Interview: Agency vs in-house with Sam Bathe

An interview with Sam Bathe, Art Director at Zendesk, about working in agency vs in-house in the Creative industry.

In this ‘agency vs in-house’ interview series led by Salt Senior Consultant for Creative, Holley Potts, we speak to customers from all different sectors within the world of digital to answer the age-old question – agency or in-house? This series is designed to give you a snapshot of creative career journeys and insights into what is currently happening in their businesses. Over to Holley… 

Welcoming to the content series, Sam Bathe, Art Director at Zendesk, who gives a great insight into how the events space is turning virtual and what the future of this looks like…

Holley – I am sure all the people reading this would love to hear about your journey of how you got to where you are and also share a snapshot into Zendesk world to set the scene.

Sam – I had an unusual route into design. I didn’t go to art school, I studied town planning and taught myself design through starting a magazine. Originally, I wanted to be a writer and went into publishing first, but soon made the switch to focus on design instead.

I put in my time and learnt a lot agency-side, working at both a large network agency and then a couple of smaller boutique agencies – each have their benefits, so it was fascinating to spent time between a few different roles. But I’d always been intrigued by in-house – especially in the tech space – so when the right opportunity came up, I decided to make the jump.

Zendesk is my second in-house role, I am an Art Director on the Brand Experience Team. One of the amazing things I find working in-house – especially at Zendesk – is that the brand team is almost set up like a little creative agency internally. We have about 10 people on the Brand Experience team in London, but the whole Brand Team is 50+, encompassing copywriting, graphic design, animation, presentation design and video.  The whole Creative Team is 100+ dotted around the world, including Design Ops, product designers, UX researchers and many more specialisms. We have everything in-house, which is incredibly empowering as a creative. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to join Zendesk.

The Brand Experience team traditionally looked after physical events and office design – Zendesk would previously host around 10 larger regional events across the world, plus our global user conference, Relate, but obviously that’s been all change this year. Now we are working on virtual events with our amazing Events colleagues, plus digital experiences and activations like the Thank You Machine and Zendesk Bingo.

Holley – That must have been such an adjustment transitioning from physical to virtual events, has that been challenging in any way for you or the team?

Sam – Personally, I’ve been fortunate to call on prior experience working on a lot of digital campaigns throughout my career agency-side, but it has still been a big shift. There’s a change of mindset going from physical to virtual – not just in how you host events and the kind of content you present, but expectations of what you’re trying to achieve from a virtual event. That’s definitely been a challenge for the whole team, as it’s a completely different world running events virtually; you don’t have those organic conversations with other attendees when you go to get coffee, or chat to the person in front while you’re queuing for the next talk. The whole community aspect of physical events just isn’t there online yet.

Holley – From speaking to a lot of clients, they have said the same thing as yourself about recreating these physical attributes that we have when meeting people across a digital format is incredibly hard. Especially in the physical space, this sector was one step behind in digital, so there is a bit of catching up to do.

Sam – Definitely, this is especially hard in the conference world. In other industries where digital is native, it’s been a lot easier to pivot when the product is already suited to the online space. It’s been a huge upheaval for  organisers to rethink their offering – and now even when we do go back to in-person events, they will have much more of a digital presence as a result.

These digital experiences are here for the long run, especially with larger events where attendees would traditionally fly in from around the world. Event and business travel is undoubtedly going to be way down over the next couple of years as lot of the audience simply won’t want to fly, or won’t be allowed. Organisers will have to create competitive offerings for an audience who st ill want to attend and interact with the community, but can’t make it in person.

Really everything from music festivals to design and tech conferences are going to have to figure out a way to create a compelling digital offering, as most likely it won’t be until 2022 before people are comfortable again being in a conference room with 1000+ people again.

Holley – Speaking of hybrids, what’s your view on the hybrid designer?

Sam – Being self-taught, I think I’ve always been a hybrid – I didn’t start off with a particular specialism and I learnt a lot through different side projects from the magazine I mentioned, to starting a club night, to little design challenges to improve my craft. But I do think it’s helpful have one thing that is your hero skill, it could be something specific like social or web design, or being a conceptual think for broader campaigns.

Having a broad set of skills is incredibly useful – especially for in-house. In agencies, often you’ll look after a specific part of the project, then hand your work to someone else and you’re onto something else, another client even. Whereas in-house you can have a lot more ownership of projects, there’s more scope to add value.

A fascinating insight into what the future might look like in this new virtual world, straight from the source. Only time will tell what the physical events space will look like come next year! Stay tuned for more interviews, coming your way. If you would like to find out more about the series or find out how we can help you with your hiring, get in touch with Holley via hpotts@welovesalt.com.

Read more of our agency vs in-house interviews here.

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