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My experience: networks vs independents

Thursday 18th January


January – new year, new me. With this sentiment in mind, it’s usually the time of year when people start considering or have already moved jobs, and the period is typically high for staff turnover.

While I’m not encouraging anyone to leave the wonderful world of Total Media, I wanted to share my experience and comparison of working at one of the UK’s largest network agencies as a Comms Plannner vs. my two stints at the UK’s leading independent agency, based in Client Services. Hopefully this will give those that haven’t experienced working at both a network and independent agency some insight into the differences, but inevitably you’ll see my bias to which type of agency I prefer.

Your Team

Working on a premium brand for 18 months at the network agency resulted in working with 25+ people from different specialist teams at any one time. The ‘working with’ effectively translates into ‘managing’, which can make communication and organisation difficult and is part of the problem at a network agency specifically within Comms Planning.
With so many people to coordinate, quality of work varies massively (as it does in every job), not knowing many of your work colleagues on a personal level due to the size of the team and high staff turnover and very limited senior support could sometimes lead to very awkward conversations and poor client servicing. While there are some extremely talented people at network agencies, and having the opportunity to work with them was very important to aid my development in comms planning, it was a disassociated experience that broke down due to poor communication in some instances.

Independent: Compared to Total Media, an agency (while not 100% perfect) I feel excels in the ‘team’ area. Fewer people to coordinate means more time spent with them and understanding how they truly operate both professionally and personally. Open door policy with senior colleagues for all aspects of working life (I even remember having a lunchtime chat with our Finance Director about saving for my mortgage) and everyone willing to help out where possible regardless of position and job role. In summary, in creating a nice, cultural working environment with colleagues who care about their work and their peers, independent agencies triumph for ‘Team’ over the networks and is still a key (if not most important) attribute of any working environment for me.

Ways of Working

I’m without doubt a highly process driven individual. The network agency taught me how to develop and improve this aspect of my ‘ways of working’ which is predominantly down to the amount of people I worked with, the strict policies and processes I had to adhere to, which I feel are more relaxed at an independent agency (pros and cons of both). Combine this with their planning framework, I feel these were the two key benefits of my experience at the network agency. So much so, it’s helped me transfer these skills into my role at Total Media which enables me to run training sessions, develop colleagues’ skill sets in this area, and build on my own comms planning framework/knowledge prior to TM’s 5 in 5 approach.

Independent: While all agencies will have their own framework and having being exposed to a few over the 8+ years, I haven’t come across one that incorporates behavioural planning anywhere near to the extent that Total Media’s frame work does – it’s unique. While others I’ve used are good, I found it easier to grasp the behavioural planning approach which I feel provides a more interesting route and approach to responding to briefs. Some elements of the other frame works can also be incorporated which is a bonus when using TM’s Behavioural Planning as it’s flexible and non-restrictive. Believe it or not, it also influences your everyday life. You start to use some of the methodologies on your friends, explaining that the decision they’re making is because they’re post rationalising can lead to some very interesting conversations, especially after a few beers.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m obviously pro independent agencies. When I first left Total Media, I was told by a senior colleague that I was going to be ‘a small cog in a big machine’ and they couldn’t have been more right. While I wanted to experience the differences between networks and independents, and glad I have, there’s a reason I’m back at Total Media.

Article Written by

John Dobbs

Account Director, Total Media

John is an Account Director on the Client Services team, with over 8 years industry experience.

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