the other hand will probably favour a specialist agency to handle search because of their expertise and tech ability. If you were working on this account, you might spend your time building campaign automation tools to enable a ecommerce client to build out campaigns for new products quickly. A completely different job.

What about the working hours?

The other key difference may be working hours. Search agencies just do search. They literally can’t afford to under deliver, which means they can’t afford to be under resourced. Occasional long hours are a factor of virtually any agency life, but they’re less frequent at specialist agencies – for one thing, they don’t have comms planning teams determining search strategy.

We’re not saying that search agency jobs are better than media agency jobs by the way – they’re just different. Which one is best for you comes down to where you are in your career and where you’re looking to head.

Let’s be honest here – every Search Manager job specification looks the same. It’s the details that matter – what does the agency do and on what basis does it win clients? How sophisticated is the client(base) you’ll be working on and what’s the appetite to change? What will that agency or client give you exposure to which will benefit your career? Ask these questions and the agency universe will start to show its diversity.

Contrary to popular belief, there are still good agency moves out there – you might just have to look a bit harder for them. If you think all agencies are the same, perhaps you just need to change your perspective a little – they look pretty different when you get up close.