Published May 11th, 2015
by Steven Clark

The agency world is tough. Clients are tough, staffing is tough, the Monday morning after Friday nights out are tough. It’s tough when someone doesn’t pull their weight, it’s tough when someone takes too much control over something and it’s tough when you don’t get the information, answers or files you need to do your job properly. So far, so obvious.

I was discussing this recently with someone who has a lot more experience than me, and he summarised the situation like this; working for an agency demands a certain desire for self harm.

And he’s right. Very right.

I know people that have worked for the same agency for years through staffing problems, issues with process, bureaucracy bullshit – and they still come into work smiling every morning.

Most of that is the people. If your team is close knit, even if you communicate poorly with other teams, you can collectively moan and complain to get out the aggro and then approach the situation as a united front.

There are also small victories. A website launch, a happy client, a good productive meeting. All of these things are at some level satisfying even if you only half care about your job.

The things that cause the most strife, in my (uninformed) opinion and (relative) experience, tend to be a combination of professional jealousy and a fear of innovation. Industry professionals have their ear to the ground, they attend meet ups, absent-mindedly browse twitter and talk with peers who do similar jobs. They will know what others who do their job are working on and probably also how they work.

For example, a developer may be talking to an ex-colleague, describing their new client side job where people use hot desks, work in cabals, half the staff are scrum masters and everyone gets a free Macbook Air and gym membership. At the same time, that developer is working in a rigidly formulaic waterfall process that demands extensive documentation and regular long meetings and discussions.

Now obviously the developer can’t march into his boss’s office and demand a Macbook Air on Monday morning. At the same time, the agency can’t just adopt the processes and staff perks of another business, especially if it’s a smaller product-focussed business with some funding behind it.

What that developer can do is suggest things that would make them and their team more efficient. It may be a training course, an extra member of staff or a new piece of software. Too many times, I’ve seen my colleagues suggest what sound like brilliant ideas and good suggestions followed by a tacit agreement to trial them. Then nothing.

I guarantee then that the first thing that developer will then do is check the jobs page of their ex-colleague’s new company.

Projects will never run smoothly, whatever the process. Working in an agency means stress, demanding clients, conflicts between staff and occasionally working late nights. That’s why agencies need to take their employees requests and suggestions seriously and change them in enough time to stay competitive.

I enjoy working for agencies, the troughs are cancelled out by momentary peaks of satisfaction. I can handle self harm, picky clients and late nights. What’s difficult to handle on top of that is knowing your work could be better and working in an environment where people are too scared to try something new.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

Digital Agencies

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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