Why marketers are ditching their brands for life in adland

Increasing numbers of brand marketers are being tempted by life in adland and are making the switch in careers. We asked four senior marketers who have already made the leap if they missed life as the client.

Mad Men: brand-side marketers are being attracted by the glamour of a career in adland
Mad Men: brand-side marketers are being attracted by the glamour of a career in adland

Phones4U marketing director and former Umbro chief marketing officer Trevor Cairns last week became the latest to jump the fence, joining creative agency LOVE as chief executive.

What are the advantages of joining an agency? And are there any pitfalls to consider before making the leap? We spoke to David Patton, Neil Simpson, Jo Allan and Phil Rumbol for their advice.

Click on the pictures to go direct to their comments.

David PattonNeil SimpsonJo AllenPhil Rumbol


David PattonPresident and CEO at Grey Group EMEA. Previously senior vice president at Sony Electronics and a senior marketer at Nintendo.

"I don’t think the leap from client side to agency side is that dramatic. I loved being a client and I equally love working in an agency - they're simply two sides of the same coin.

"The obvious attraction to working agency side is variety. As a client, you’re solely focused on managing your company brand and product portfolio. Within an agency, you often find yourself working across a variety of product categories at any one time. It’s very invigorating and keeps you on your toes – no two days are ever the same.

"You generally use the same skills as on the client side. Certainly the leadership skills are interchangeable, as is the ability to recognise and nurture creativity. Clients come to us with business problems and it’s our responsibility to respond with business solutions. Therefore it’s imperative that agency people have a strong understanding of all business fundamentals including finance, strategy, operations and NPD.

"Honestly, the more people we have agency side who get the business of business the better. You can’t put all marketers in a single box - everyone is different. Generally, if people like working in a free flowing, creative and demanding environment then there is a high chance they'll enjoy working in an agency.

"It’s only positive. I’ve found that coming from client side has allowed me to have conversations with existing and prospective clients on a different level. I guess I understand what keeps them up at night a little more than someone who has never walked a mile in their shoes. That helps build trust quickly – and trust is key in relationships.

"One of the other things that has struck me is how some clients can under-value their own role in getting the best out of their agency. Those clients who stand back and demand magic to happen very rarely get it. Those who roll-up their sleeves and really get involved in working closely with the agency can (and genuinely do) create brilliant things – that’s why we created the 'Open' process at Grey, which encourages meaningful contribution from everyone.

"Agencies are all about people and if those people feel valued and appreciated by the client, amazing things can happen. It’s incredible how a simple 'thank-you' from the client creates so much goodwill and travels so far within an agency."


Neil SimpsonFounding partner at The Corner. Previously global brand director at Vodafone, senior vice president at Adidas, and European ad director at Coca-Cola.

"The real benefit a client brings into an agency is how to sell in an idea through an organisation. People who have worked as clients know how to shape and cajole creative work through a company, without compromising the integrity of the idea.

"It’s true that clients bring a commercial sensibility to an agency. However, too many agencies have hired a client and immediately trumpeted their business acumen. What on earth were you doing before then? Pretending to understand the economics of your clients’ businesses? It would be like hiring a head of innovation and saying: 'Look, now we’re innovative'.

"How many have done that as well? Clients also come with a ready-made respect for every marketing communications tool, and are able to inject that openness into an agency. They haven’t grown up in one particular discipline, and don’t need to learn to love another. There is no hierarchy of media preference in their perspective. They naturally desire the most effective connection with a consumer, no matter what the platform or vehicle is.

They will have to realise that people are no longer predisposed to agree with them.

"But thrusting a client into agency land isn’t always a bed of roses. There are a couple of main reasons that some clients struggle when they switch over to agency life.

"Firstly, they have to manage the transition from serviced to server. They are no longer the ones giving the instructions at 6pm on a Friday regarding the work they need done for Monday morning. Now they are the ones taking that call and tasked with providing that material. They also have to realise that people are no longer predisposed to agree with them. Lapdogs with nodding heads are now replaced with (sometimes inferior) marketers who frown and dismiss without reason.

"Secondly, they aren’t accustomed to being around ideas during the raw days of inception. It’s a more delicate phase of development that requires instinct, and the nerve to explore the illogical. Usually their first sight of the work is not until it is in a more polished state, or at least after initial filtering and shaping has taken place for a tissue meeting. This is a new skill that some are uncomfortable with.

"Despite the challenges, it is undoubtedly better for our industry that its practitioners have experience in both worlds. This is one of the main reasons that a new breed of modern communications company is starting to emerge. As I’m occasionally heard to say at The Corner, I'm just helping create the kind of agency that I always wanted to work with when I was a client. And that process started many moons ago in Portland."


Jo AllenChief client officer at Carat. Previously senior marketer at Cadbury, Stella Artois and Abbey National.

"You never stop wanting to learn something new. After having worked client-side for more than twenty years, I was ready for a new challenge and working for an agency gives you a completely different perspective and makes you look differently at the challenges that businesses face. 

"My role at Carat is to bring a client’s perspective. A lack of understanding can often lie at the heart of many client-agency problems and by acting as the conscience of the client and working as a translator between the two worlds, the relationship can only get closer and stronger.

"Carat has some incredibly talented people and it’s been great to be able to help planning teams understand the bigger picture that clients see. As a result, as a media agency, I think we have become more focused on delivering business value in the ways that matter most to our clients – an approach that we’re seeing resonate greatly.  

"Marketers will have a very broad range of skills and understanding across all the elements they are involved in, but they are less likely to have real in-depth or specialist knowledge of specific aspects of media or advertising.

"I am absolutely loving it. I’ve been on an amazing learning curve in a fresh and vibrant culture. It’s also given me a helicopter view of different client challenges and enabled me to work across many different sectors. I think there are benefits of movement in both directions, whether it is a permanent role or a secondment.

"It really helps to understand more about what each side does, the challenges they face and what would make things work more smoothly. In the end, both parties reap the benefits in terms of great work that achieves outstanding results."


Phil RumbolFounding partner, 101 London. Previously senior marketer at Cadbury, InBev and Whitbread Beer Company.

"People say to me, "What’s it like being agency-side, it must be really different?" To which I say, ‘It is. But I’d have been disappointed if it wasn’t."

"In making the transition from client to agency start up I was actively looking for a different kind of challenge. Aside from the obvious task and organisational cultural differences, working agency side has given me a different perspective on the client-agency dynamic.

"Agency-side, the pattern of work is 'spikier' than when I was a client. Looking back on my time as a marketing director, I would describe the rhythm as relentless. The endless rounds of meetings, emails and business cycles I 'enjoyed' were like being strapped into a chair in front of a slightly too-fast conveyor belt of things demanding my attention. Whilst there are more 'all hands to the pumps' moments agency-side, there’s also more time to reflect and actually think.

Most clients live and breathe their brands. The trouble is, as I see more clearly now, this can lead to a somewhat rose-tinted view.

"Most clients live and breathe their brands. The trouble is, as I see more clearly now, this can lead to a somewhat rose-tinted view, and often blind them to the realities of their brand challenge. Good agencies can bring honesty, realism and a healthy focus on the need to earn consumers attention.

"I used to think the notion of the agency 'taxi-meter' was unhelpful – now I’m not so sure. Rightly or wrongly, most procurement-based scrutiny of fees focuses on 'hours' as a key variable. As an agency, most of your cost is fixed, so efficient use of time is the key to profitability. Sub-optimal briefings, delays in approval, excessive stakeholder procrastination and re-briefs all eat up time and have a cost attached for the agency.  Heightening awareness around 'time used' could make the process more efficient and fruitful for all parties.

"Ideas can be fragile. They benefit from exploration and nurturing before being exposed to the critical stare of judgement. I kind of knew this as a client, but the truth of this rings loud and clear now I’ve experienced agency side. Jumping in to judge an idea too early runs the risk of missing out on where the embryonic idea might take you. It can therefore be more fruitful to temporarily switch off the judgement gene, and have at least one 'explore and nurture' style client/agency meeting before critiquing the ideas."


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