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From Agency to In-House: 5 Challenges and How to Adjust

Diane Pease

After working in the agency world for the last 10 years, I did something I thought I would never do: move to an in-house position.

My agency experience was quite varied, from a small local agency to working with one of the largest ad agencies in the world. Although I loved my time in the agency world, it was time for a change. I wanted to experience working for an actual client instead of working through an agency. And I figured – Hey, it can’t be that hard to go from doing paid search in an agency to doing paid search in-house, right?

Wrong. It was a much bigger adjustment than I thought. And it has required me to step back and rethink tactics and recommendations; different waters to navigate, to say the least! As I learn more every day, I realize it’s a whole new world being in-house.

Below are five major differences working onsite with a client as opposed to an agency, and suggestions on how to manage these changes. 

Moving from the agency to the in-house world

1. Managing multiple clients to just one

I have always had to juggle multiple clients at one time — managing different spends, ROI goals and strategies. Focusing on one client was one of the bigger adjustments for me because I was used to bouncing from one client to the next.

Recommendation: This is not a bad thing! It helps to really get to know the client’s accounts, and understand them at a much deeper level. It also allows you to provide more focused and strategic recommendations because, you are, more focused. Understanding a client’s business intimately will help you provide solid PPC strategies.

2. Being onsite

Instead of talking with the client on the phone or having occasional face-to-face meetings, you are there every day. Front and center. Getting asked a lot of questions, being in lots of meetings. Your routine is now very different.

Recommendation: Learn, listen and observe. Do a holistic audit of the client’s PPC accounts to see what is working and what isn’t.

Coming in, you have a unique perspective – your “fresh eyes” will see things that others may not have noticed. And those insights can be very valuable for the client, and helping to improve the client's campaigns and processes. Your knowledge will also help educate others on things such as best practices and insights. You bring a lot of experience coming from an agency, and that knowledge can greatly help your client.

3. Learning about the company structure

This has been, by far, my biggest challenge — with a company like Cisco, it’s huge — and learning the different organizations, reporting structures and who does what is something that is going to be ongoing. There are a lot of people involved, not just one or two contact people you worked with before.

Recommendation: Relax, and be patient. It takes time, especially in a larger company.

Get an organizational chart and learn who the key players are. And, get to know everyone on your team as well as your external teams. The more people you know, the easier it will be to know who to reach out to.

4. Working with an outside agency to manage the client’s PPC account

Instead of being the one responsible for updates, reporting and optimizations, an agency now handles that. Although you don’t have the level of responsibility that you once did, you are still involved because you represent the client’s paid search internally to the company.

Recommendation: We are all on the same team, with the client’s goals and objectives being our main focus. Spend time with the agency, and get the history of the account. Learn how you can help the agency because you have “been there, done that.” Provide them with insights and experiences that you have seen, so they can in turn use that knowledge to improve the client’s account performance.

5. Not being hands-on anymore

This has been my second biggest adjustment. For so long, I have been in my client’s accounts, making daily changes. Since we have an agency that does all of the changes now, I can’t just go in and adjust something that I see needs to be changed.

Recommendation: Use this as an opportunity to help the agency look good. If you find something that should be changed, point this out, and back it up with the benefits the client will gain from this change.


Being on the client side has been a great experience so far. Having previous agency experience has helped me be a catalyst for change, and also helped me make the client’s paid search campaigns improve and grow.

At the end of the day — whether you work for an agency or are onsite — amazing and delighting the client is the top priority.

Author bio:

Diane Pease is an Inbound Marketing Manager for Cisco, and has been in online and traditional marketing for over 25 years. She has expertise in SEO, social and traditional marketing, but her primary specialty is paid search and analytics. Diane focuses on providing clients with solid paid search strategies and seamless campaign execution. She is also a monthly contributor to Search Engine Watch.

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Diane Pease is an Inbound Marketing Manager for Cisco, and has been in online and traditional marketing for over 25 years. She has expertise in SEO, social and traditional marketing, but her primary specialty is paid search and analytics. Diane focuses on providing clients with solid paid search strategies and seamless campaign execution. Her most recent contribution to the SEMrush blog was, “Paid Ad Search Copy: 3 Things You Might Be Missing.”
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Michael Striker
Diane Pease, thanks for sharing... This echoes my own experience, going from a digital marketing agency employing 100+ employees, to SEMrush. I agree with Mark, a global structure takes time to internalize. Understanding prior processes and campaigns gets you one step closer to improving them. It adds confidence in the brand and in co-workers, when you encounter techniques that add so much value and please customers - and those plans are already in place!
Michael Striker
Thank you! The more you can learn, the better you are able to provide value to the customer.
Mark Marino
Great post. I just jumped from a small agency (30-40 employees) to a massive in-house SEO role (3,000+ employees). I totally agree that No. 3 is by far the biggest challenge thus far. Trying to figure out not only who does what, but what does what and why (ie: in-house SEO platforms, software, and reporting).
Mark Marino
Thank you Mark! Yes, number 3 has and still is something that is difficult for me. I also came from a very small agency, and learning who the players are and what their roles are is a daily challenge. Good luck to you as well!

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