In-House PPC Blog Series: JD Prater from AdStage.io

A few months ago the CEO of an ad tech startup reached out and presented me with an opportunity to lead their user acquisition and growth marketing efforts. I decided to trust my gut and accept the in-house role at AdStage as their Head of User Acquisition and Growth.

Leaving agency life behind was tough. I loved my last role at an agency, the people I worked with, and company’s management team. It was a dream job and, in many ways, still is. It’s difficult to leave a job where the company cares for their employees as much as my last company does. They set a high bar, and one that I will always respect and appreciate.

I’ve spent the majority of my career working for agencies, so I definitely see the benefits to both in-house and agency partner advertising. Therefore, I want to provide some quick pros and cons for agency life and in-house life.

Agency Life

Working on a Variety of Business Models and Conversion Funnels

Agencies inherently expose their staff to a variety of business models and conversion funnels. This is why I think people working at agencies can accelerate their skillsets and propel their careers faster than in-house people, especially in those early years.

That exposure was a lot of fun for me. I loved working in B2B and B2C on the same day. Or working on Fortune 500 acquisition strategy and then switching to a startup subscription box company. The variety is what kept me on my toes and grew my skillset day-in and day-out.

Working with Really Smart People

If the variety of work grew my skills then working with super smart people honed them. I’m lucky to have worked alongside some of the smartest and brightest people at a few of the best agencies in the industry. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. There was never a dull moment as I learned Excel formulas from our analysts, designing for conversions from our CRO team, or adapting marketing strategies for my clients thanks to another account manager. All-in-all irons sharpens iron and I was fortunate to work with a lot of intelligent PPCers.

The Red Tape of Client Approval Process

One of the worst feelings in the digital marketing space is seeing the industry just passing you by. Clients are often reactive and risk-adverse, they want something after everyone else has already done it. So while companies were asking for case studies before deciding on which software they’ll choose, I often saw their competitors passing them because they wanted a competitive edge.

Another thing that drove me nuts was presenting a fantastic marketing strategy only to have it got caught up in red tape and never executed. It was sad to watch how slow some of these bigger companies moved or how many meetings needed to happen to get something signed off.

In-House (Startup)

Direct Impact on a Business and the Growth of It

As for the day-to-day, having ownership of the marketing funnel is a lot responsibility and pressure. But hey, no pressure, no diamonds. There’s no better way to understand the ins and outs of business than to see into the inner workings of a company with your own eyes – on a daily or weekly basis. I’m no longer focused on completing one section of the marketing puzzle.  Now I get to think more holistically and figure out the order in which levers should be pulled for the greatest possible impact.

Plus, how cool is it that my fingerprints will be on a tool that simplifies the lives of fellow advertisers. It’s exciting to be involved in building and improving a tool that I used for years spanning two different agencies.

Implementing as Fast as I Can Run

Startups are notorious for moving quickly and “growth hacking” their way to success, because for many of them time is market share. If you’re slow to innovate and adapt then the market will pass you over. And now it’s my job to ensure that our our growth efforts are innovative and keeping pace with our customer’s expectations.

Those who know me, know I love to move quick with my marketing tactics. Working in-house allows me to implement my ideas as fast as I can think through them, rather than waiting for (necessary, but sometimes frustrating) client bureaucracy.

Small Teams Mean Lots of Hats

With ownership comes responsibility. My day-to-day varies drastically, but a portion of my day always involves diving into campaign analytics to catch and capitalize upon any emerging trends, as well as checking in on any ongoing campaigns and testing.

While our team is flat and tight-knit, individual channel management can be siloed, so it’s on me to provide the performance narrative and be ready with an action plan. Beyond that, I collaborate with our marketing team on upcoming campaigns, work with customer success to better understand what drives long-term quality for our business, and partner with our product team to ensure the things we’re building take marketing efficiency needs into account.

Essentially, my role now would have been split up into three or four specialists roles at an agency. I’m only two months in, and I haven’t decided which team model I like best. For those considering an in-house vs agency team, my perspective is, for a rapidly growing business that is trying to understand the right media mix, having in-house talent for the couple core channels you identify can anchor a consistent growth focus and culture within your marketing team. For more fragmented or ancillary channels, finding the right agency partner might is probably the best way to move forward due to their expertise and ability to move quickly.


michael henderson suretybondsJD Prater is the Head of User Acquisition and Growth at AdStage. He’s a growth marketer, digital strategist, and avid cyclist. A stereotypical coffee snob and recovering Coloradan, he’s a creative thinker who sees the big picture but loves getting lost in the details.

Follow JD on Twitter @jdprater

2 Comments

  1. JD, fantastic view of in-house vs. agency. I’d also add that in-house gigs tend to pay more. I came from agency background as well, and my largest realizations when I went in-house were:
    1. Wow, I get to go SO much deeper into the subject matter.
    2. Wow, the pay is good
    3. Oh man! No one is around me as passionate about digital marketing as me anymore. I need to step up my learning

    • AJ, all valid points and agree with them all. For those thinking of going in-house from an agency make sure your new co-workers are smart and can challenge you. Iron sharpens iron a huge advantage for agencies.