CROSSING THE DIVIDE: If you’re stressed out at an agency or fancy boosting your sales CV, why not move over to the other side?

One of the things that makes this business so much fun is that it is not unusual for people to switch from the buying to the selling side and vice versa, because the disciplines have so much in common.

One of the things that makes this business so much fun is that it

is not unusual for people to switch from the buying to the selling side

and vice versa, because the disciplines have so much in common.

If you try it, don’t fancy it and go back to your original profession,

that’s fine too. Assuming you don’t have a dodgy character and your last

job wasn’t too brief, your next potential boss is more likely to welcome

the extra experience than suspect you of being a wanderer.

People change sides for a handful of reasons. Money seems to be the main

motive for moving from agency to sales but, strangely, not for a move

the other way. With bonuses and commissions thrown in, sales people get

a better overall pay packet.

Jim Marshall, the chief executive of MediaVest, admits: ’We lose people

because of money. Media owners tend to be better payers at most levels,

certainly at three years and above.’

Those who have made the move give other reasons, though cash is usually

somewhere on the list. Gary Digby, sales director of Carlton, spent 12

years working for agencies and finally left IDK (the now defunct TV arm

of CIA Medianetwork) ten years ago - partly because sales offered more

money, but also because the job was potentially more interesting. ’I

haven’t regretted it once. The agency world is very cut-throat. The

pressure they’re under from clients and other agencies is intense.’

Mike Ironside, managing director of The Mail on Sunday, spent ten years

running an agency - which has since folded -- called Time and Space. He

joined Associated Newspapers ten years ago to set up a client sales


He believes some agency people are attracted to sales positions because

the consolidation of media agencies means there are fewer big jobs to go

around, and the career prospects with an owner are clearly more


Graham Appleby, head of client sales at Sky, started out in sales at

STV, then went over to the agency side, spending the bulk of his career

at WCRS and Initiative Media. ’The job function at a media owner can be

a bit limiting at a junior level,’ he says, explaining his first


Taking an agency job gave him a more in-depth understanding of the

advertising process. Having spent eight years at Initiative, where he

held many roles - the last being media director - the opportunity to

formalise a client sales function at Sky finally lured him away.

’People at the earlier part of their career might move for cash rather

than career progression, but later on it’s more about what you are going

to be doing in five or ten years’ time,’ says Appleby.

Another ex-agency man, Virgin Radio client account manager John

Williams, started out at Thames TV and spent most of his career in

buying, latterly as media manager on Nike at Manning Gottlieb Media. He

was motivated to go back in to sales because he reckons the job is

getting more interesting, while agencies are becoming more

numbers-driven. But the financial difference was also a big pull for


Paul Farrer, managing director of recruitment company Phee Farrer Jones,

says he has come across sales people working in particularly aggressive

fields who think an agency job will be easier. They couldn’t be more


While the actual skills of the job may be similar, the environment is

quite different. And just about everyone who has been on both sides says

the same thing: agency staffers work much longer hours.

Williams says one of the biggest culture shocks when he joined the sales

side was getting to leave while it was still daylight. Appleby says: ’I

think the hours people work in agencies are sometimes too long. A

mentality develops where you have to work until eight or nine every


Steve Parker cut his teeth on sales at Mills & Allen before joining

Motive in the spring of this year to head Motive Outdoor Services, the

agency’s fledgling poster buying operation. ’It’s much more intense,’ he


’You get to work with people who have a huge amount of knowledge. The

hours are much longer but no-one forces you. You always try to do the

best you can and if that means working late you do it.’

His former M&A boss, Kevin Shute, now new-business director at CIA

Medianetwork, says bluntly: ’Most people here work their arses off. With

a lot of jobs in media sales you can stroll around and do nothing and

then volley one at the end of the week to hit your targets.’

The level of culture shock varies, however. Rosemary Gorman recently

left her job as managing partner and head of planning at Zenith Media to

become head of client sales at the Daily Mail in the autumn. ’Here it’s

a lot livelier compared with a planning environment where you need

peace,’ she says.

As for skills, most say they are transferable and many add that

experience on both sides of the fence is even more valuable. In Gorman’s

case, her agency job was planning and selling solutions to clients. ’I

am doing the same now but on the Mail’s products. It’s very similar,’

she says, adding that the broader skills of agency people make them

attractive targets for poaching.

Shute’s new role is not a direct mirror image of his former post as

sales director of an outdoor contractor, but he believes he uses a lot

of the skills he learned at M&A. ’The discipline is similar if you strip

it down,’ he says. ’I’d say 99 per cent of the role is the same. It’s

about getting in front of people and making a convincing argument.’

Sky’s Appleby also believes skills transfer across both fields. ’In

agencies you have internal pressures to deliver profit, pressure from

your clients and pressure to find new ones. Here I try to make a profit

and satisfy our customers. It’s not a million miles away.’ All agree

that having more strings to your bow increases your market value. One of

the key things media owners like about former agency staff is their

client contacts and understanding of how and why clients make


So what should you consider before making the switch? Motive’s Parker

says: ’Make sure it’s a step up and you are moving to somewhere

challenging where your knowledge will increase.’

Williams advises against moving simply for the money, and says you

should choose carefully the medium you want to be in. Ironside says look

closely at the potential of the job, and ask yourself whether you’re

prepared to work with the people there. Appleby’s advice is not to lose

sight of the fact that you were hired because of your skills and

experience, ’so be yourself’.

And Shute concludes: ’Be honest with yourself and find out what you’re

getting in to. There’s no point getting in to a job where you have no

hope of performing well. It’s a great industry to work in, no matter

what side you’re on. After all, you could be digging coal.’

MIKE IRONSIDE - managing director, The Mail on Sunday

Ironside’s move away from running an agency, Time and Space, came about

after what he describes as a ’mad lunch’ with The Mail on Sunday’s Guy

Zitter and Press Holdings’ chief executive Bert Hardy.

’They mentioned it a few times and I laughed. Then in 1989 Guy got his

current role of managing director at The Mail on Sunday. They asked me

to set up a sales department and I said it wouldn’t work. I thought it

was a wind-up,’ he says.

Ironside and Zitter introduced a training programme - which Ironside

says he personally benefitted from - but he still reckons the skills of

buying and selling are practically the same.

He likes to hire people from agencies, arguing that they have the

knowledge and experience appropriate to the job. But he does argue that

it’s a ’fallacy’ that media people earn huge bonuses. ’There seems to be

less movement for purely financial reasons,’ Ironside says. ’People look

more at the career ladder than whether they’ve been offered pounds

10,000 more. That’s indicative of the contraction of agencies.’

JOHN WILLIAMS - client account manager, Virgin Radio

One of the reasons John Williams quit his agency job at Manning Gottlieb

Media - apart from wanting more money - was that he felt the whole

discipline was becoming too driven by numbers and that as a result,

’good ideas were falling by the wayside’.

Returning to sales (he worked at Thames TV before he moved into

agencies) gave Williams a chance to get back into being proactive. He

also had to relearn how to cope with rejection, something agency people

don’t have much experience of.

As Williams’ role includes trying to find solutions to clients’

marketing problems, the philosophy of his brief is the same as it was in

his old job.

But on the subject of cold-calling, he says: ’The hardest thing was

convincing clients they should see you if they’d never spoken to a radio

station before, because they would put all media calls through to their

agency. But the experience of having worked closely with clients is

definitely an added bonus.’

KEVIN SHUTE - new business director, CIA Medianetwork

Kevin Shute used to be Mr Outdoor. So when it emerged that he was

joining CIA Medianetwork as new-business director, there was much

gulping and slapping of foreheads. He says that financially it would

have been better for him to stay in his old job, but a combination of

ownership changes on the horizon and a lingering wish to move to an

agency pulled him ’from one grubby mainline station to another’.

One of the big differences in his new role is the length of the time

segments. Before he was selling in one- or two-week chunks, but now it’s

a more measured approach. ’As a media owner you can go to a client with

an idea on Monday and have it rejected, and then go back on Tuesday with

another idea. Now if I approach a client and they say ’no thanks, piss

off’, that’s it for another six months. What I am doing now is much more