Instability and lack of calibrated pay among key reasons agency folk head in-house

Last week we published an article on salary guide in Singapore for those in the marketing industry. Now while the commonly perceived notion is that client-side marketers earn more than those on the agency side, Wendy Heng, associate director of sales and marketing, healthcare, supply chain and procurement at recruitment firm Robert Walters said this might not always be true.

She said:

The really good folks on the agency side can make significantly more than those on the client-side.

She added that this is not just on the senior levels but can be on the mid levels as well. Heng also added that unfortunately, pay scales on the agency sides are not homogeneous. On the client-side, if you have a certain level of experience, salary and benefits will be quite even. However there was a “lack of proper calibration” on the agency side. She explained:

On the agency side, two people with the same job titles in the same industry and sometimes in the same agency, might have very different remunerations.

“I have learnt not to judge on agency job titles. On the agency side, there is very little proper compensation and benefits like system. And people do talk. If you are not in the right side of the deal, it might drive you to leave,” she said.

That, coupled with long hours, is what is driving agency talent over to the client-side. Other reasons also include talents not being able to see their executions all the way through.

“It stops at pitching stage for agency folks. Your client plans out and tells you a business problem and solution. Agency folks don’t see the solution because the marketing team executes it in tandem with their finance and procurement and internal teams,” she said.

As such, many agency folks are often more curious about the final implementation and they want a more holistic idea of the entire journey.

“They are missing a part of the pictures and that’s why they want client-side experience,” she said. Of course, stability is also another factor to jump over to the client side. Heng added there is a “perceived instability” on the agency side which makes it harder for agencies to retain talent as it is not uncommon for an agency side to see exodus of talent when a client is lost.

Middle management point of view

Agreeing with Heng is a recently switched executive *John Huang, who spent the last five years with a media agency.  Huang that he made the switch to the client-side in a bid to grow his knowledge about the industry and other aspects of marketing on both client and agency side. He is currently marketing manager with an alcohol beverage company. Huang also added that on the client side the working hours are definitely better.

"On the agency side, the hours were long and it was a constant churn of work with very little appreciation," he said.

Nureen Faiza, who is currently a director with PHD, and has spent ten years across various media agencies, said over the years several of her peers have crossed over to the agency side. Much like Heng and Huang, she agreed long hours are a "challenge".

“If you’re good at what you do, agencies can give you immense opportunity and the compensation can be good as well. In fact, at mid-senior levels, you can often find agency folk being paid more than their client counterparts,” Faiza said.

She added that although work hours are certainly a challenge in the agency world, and one of the most common reasons why people want to move, agency commissions are increasingly under scrutiny and pressures on client business make the work extremely demanding.

* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.