Viewers watched the characters of “Mad Men” go their separate ways during the show’s series finale Sunday night, with some staying in agency work and
others moving to companies or embarking on solo projects.
The show has offered many parallels to PR, including public relations pointers and client lessons. One additional parallel is the differences between working on communications
campaigns in an agency versus within a company.
Here are five differences between working at a PR firm and toiling in an organization’s PR department:
1. Clients and projects
“As a PR professional, working on a variety of clients allows you to become an expert in several different industries,” says David Parkinson, CEO of Method
Communications. “You get to develop your own brand, because you’re interacting with clients and journalists across the spectrum, instead of being
pigeonholed into a specific industry.”
Parkinson says agency work requires PR pros to “be great multitaskers,” but for communicators working in firms, juggling responsibilities for many clients
By contrast, in-house PR pros can get to know a particular company and industry very well, often becoming an expert in that position.
“You’re able to go deep in a specific area and really see progress over time,” says Austin Langlois, global PR associate at Amway.
Langlois says in-house PR work can sometimes have a niche focus, but it brings a greater “depth of experience.” It also gives communicators more
opportunities to concentrate on the brand and its day-to-day engagement with consumers.
2. Daily workload
Working at a PR agency can be quite different from endeavors inside an organization, but there are similarities.
PR consultant Jeremy Pepper says that when he worked in-house as well as at an agency, his days involved reading emails, trade publications and press clips
and preparing for the tasks and meetings scheduled that day (and into the week.)
As far as PR pros’ choosing whether to work at an organization or an agency, Pepper says it comes down to what you’re looking for in a career, including
the types of client experiences you want on your resume.
However, if you’re looking for people to celebrate (or commiserate) with, remember that your in-house co-workers won’t really get what it is you do all
“At an agency, it's a collective of similar-minded people all focused on clients,” Pepper says. “In-house, it's a group of various people that are working
toward the same goal for the company, but outside others in PR, very few people understand what you might be doing, or what goes into PR.”
3. Content creation and sharing
PR and marketing pros are under constant pressure to create content for the audiences of their brands and clients. Does hiring an agency take the pressure
off in-house PR teams?
Pepper says it depends on the type of content. An agency should be able to create social media content—some even ghost-write blog posts and guest
articles—but brand managers will pay a premium for PR agency pros to work overtime on content creation if the need arises. That’s not the only
“While you want your agency to create content for you as a client, a lot of time it is hard for the agency to be a true topic matter expert and not fully
be able to create the content—if you're looking for deeper than the usual [Facebook] posts,” Pepper says. “The key for in-house or outsourcing is to know
the expectations and have a clear set of [tasks].”
Pepper also highlighted the importance of knowing proper practices for using images, including knowing copyright guidelines. Using an image without proper
permission and attribution can potentially bring more work—and a headache—to PR pros that have to fix a mistake.
Whether brand managers use an agency or their own company’s communications professionals to get the job done, both types of PR pros should know how to
create and share high-quality content.
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4. Crisis management
Parkinson says agencies have “built-in expertise” for dealing with crises, because putting out fires is an ongoing activity.
“Agencies also have the advantage of more people to bounce ideas off. When a crisis comes up with one of our clients, we run it by several people—some of
whom are not even on the account—before any statement or plan goes out the door,” Parkinson says. “For in-house PR pros, that opportunity to collaborate
with other seasoned PR pros can be harder to come by.”
Iain Alexander, founder of Film Industry Network, says using an agency in times of a crisis also brings many resources and expertise to the brand in
“Big agencies have far more relationships with the media, quite often in multiple industries that you can leverage,” says Alexander.
However, one shouldn’t discount the ability of an in-house PR pro or team to handle a firestorm.
Not only will an organization’s PR staff have quick access to executives and other brand experts for crisis responses and apologies, they often have a
better knowledge of the company and situation.
“The pros of working in-house are that you know your business and you don't have to explain to a new team the scale of your problem or what you're trying
to prevent,” Alexander says.
He warns, however, that companies in major crises might have to bring in the big guns.
“If you've got a major crisis, your internal team might not have the capacity to deal with it or have the relationships to mitigate a crisis that goes
national [or] international,” Alexander says.
5. Embracing new trends
Pepper says PR firms should be on top of the latest trends and should test them out in order to give proper counsel to clients. This is important in
deciding whether the hot new social media platform is right for your company.
However, bringing in an agency expertise isn’t always possible.
“For a small-business owner, hiring a PR agency to bring a product to market will probably be unaffordable, so it might be more realistic to go with a
freelancer as a first step to creating that in-house team,” Alexander says.
It’s important for brand executives and communications professionals alike to realize there’s no “one size fits all” answer for deciding between in-house
PR and a PR agency. Every organization—and perhaps, every project in that organization—requires something different.
“The reality is that the PR (and marketing) industry is pretty much in constant defense mode to those who do not understand it,” Jennifer Leggio, founder
and president of Security Marketing Strategy, once wrote in Forbes. “Sparring over ‘do
or don’t’ or pitting one type of employee against another only further fuels speculation that perhaps this industry is not serving the growth of businesses
as well as it should.”