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People of healthcare comms: agency-side or client-side experience? The debate continues…


Healthcare comms

In Part 1 I shared the views of one of my clients to exemplify the perception that whilst healthcare comms is the ‘career’, agency-side and client-side are 2 very different worlds.

Since publishing the blog I’ve had a lot of responses outlining yet more reasons why candidates with agency rather than client-side experience are preferred by agencies, some from those who’ve made the transition from client-side to agency. Here are just some of those comments:

 “I started in the pharma industry and when I moved to agency it was a big shock…no company car, no lunch allowance, no team building meetings in exotic locations,” explains Tim Schofield, Independent Communications Consultant. “Over the years I have recruited pharma people and had mainly disappointing results with the odd exception. The best people I have ever taken on board have been either brand new youngsters (close to first job) or people from areas like financial who are used to regulation and demanding clients.”

Alan Morris, a Consultant with AM Consultancy, relates to Tim. “I had a similar pathway to Tim. There were some positives to moving into agency life at the time, there was certainly a much greater feeling of being part of a small group pursuing common goals.”

“In my career I've seen people come into agencies from the commercial side of pharma and often struggle; in general the people who do well are usually people new to the whole pharma scene (therefore keen and not cynical), or from other agencies (therefore knowing the fundamentals).”

It’s clear that some believe agency-side offers a stronger team work ethic and more enjoyable working environment.

“I started out client-side. After 5 years though I moved to an agency as I wanted greater variety. I was still young and driven, and I have to say it was tough,” says Jocelyn Crouch, Strategic Planner at McCann Healthcare.

“Agency-side is where the really hard work is done. We work with different brands at all stages of their life cycle. It’s not as simple as putting an advert in GP or the likes; it’s our job to have a breadth and depth of knowledge so we can present the right strategic solutions to our clients. This entails many layers of work churning out dozens of reports, presentations, models etc, including the careful guidance of our clients along the way. The pace is fast and the outputs a plenty. As an upshot of this we tend to take our clients on a learning journey.”

“So why are we hesitant when hiring client-side? Because clients invariably don't have the real hands-on experience required and can have difficulty keeping up. I agree with previous posts in that younger candidates are more adaptable as the responsibilities are less but those at middle management can find the transition more challenging.”

Stephen Dunn, Director of Brandcast Health, offered a perspective that I hadn’t personally considered.

“You only need to look at the differences in size and culture of most med comms agencies vs. client-side organisations; 10-40 people in an entrepreneurial environment where every team member makes an impact on the bottom line or 1000s of people in a very large ship, where the ability to make an impact on the bottom line is somewhat limited.”

“Having made a move from client-side to agency, I can tell you it was an eye opener!”

“It was certainly a positive experience for me as I stayed agency-side and now run my own business. The 'eye opener' was related to being part of a much smaller organisation, where even small things can have a major impact on the business. Agencies are generally very lean, so everyone in the organisation is productive, and mostly focused on delivering business. On client-side, it just wasn't like that!”

Following such a great response to the debate, I conducted my own survey using LinkedIn. I discovered that:

  • 72% agreed that generally client-side workers are offered agency positions.
  • 57% had not made the move from client to agency-side.
  • 80% said they would hire someone with a client-side background. Some even stated that they would prefer candidates from client-side.
  • Roughly 80% felt that those from client-side can be successful in agencies.

The survey’s final question -‘What is the difference you found between client and agency-side workers? – generated a mixed response.

Some felt that client-side workers have good commercial awareness but less financial responsibility and are reluctant to work their way up in an agency; they’re used to working on one project at a time so some also felt that they can’t handle multiple projects and especially the fast paced, aggressive environment that is ‘agency life.’

Conversely, some felt that people who move from client to agency-side have a better understanding of what clients want.

What’s clear is that we’ve only lifted the lid on this subject. Certainly the survey’s results don’t seem to correlate with the preferences of those who commented. But what do you think?

Join the debate: contact Katrina on 01628 581 240 or email katrina.fitzgerald@starmedical.co.uk