“Ah! The agency life!” Famous expression. A catch-all phrase to describe the consulting industry. From the very beginning of their university journey, young communications professionals are hearing a lot about agency work. The work schedule is crazy, the stress is ongoing, the guidance is limited... and on top of it all, the salary is far from competitive. This is the theme of an opinion letter written by Sonya Bacon, “J’ai un peu honte des agences” (“I'm a bit ashamed of agencies”), published on November 19 on Grenier aux nouvelles.
In this blog post, we hear from three rising stars in the communications industry to get a better understanding of what they really think about agency life. Needless to say, their experiences are nothing like what Sonya Bacon's opinion piece describes!
Sabrina Sévigny, coordinator at Capital-Image and culinary experience enthusiast
“Working in an agency is stressful, intense and hard.” This was my perception throughout university, the same impression the students mentioned in Sonya Bacon's text. Despite this rather negative view, I absolutely wanted to start my career as a public relations specialist in a communications agency. I felt that this was the best way for me to learn and develop my skills. But that doesn't take away the fact that I was worried... "Will I be able to meet the expectations? Will the pace be overwhelming for me? Will I be autonomous enough to accomplish the tasks that will be assigned to me?" are some of the questions I asked myself as I anticipated my arrival in this somewhat intimidating field.
Towards the end of my bachelor's degree at UQAM, I had one last internship left, which I completed at Capital-Image. From the very first week, I quickly realized that the preconceived idea I had for years was not a one-size fits all rule. In reality, there are agencies where the work climate is healthy, employees are respected, mutual aid prevails and the balance between productivity and pleasure is paramount. I enjoyed my internship experience at Capital-Image so much that I decided to stay on as a freelancer for about 35 hours a week.
Contrary to what was said in Ms. Bacon's text, I have never felt left behind, as I always receive the help and mentoring I need, to this day. I ask a lot of questions and take my time to do what I am asked to do. I mistakenly thought that this way of being would hinder my success in the agency industry. But on the contrary, these traits are celebrated at Capital-Image.
I can also confirm that it is possible to have a management that listens and cares about its employees. I have meetings with my superiors to evaluate my workload, share my concerns, ask questions and simply chat on a weekly basis. The well-being of the team is a priority, which I appreciate very much. As proof of this, we have a wonderful colleague whose role is to ensure and spread happiness within the team. With her help, the agency sends out satisfaction surveys, distributes themed gifts, sends our favourite meal home on our birthday, coordinates a motivating rewards program called “Stars of the Month” and many other such treats.
To me, this healthy environment is the key to Capital-Image's success. It shows that pressure is not necessarily synonymous with performance and that good results should not be achieved at the expense of employees' well-being.
As a member of the next generation of communicators, let me speak for them: new communicators want to thrive in a learning environment where mistakes are allowed, surrounded by a supportive team that respects them and recognizes their efforts. Fortunately, all of this is possible in an agency. You just have to find the right one.
Maude Gauthier, Coordinator at Capital-Image and hiking enthusiast
I was studying communications at university and had two more courses remaining to complete in order to finally obtain my bachelor's degree. I was already working in the medical field and attending evening classes. I felt good at this job, even though it was not in my field, and I wanted to stay there for a few years after graduation before I made the leap into communications.
I was also unsure whether I should choose agency or corporate work. My preconceived ideas of the fast pace of the agency, the many projects to handle at the same time and the variety of knowledge to possess were somewhat intimidating and I thought I should explore this intimidating, yet challenging world a little later on.
When a new coordinator position at Capital-Image was posted, I spoke with one of my former internship supervisors who had started her career there. She had left Capital-Image 12 years ago to co-found her own agency, and had just recently returned to take up a position as director. She asked me if I had applied and I thought, “Who, me? But I'm not qualified enough!” The seed was planted in my mind, though, and I finally applied. Knowing that she saw potential in me was the pat on the back I needed to jump into the agency world.
When I was hired, I struggled with imposter syndrome for a while. I wondered what could have earned me this dream job. Fortunately, this feeling quickly faded away. Recognition being an integral part of Capital-Image's DNA, I quickly grew confident in my skills. Earning a few “Stars of the Month” also went a long way in building that confidence and making me feel like I belonged. Regular employee surveys ensured that I felt my opinion mattered. The weekly calls with our Employee Engagement Manager also helped me feel heard.
The icing on the cake for me? A flexible work schedule and the ability to work from home four days a week. Last Monday, I was off work. I had accumulated a certain number of hours and gave myself a three-day weekend. My bosses' reaction was “Enjoy it, Maude! You deserve it, come back in shape!”
Working at Capital-Image allows me to grow professionally without sacrificing my personal life. When I read the article in Le Grenier aux nouvelles about working in an agency, I was shocked. No support? No concern for the next generation? A fixation on academic achievement? Working super late? No paid overtime? Bosses with little experience? I didn't recognize myself in any of this!
You might say that I was lucky to have found Capital-Image. One thing is certain, they understand what motivates human beings. My bosses can sleep peacefully at night, knowing that their employees are doing well and not spending their evenings on Indeed looking for another organization that would recognize their value better!
Myriam Kamako, Coordinator at Capital-Image and fashion artist
When I was making my career plan at the end of my master's degree, I knew I wanted to work in an agency, but in a more distant future. I wasn't ready to go there right away, as I had often heard about the uncompetitive salaries and tough working conditions.
After spending time in the media world, an opportunity came up in an agency, but the salary was far below my expectations. When I decided to give up on this opportunity, I had the feeling that in the end, “all agencies were the same”.
Later, I had another opportunity to work in an agency, this time at Capital-Image. I was delighted that, right from the start, even before the official interview, they asked about my salary expectations. I then went through all the steps of the hiring process and I must admit that during all this time I was wondering if they had really taken into account what I had expressed as expectations.
Then came the decisive moment: I received a job offer! What a surprise when I read the contract and discovered that the salary I was offered was even slightly higher than the one I had asked for. But that's not all! I was surprised to read terms like “compensation time-off“, “appreciation activities”, etc.
So there is an agency that takes these realities into consideration? In the end, I realized that this job gave me the best of both worlds: I could practise the job I'm passionate about, but I would also have perks beyond the material: recognition, training, and above all, a HUMAN management.
So yes, I can certainly echo what Ms. Bacon said and agree: “Not all agencies are like this. Look around and you'll find some that match your values.” Yes, you can work overtime if you need to, yes, you can feel pressure at times, but for someone like me who thrives on challenges and cares deeply about human values, I can say that I couldn't have found a better place than Capital-Image.
There are all kinds of communication agencies. Of course, there probably are some that don't put the happiness of their employees at the heart of their priorities. The goal of our three testimonials is to tell young professionals who want to experience the excitement of the agency life to go for it, because there are some good agencies that give the runner a chance!