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Finding Your Yellow Brick Road

The digital marketing industry is a very exciting one right now, particularly for those in media on the agency side. If you turn back the clock to even five years ago the picture was much different, with much more limited potential. But as digital advertising and marketing technology started to climb so did the potential of a career in digital marketing.

Today, individuals with media agency experience have three paths to explore:

Staying On The Agency Side

Sometimes you may just be looking for a change, but are happy with the agency experience itself. Maybe you are looking for a larger or smaller agency where your responsibilities can evolve, accept a promotional opportunity or sometimes it’s just a change of venue that’s needed. Whatever the case, if you like the feel and responsibilities within an agency setting, there are certainly a multitude of agencies for you to explore, nationwide or even globally for that matter.

Compensation: You are going to learn a tremendous amount, however you may also work longer hours with potentially less earning potential than the vendor side, yet higher potential than the brand side (generally speaking). Depending on location, we are seeing Media Planners earn $35K-$50K with 2-5 years experience, Media Supervisors earn $60K-$80K with 5-7 years experience, Associate Media Directors earn $90K-$115K with 8+ years experience and Media Directors earn $140K-$160K with 10+ years experience.

Reasons to Stay: The most common reason we hear agency talent choosing to stay on the agency side is the training and education they receive, as well as the empowerment of being in charge of the media budget and the ability to work on a variety of accounts. In addition, the PTO days and dynamic culture are often tough to compete with as you look outside the agency landscape for new opportunities.

Moving To The Brand Side

Having agency experience, your expertise would be of great value on the brand side. Joining an in-house digital marketing team can be intriguing because you are solely focused on that brand which in turn gives you a greater sense of ownership where you can see precisely how your efforts are impacting the entire organization. The brand side often provides a different level of financial transparency where you are regularly exposed to the company’s financial growth as it relates to your efforts. More and more brands today are building out full-service digital marketing departments in-house rather than depending on agency partners which means more client side opportunities available in the market.

There is a new sense of confidence among corporate marketers today who are becoming a lot more savvy in their ability to evaluate the technology landscape without depending on agency partners. With the trends of programmatic buying, brands are recognizing they have the ability to cut cost by partnering with programmatic technology providers directly.

Compensation: Generally speaking, the brand side may entail slightly less hours and stress which generally means lower compensation than the agency side. For example, so far in 2015, depending on location, and size of the employer, we may see a Digital Marketing Manager with 5 years experience earning $60K, a Digital Marketing Director with 10 years experience earning $125K and a Vice President of Digital Marketing with 15+ years experience earning $165K.

Reasons for Change: The most common reason we hear agency-side talent seeking a move to the brand-side is that they seek a greater sense of brand ownership, a desire to be closer to corporate decision making, and often an improved work/life balance.

Moving To The Vendor Side

Within this area are a number of possibilities and these opportunities can be quite lucrative, sometimes involve less politics than the agency and corporate environment and possibly even equity. Because of this, many agencies cannot compete, and find themselves losing talent to the vendor landscape. The vendor side itself is broken into three main areas – campaign management, account service and sales. For the campaign management side, these employers typically look for individuals with hands-on campaign optimization experience. This is not campaign strategy but rather campaign management where media professionals are pulling the levers directly within a software program to improve campaign performance.

Next is the account service area, and here vendor side employers are looking for really just that – an innate ability to look at each account, determine needs, organically expand the account by seeking new campaign opportunities based on the client’s objectives and provide exceptional service to the agencies and brands direct.

And lastly for the sales positions, there is a shortage of sales talent today and more employers are seeking well-connected agency talent who possess the skills of a successful sales rep. These individuals have a strong network and may potentially be able to sell to their former agency friends and colleagues or have an impressive track record of up-selling and expanding agency accounts during their time on the agency side.

Compensation: Often times, we are seeing agency talent increase their earning potential by 50%-100% by making a transition into sales. For example so far in 2015, depending on location, we may see a media professional with 6 years agency experience, a Media Supervisor, currently earning a $75K base move for a total compensation package of $150K, consisting of a $75K base + $75K targeted commission. A Media Director with 10+ years experience currently earning $150K, move into a sales position for a total compensation package of $200K, consisting of a $100K base + $100K targeted commission. And a Media Executive with 15+ years experience earning $200K on the agency side move into sales to earn a total targeted package of $350K-$400K on the vendor side.

Reasons for Change: The most common reason we hear from agency-side talent considers a move to the vendor side is for higher earning potential, long-term incentives such as equity, flexible hours, work from home options or just the pure excitement of working for a fast growing start-up.

As an individual with media agency experience you have become a hot commodity. If there are any managers out there reading this, please take note of this because it’s critical to be aware of the market for your own retention efforts. Years ago agencies were losing talent to other agencies and today they are losing them to their own partners and clients!

While the vendor side of the business may provide a big bump in earning potential, this is not always the #1 priority for media professionals today, nor should it be. Certainly compensation is a factor in almost everyone’s employment decisions, but for most people it is not the only one. Do your best to keep your top talent happy so they feel an allegiance to you and your company. Treat them fairly, give them the support they need to be successful, compensate them the best you can. Recognize hard work when someone goes the extra mile. The bottom line is, create a work environment where people are growing professionally and feel appreciated. We hear all too often people seeking new opportunities because they just don’t feel appreciated. While most of this is intangible, it makes a big difference in an employee’s job satisfaction and your overall employee retention.

So, to the agency professionals, the question is, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Will the brand side and technology landscape be the same or different? There will certainly be changes, there is no doubt about that. Is it the time now to continue pursuing the current career trajectory in front of you or does the brand and/or vendor side sound appealing? You have so many options available to you, and it is truly exciting!