Behind the Creative: Moving from an agency to in-house
We regularly speak to candidates all across the creative, marketing, PR and digital space who are thinking about making the move from working in an agency to working in-house, but aren’t sure what a career in-house looks like.
So to help you visualise this, we decided to ask someone who has been there and done that. In this edition of Behind the Creative, we chatted with Emma Kelly, PR & Communications Officer at Ovarian Cancer Australia, diving into her experience making the move across to in-house after five years working in agencies.
Emma, tell us a bit about yourself and your PR career.
Hailing from regional Victoria, I entered the PR world without initial connections (possibly influenced by Kelly Cutrone on The Hills – IYKYK).
During school, my interest in creative communications, strategic problem-solving, and understanding consumer behaviour grew, so I relocated to Melbourne to pursue a double degree in Business (Marketing) and Media & Communications (PR) at Swinburne University.
In my second year of study, I landed a part-time copywriting role at a small agency, juggling it with casual retail work, full-time studies, and volunteering for a social enterprise. That experience opened doors, later leading to a contract position with a boutique social media agency.
In the early days of COVID, I freelanced for a few agencies and later transitioned into a full-time role at alphawhale as a content strategist. In this role, I honed my skills in copywriting and strategy, contributing to their internal PR, social initiatives, and account management.
Curious to deepen my knowledge and driven by my passion for brand amplification, I joined No Standing, a full-service agency. I played a key role in shaping their social and PR services, supporting the launch of Reale, and collaborating with mentors in strategy, talent, and partnerships.
What motivated you to transition from working in a PR agency to in-house?
After a five year stint in agency life, I gained a clearer understanding of my preferences and priorities in the PR space. I met many wonderful people and worked on diverse projects. However, early in my career, I learned to define my values before taking the next leap.
The leap led me in-house, desiring to be part of something that allows me to make others feel ‘seen, heard & remembered’ as a storyteller. Women’s health is an area I’m incredibly passionate about.
When the role of PR & Communications Officer opened up at Ovarian Cancer Australia, it was the perfect fit. I felt incredibly fortunate that the team agreed, and I was also lucky to have Dakota as my recruitment consultant, hyping me up and holding my hand throughout the process!
Did your expectations of working in-house align with the reality of the role?
Before working on the brand side, I was always a little sceptical. I enjoyed the dynamic and fast-paced nature on the other side. It was hard to imagine focusing solely on one brand, as I had heard rumours of it being “boring” when within the agency bubble.
Even though it’s only been six months, my in-house role has brought forth many new challenges and unique opportunities. Now, I get to work with many people across different backgrounds with similar values in a not-for-profit setting.
Within the PR landscape, I can focus on building stronger connections in a more specialised niche, without that occasional feeling of being spread too thin across different industries or projects.
How have the skills you developed in a PR agency setting translated to your in-house role?
Transitioning in-house came at the perfect time as I had deepened my understanding of my strengths and cultivated relationships within the commercial space, aligning them with my passion for purpose-driven work.
This shift is allowing me to improve as a writer, with a focus on blending rationality and emotion. It’s fulfilling going to work each day, knowing we have a platform to support many women and families impacted. I’m grateful to play a part in making a difference and amplifying the voices of those affected by ovarian cancer.
Were there any cultural adjustments you had to make during the transition?
Working in startup agencies has proven to be the best decision early in my career, providing me with hands-on experience. However, in these roles, I often worked more independently or within smaller teams unless clients utilised multiple services.
In my current position, I not only have the opportunity to collaborate with our Marketing, Fundraising & Communications team but also to closely work with our Support & Advocacy team. This allows me to understand the incredible work our Helpline nurses and psychosocial team do to provide support, as well as dive deeper into our consumer base and the holistic impact the organisation is continuously striving for.
Has your work-life balance changed since transitioning to an in-house role? If so, in what ways?
I’ve always been incredibly ambitious, and my identity has often been closely tied to the work I do. In the past, this attachment has led me to burn out, as I haven’t always prioritised myself.
One of my most significant lessons from last year was recognising the need to shift this tendency. I’ve since joined a team that values ensuring you take care of yourself to be effective at work, especially given the sometimes heavy nature of our responsibilities.
To balance this, I’ve been exploring various passions outside of my job. These include creative writing, practising yoga, and studying the nervous system, which I’ll be documenting through Imagination Collective.
What hurdles did you face transitioning, and how did you overcome them?
This might not be the case for everyone moving in-house, but for me, the biggest hurdle has been the heaviness of the work we do at OCA. Ovarian cancer is Australia’s deadliest female cancer, with a 49% five-year survival rate.
I was definitely in the honeymoon phase at the beginning, riding a wave off the back of a powerful event I helped coordinate at Parliament House Canberra last September. Hearing the news that a woman who left a lasting impression on me has passed away really hit me hard. It truly emphasised the severity of this disease and fueled my passion to continue the fight.
In the six months since joining, the sector has secured numerous incredible wins, including a life-extending drug being listed on the PBS and a new detection test on the horizon. I feel incredibly grateful to play a small part in the journey and am determined to keep driving change.
How has your professional growth been influenced by your transition?
Throughout my experience in agencies, I’ve learned the significance of holistic collaboration across different roles. This mindset continues in my current role, where I constantly learn and strategically support other areas such as advocacy, partnerships, social media, and community fundraising.
As a PR professional, I recognise the importance of relationships. I prioritise understanding and supporting all stakeholders I engage with. Additionally, I value the support network available when needed—whether it involves brainstorming ideas with my manager, navigating sensitive conversations with clinical team members, or seeking insights from ambassadors to enhance their support for our campaigns.
What advice would you give to PR professionals considering a transition from agency to in-house?
Whether transitioning from agency to in-house or vice versa, recognising your values is crucial in the field of PR. Despite the potential glamour perceived from the outside, PR is a demanding career that requires persistence and adaptability.
Before making the shift, ensure that the new role aligns with your values and interests—that you’re ready to be one of its greatest advocates. The transition can be a bit of a culture shock, particularly when moving from focusing on many brands to just one.
I believe there’s considerable benefit in gaining experience on both the brand side and in an agency. It feels on par with the chicken or the egg scenario—what comes first? Having a background in both areas offers a better understanding of intricacies, whether collaborating with agency partners in-house or developing a deeper appreciation for performance metrics and ROI to support your clients’ KPIs.
Keen to chat with Emma about PR, the amazing work Ovarian Cancer Australia does or about making the transition from agency to in-house? Connect with her on LinkedIn today!