Agency or In-House? Choosing The Right PPC Path For You

By Sam Owen | @SamOwenPPC | Associate Director of Paid Search at Hanapin Marketing

Lots of crazy stuff has happened in PPC during 2012.  Even though that’s been true pretty much every year since its launch, we at PPC Hero felt that it was a big enough year to justify its very own series.  That’s why for this month’s series we’re taking on the Biggest Thing in My PPC Year.  Whether it’s tools, product releases or changes to our way of thinking, we’ll be covering the biggest thing that’s changed our work lives/brains this year.

This week at PPC Hero we’re looking back over the biggest changes of the past 12 months. For some of us, that means looking back at how Google kept messing up our ad testing. For others, it was a tale of Dr Seanlove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Excel. However, for me the biggest change was moving from working in-house to joining Hanapin Marketing, the PPC agency behind this blog.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the key differences in both environments, and what it’s like to move from one to the other. Hopefully for those of you out there just starting your journey into PPC, or those looking for a move to a new company (FYI – we’re hiring – just say Sam sent you), a few of the things I have to say will help you choose your path.

I think before I delve into my comparison, it’s important to make a couple of key points. First, no two companies are alike – my experiences will differ from yours, and some of the things that changed for me were company-specific rather than industry-specific. Second, a lot of the changes I experienced stemmed from moving from the UK to the US, which obviously not all of you will be doing. Complaining about changing tax rates or paid vacation is probably not something most of you will be interested in so I’ll try and avoid those topics.

Without further ado, here are the main differences I have experienced:


1. Short vs. Long Term-ism

Put simply, a client doesn’t hire your paid search agency because they are expecting results to be better in a couple of years. Most come to you because results haven’t been moving the way they had hoped and they need you to fix it.

Sometimes this is great – it gives you a chance to get work your magic on poorly optimized accounts. Those of you who have worked for a while on the same in-house account will know that it can get to a point where you’ve optimized everything and you don’t really have to much else to do other than make tweaks here and there.

Other times it can be frustrating – particularly when you aren’t given the time you need to get data and make smart decisions. To enjoy working at an agency you need to be able to communicate with clients effectively – let people know what is and isn’t unrealistic. This is generally much easier to do as a member of an in-house team than as an outsider.


2. Reporting!

I feel like I’ve become some sort of Excel guru since moving to Hanapin. One of the biggest changes in my schedule is the amount of reporting I have to do. When I was in-house I might have to put together a couple of snapshot reports every month, but generally I was in close communication with my boss, making it not very productive to spend too much time on it. Now I have multiple clients that I need to keep up-to-date with changes in their accounts and reporting is a regular part of my day-to-day work.

It’s funny to think that I was so in awe of a former colleague of mine’s Excel skills last year – a guy who we’d brought in from an agency background – that now after just 8 months at Hanapin, I feel like I know everything he did.


3. Intellectual Stimulation

The difference I found here has been in scope. In-house I tended to be more involved in wider ranging projects within the company. I had more time to work on business development items as well as more broadly in non-PPC areas such as SEO and PR.

At Hanapin the focus is intensely PPC specific. I’m surrounded by PPC experts and we all love to learn as much as we can and share it with the team. I’d say I’ve shifted from learning more broadly about digital marketing to really focusing in on honing my PPC knowledge and skills. I personally love it, but for others it might not be quite what you are looking for.


4. Education & Learning

This is pretty similar to my last point but there are a few subtle differences. In-house you tend to have to do a lot of self-teaching. You might be the only PPC person, in which case you’ll have to work extra hard to stay on top of all the latest news and best practices. At Hanapin we get together once a month for a full day of training on new ideas, and we share information with one another that will help our accounts’ performance.


5. Work Environment

For me, working at an agency has been more stressful than working in-house. Demands from multiple clients and pressure to deliver full-time levels of work when your schedule is divided mean that more is demanded from you. However, I also find my job to be more interesting and stimulating. I have to challenge myself more regularly and time in the office seems to fly by.


6. Working smarter

When you have multiple clients you need to learn to work smarter. As Jeff Allen is constantly reminding us “Focus on the 20% of your tasks that will get 80% of the improvement for you”. In-house you have time to do the other 80% of minor tasks that will get you that extra boost, but those gains run into diminishing returns much faster.


I’m sure there are a lot of you out there with similar experiences. Let us know what you thought the major differences were in the comments below!