The beauty of marketing is that everyone can do it, but not everyone can do it well. Sure, having a four year degree tucked into your back pocket will help you land a job. But it doesn’t matter what the paper says. That’s right, not the school or your degree program. As long as it has your name on it, you’re golden.
Whether you crammed your brain full of marketing theories or you only have a basic sense of business, you can land yourself a spot on a marketing team. The problem is finding that role. Not sure where you should begin your digital marketing career? Here’s some tips based on my personal experience. Please note that all careers come with the good, the bad, and the ugly. The same monsters will show up to the party, but they’ll be wearing different masks.
Should you work for a large or small company?
We’ll take the independent consultant off the table for now until you find your bearings. While I’m still young in my career, I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. I know what you’re thinking. Does size matter?
One slice of nonsense I walked away with after graduation? Start ups are cool. I mean sure, they can unleash a plethora of opportunities or stress-related illnesses because of your heavy workload. Commuting to Boston wasn’t practical for my budget or sanity, I got my start-up fix working for a small company.
Small is a very general term. It could mean 3 employees, it could mean 50. At the very peak of my stint at this place, there were 15 employees. By the time I left there were barely in the double digits.
- You’re not just a number. You spend the majority of your waking hours working with your team. They not only will know your name but other countless details about your life. Just be careful to not share too much.
- You’ll have a lot of responsibility. Unlike a large corporation, you might have to be a jack of all trades even if it’s not in your job description. A copywriter at a small company may be in charge of penning white papers, ebooks, landing page copy, marketing emails and more. Copywriters at a bigger company may spend their entire shift banging out blog posts. If that’s what you’re into, cool. Just be careful of what you’re signing yourself up for.
- You’ll have countless opportunities to explore your talents and interests. When I was first hired, my managers weren’t quite sure what to do with me. So they asked me. And I said, “Everything.” I studied international marketing in school and the only thing I knew about digital marketing was social media. You can blame this on the fact that I took a course called “Digital Marketing” and all we learned about was social. Over the next few years at this company I learned every avenue of digital marketing, from paid search to account management. If you’re not sure yet what you want to do it your career, you’ll have more opportunities to explore your talents and passions at a smaller company.
- More drama than a high school prom. There will always be workplace drama and people you don’t like, but it’s much harder to avoid in a small company. A toxic coworker might poison an entire company, not just a section of cubicles.
- Benefits leave much to be desired. Spoiler alert, it’s not going to be great but it’s manageable for the first few years after graduation. Consider living at home or with a couple roommates. If you can hold off venturing off onto your own health insurance plan until you’re 26, do it.
- Limited opportunities for career growth. Trying to climb the corporate ladder? Be warned that it’s missing a few rungs. There’s not too many places to go unless the leadership team adopts you. And that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon because that means more than half of the company will have a say in what’s going on.
Whether it’s for a local chain or multinational conglomerate, working for a huge company can make your marketing dreams come true.
- Dolla’ dolla’ bills, ya’ll. I’m not one for generalizations, but the bigger the better (your benefits.) Large companies often have deeper pockets and can afford to pay you more than the industry average. You know what else is above average? Vacation days. Because now you’re not the only one who knows how to do your job, so chaos won’t ensue if you take a long weekend. Not to mention they can strike better deals with insurance and financial companies.
- You’ll have access to more resources. Getting the job done on time is a whole lot easier when you have access to help. Whether that’s a more expensive marketing tool or a team of interns, all you have to do is ask.
- Build up your resume. More often than not, a stint at large company will help prepare you for your next role. Especially if it’s a recognizable brand. While you may have only been an intern at TJX, other companies will see this as a huge positive vs. interning at a no-name local business.
- You may feel like you’re a sell-out. Marketers are artists. And unfortunately creativity isn’t always where the money is. Answering to shareholders becomes a major priority, and sometimes a major PITA. Remember that you’re here to learn. This place must be doing something right if their annual sales are more than you’ll earn in an entire lifetime.
- There’s a lot of red tape. You want an intern? You get an intern. But if you want to make some changes to the website, expect the request to go to 16 different departments before you finally give up hope. Change is slow and tedious because there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
- It’s hard to stand out. The beauty of working at a small company is that you’re typically the only one in that role. At a large company, you’ll always feel like there’s someone better than you. There’s a lot of competition and you actually take note of the date when you’re complimented on your deliverables.
Marketing agencies vs. in-house marketing teams
I know this is supposed to be a comparison, but I’m casting my vote before I begin. If you have the opportunity to work at a marketing agency at the beginning of your career, it will help you exponentially. That’s not saying you’re doomed if you decide a position on an in-house team is better for you. Here are some pros and cons to each method.
An agency is a creative business that helps clients do a variety of marketing activities, from building websites to developing promotional materials. Companies often outsource to marketing agencies because they don’t have the internal resources to produce great content.
- Fast-paced environment. College taught us how to work well under pressure because we waited until last minute to write a paper. Marketing agencies are a little different because you’re constantly bouncing between projects and shifting deadlines. Trust me, adjusting to this type of environment the first few years of your digital marketing career will make you priceless no matter which direction you take.
- Variety of projects. Depending on your agency, you’ll be exposed to a variety of different industries. This not only allows you to gauge your interest in these niche markets, but also acts as an excellent resume booster.
- Lack of focus. Perhaps this was because I was working at a small marketing agency, but I always felt like I couldn’t give a project the attention it deserved. Deadlines were tight and I’d often touch upon 5 different industries before noon.
- Missing information. A successful agency and client relationship involves a lot of transparency. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. Working on a project with little guidance is difficult. Or if the client changes their minds and you’re the last to know.
In-house marketing teams
An in-house team is a group of people who do marketing for the company that they work for, duh. A marketing department’s goal is to support the sales team so that the company makes more money and you walk home with a bigger paycheck (or fancier car.)
- You have the full picture. You know your company goals and who to talk to when you need more information. Project work is often a lot easier because there are fewer knowledge gaps.
- Laser focus. If you want to be a valuable marketer, you need to develop a specialty. I’m not just talking about the type of content you work on, but also finding a niche industry. While working at an agency introduces you to a breadth of industries, an in-house team will help you learn the ins and outs of the entire business.
- Variety is a spice of life missing from your cabinet. Marketing agencies are fun and exciting because you’re always working on something new. Be warned that your days may get repetitive but at least you’ll get very good at what you do.
- Poor performance can cost you your job. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the hardest working employees the company has ever known. If you’re not driving results, there’s little reason why they should keep you around. Performing poorly at an agency might mean switching you to a different client. Less than stellar results on an in-house team could possibly cost you your job.
- Have you ever worked at an agency or on a marketing team?
- Would you rather spend the rest of your career working at company with only 5 people or 5,000? Why?
- Where do you hope your digital marketing career will take you?