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What It's Like Working in Social at an Agency
Featuring an interview with Daniel Taroy, senior social strategist at R/GA.
If you are a fan of the social presence from any big brand, there’s probably an agency behind it. While these brand’s might have in-house social teams, they are most likely still partnering with an agency on strategy, community management, and/or execution. These agencies can range from traditional advertising agencies that have been around forever to new, digital-first agencies that solely focus on social media. It’s a world of social that I am not too familiar with (I’ve really only ever done social in-house at a brand) but am fascinated by. Which is why I am thrilled that my former co-worker and current friend Daniel Taroy agreed to break down what it’s like doing social at an agency.
I worked with Daniel back at Condé Nast when I was at Bon Appétit and he was at Vanity Fair. He recently made the switch over to the agency world, and is now the senior social strategist at R/GA, a global digital agency that is considered one of the best. (The R/GA Twitter is also particularly great.) Read the full interview below for the differences between in-house vs agency, salary expectations, and tips for getting into this specific field.
Rachel Karten: Can you tell me a bit about what you currently do and any previous social media roles you’ve had?
Daniel Taroy: I’m a senior social strategist at R/GA, a digital advertising agency. I’m the social expert for clients and my internal team on any given campaign; I also oversee community management and content strategy across different accounts. Before this, I was head of social at Vanity Fair, but I’ve also had roles in social media at People and Fast Company.
RK: I am curious about why you wanted to make the shift into the agency side of social, especially coming from editorial.
DT: My background has only been editorial: I majored in magazine journalism and, for the first seven years after graduating, I worked in magazines—magazine social media, specifically. That’s a long time to work in a constantly-evolving field, especially in an editorial capacity where social is considered a promotional tool first and foremost. I wanted to try using social media in a way that wasn’t always driving clicks back to a website. Making the shift was exciting because agencies have such a diverse portfolio of clients, and I wanted to flex my social muscles in new ways across different brand voices, KPIs, etc. It’s been a crash course in non-editorial social, for sure.
RK: What was the interview process like? Were you hired to work on a specific brand at the agency? Or is that something that happens post-hire?
DT: Honestly, it was incredibly chill. Rather than giving me a writing assignment or asking me to put together a mock campaign brief, they just wanted to chat and gauge my ~vibe. Agencies prefer to let your work speak for itself; that’s why everyone has a portfolio. So it was just a few rounds of chatting with my soon-to-be manager and other people I’d be working closely with. All told, it was about a four-week process.
And I was told from the get-go that I was being hired for one brand/account. I think generally you’re given an idea of what client(s) you’d be working with.
RK: Can you walk me through a typical day? How much of the work you do on a day-to-day basis is strategy vs. actual posting?
DT: It was easier to have a “typical day” back when I was allocated to just one account. When you’re spread across different accounts, it really just depends on what the needs are for the various projects you’re working on at any given time. But generally, mornings tend to start with a status meeting or two, and then you’re in a crush of more meetings—anywhere from a briefing where you’re getting onboarded onto a new project to multiple rounds of internal reviews of creative work ahead of a client presentation. And that’s not even including the various client-facing meetings you have to make sure all needs are being met! Honestly, there are days when you have so many meetings about the work, you end up losing time to actually do the work.
And believe it or not, I don’t handle actual posting anymore. It’s still the hardest thing to get used to at an agency, especially coming from editorial where social managers are often strategists, creatives, community managers, and analysts all at the same time. Here, our community managers handle all the posting, but because I manage them, I’m still closer to the posting process than most strategists are. I make sure they have all the assets and info they need to post, but it’s not my finger on the ‘Publish’ button.
RK: Is there a project or post that you’re particularly proud of? What was it?
DT: It’s not a project per se, but I’m proud of all of the copywriting opportunities I’ve had since starting. Strategists typically never work on creative, i.e., writing tweets or any kind of social copy. But while I was working on Uber, I finagled a cool little hybrid role for myself where I was able to directly conceptualize and execute smaller social campaigns that our creative team was too busy to handle themselves. So my editorial experience let me shoulder my way into tasks beyond strategy.
Right now, I’m working on Verizon—our biggest client—and that team is always cranking out really cool, experimental work. And we’ve got such cool shit planned for this year’s S*per B*wl and Oscars. But I can’t speak to that right now, unforch.
RK: What’s been the most exciting part of working in social at an agency?
DT: The innovation. Not to make a comparison with editorial again, but I’m still not used to working with such big teams. And these are all people who also come from a variety of backgrounds, if not with their actual careers then with the kinds of clients that they’ve worked with. All of that lends itself to an environment where people have different approaches to social media beyond ‘social copy + link = tweet.’
RK: What’s been an aspect that’s been more difficult to adjust to?
DT: The whole not-posting thing is a double-edged sword. I’m the kind of person who’s used to owning a project from start to finish; I miss coming up with an idea and then also being the person responsible for executing it. Now, if I say we should join a Twitter trend or a TikTok challenge, I don’t get to decide exactly what that looks like. That’s hard!
RK: As someone who worked in editorial social as well, I think we both know the salary is...lacking in that industry. Can you talk a bit about how agency salaries compare to publishing salaries?
DT: I was actually sent an anonymous agency salary spreadsheet a few months ago, which was definitely illuminating for me, as someone still pretty new to the industry. So what I can say is: generally speaking, yes, agencies pay a bit more than editorial. But from what I can tell, it also depends largely on the agency and the kinds of accounts they have. An agency dealing with the Googles, Metas, and telcos (ed note: embarrassing that I had to look this up—it means telephone companies) of the world will probably pay more. But according to that spreadsheet, a senior/associate director level job can fluctuate $20-30K depending on where you go.
RK: Any advice for people who want to get into social media at an agency?
DT: This is going to be contradictory advice, oops: double down on social, but also expand your idea of what strategy means. What I mean by that is, even at R/GA, there aren’t many social strategists; I’m the lone one in our New York office. That’s a real opportunity to become an expert in this area and be an indispensable asset to multiple accounts, all of whom will ask to work with you at one point or another. That’s a great way to get noticed and prove your worth.
But on the flip side, social can be your entry point to a larger world. There are so many other kinds of strategy—brand, influencer, experiential—that are also informed by social. Keeping an open mind just means exposure to more opportunities and different kinds of storytelling.
I am working on a newsletter about why social media managers leave the field. I wrote a previous newsletter with one person’s thoughts on this, but I know there are more reasons beyond just this one. And I want to try and figure out the bigger trends that are causing people to move on from working in social media. If you are thinking about leaving or have left, I’d be so grateful if you could fill out this form! All answers will be anonymous.