Technique 4 minutes, 36 second read AJ Coyne, Head of UK Consumer Marketing, Klarna
Switching from an agency to an in-house role or vice-versa can be intimidating. You hope that the skills you learned sitting at one side of the table can be transferred to the other, and worry that you’ll discover you were more comfortable where you were before. As anyone who has worked on both sides will tell you, there are a vast amount of differences between being the client and acting as a consultant to the client and not everyone finds it easy to adapt. With the impact covid has had on the marketing sector, it’s likely many are either currently facing this very challenge, or will face it in the near future.
Speaking from experience, making the switch may well turn out to be your best career move yet. The marketing landscape and the tools and techniques we apply are constantly shifting, and I’m of the opinion that experiencing life from both an in-house and agency point of view is crucial to becoming as well-rounded and adaptable as possible. Understanding the nuances between the two sides of the table allows you to approach challenges in a unique way, plus it also gives you a greater understanding of how your agency or client views any given situation – helping you make the best choice possible.
Making the switch has had two key benefits for me. Firstly, I’ve learnt unequivocally where my strengths lie and which role suits me best. And secondly, I now feel that I have a comprehensive view of the marketing function and of how best the relationship between client and consultant can work. In other words, a change, though incredibly daunting, can be a win-win.
My time spent at an agency and my background in adland is what prepared me for my current role and I find myself constantly borrowing from that experience. Put simply, I don’t think I’d be able to bring what I do to my current role without spending many years agency-side first.
As a junior in an agency, you’re often expected to be a jack-of-all trades and specialise as you progress. In-house that’s often not the case and in more instances you find that you’ll specialise earlier on. Both sides, of course, have their advantages, but for me that early agency experience has been crucial to help me understand what I’m interested in and am good at and, equally importantly, what I struggle with and don’t enjoy.
It’s true that there is a huge amount of overlap between agency and in-house life. You will find that you can apply a huge proportion of the knowledge and the skills you have acquired already, but execute them in a different manner. Similarly, many of your responsibilities will remain, and your end goal should always be the same, no matter what your role is – the pursuit of world class creativity that delivers results.
However, there are some major differences between the two.
From an agency perspective, it’s often incredibly difficult to persuade a client to take a perceived risk. An idea being presented by an external source can seem more outlandish than one produced from within. Global brands with high stakes can be inhibited by fear, making them reluctant to greenlight unique and thought-provoking work, but when you look at award-winning and impactful work, so much of it is bold and sparks conversation, not always positive. Agencies understand this, and I know of many that adopt a ‘twin-idea’ focus when presenting to clients. This is where multiple ideas are presented, including at least one outlandish option that the agency knows the client will deem too extreme. The hope is that the client will select a more suitable by comparison, but still bold, idea that they wouldn’t have gone with if that was presented alone.
At Klarna, the team have done an incredible job at establishing Klarna in the UK in such a short space of time, and testament to that is the fact that Klarna is now being used as a verb. The major task ahead for us is to establish a standalone, beloved brand and to become the world’s favourite way to shop. So to take things further, I intend to bring together the best of both sides.
Since making the switch to in-house, one of the things I love is that suddenly I'm the one with the ability to say “yes”.
However, regardless of which side of the table you sit on, a few things should remain constant – creative thinking, talented people, and a belief that there is no problem without a solution.
For me, creativity should be every brand’s number one differentiator and I’m fortunate in that Klarna is a fundamentally creative brand that takes pride in doing things differently. Creativity is encouraged from within and we constantly challenge our thinking and look at how we can push the boundaries on everything that we do. However, as a bank nothing is more important than ensuring our marketing builds trust and a greater understanding among our consumers, no matter what demographic they sit in.
If you’re acting as a consultant and are experiencing pushback, my advice is to continue to press ahead with your biggest and best ideas. This will often be the key selling point for clients, and even if your strongest ideas don’t come to fruition, it’s part of the job and vital you always put your best foot forward, after all – that’s what you’re paid for. If you reach the point of frustration, there’s always the option to switch over to the dark side...