Agency vs. In-house PR: Choosing the path that is right for you

by Regina Pyne on April 29, 2010

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During the current economic decline, most professionals and students looking for jobs do not have the luxury to be picky about where they apply or what positions they accept. However, it is still important to find a job that suits your skill set and personality.  For PR professionals, that usually means choosing between agency life and in-house communications departments.

I recently attended a panel discussion at the Entertainment Publicists Professional Society about how to choose between working in PR at an agency or in-house at an organization.  The panel consisted of Adam Fenton (SVP, Bender, Helper Impact), Lisa Gephardt (Sr. Director, Corporate Communications, Sony), Elissa Johansmeier, (VP, Publicity & Corporate Communications, Fox Broadcasting), and Brian Strong (Founder and President, The Strong Group Public Relations).  Here are some of the highlights and tips that came out of that discussion.

Agency:

  • At an agency, since you work with more than one client at a time, there tends to be more diversity in the projects you work on and even the types of clients you will work with on a daily basis.
  • Agencies tend to work at a faster pace, with employees constantly jumping around from one project to another and one client to another.  If you are looking to work at an agency, it is important for you to be able to juggle multiple projects at one time and not lose sight of the overall goals.  Successful time management is vital at agencies.
  • Working at an agency, especially for those just starting out in PR, could provide more exposure to different public relations techniques, campaign elements, etc. that will provide additional learning opportunities.
  • Since agencies are constantly looking for new clients, there is always an opportunity to work on an exciting account or change your specialization.  If your account load seems a bit one sided, new clients can provide you with the opportunity to be exposed to new verticals and widen your knowledge base.

In-House:

  • PR professionals who work in-house in a communications department often times have the opportunity to be more focused on overall strategy.  Although agencies do provide recommendations on strategy, professionals working in-house are usually tasked with making the final decision on strategic direction or even creating complete campaigns.
  • If you decide to work in-house at an organization, make sure you have a personal interest in the area the company is in or at least enjoy working in that industry.  You will only have one client if you work in-house so you should have a passion for what they do and what they offer.
  • The in-house experience will frequently allow you to take a deeper dive into each project.  You may be tasked with running a campaign from start to finish, instead of just touching on certain aspects of the campaign, which often times happens at an agency.
  • In-house work can be very repetitive.  If you are the type of person who likes to do similar tasks for a long length of time, this is the job for you.

Depending on the size of the agency and the organization you are working for in-house, your experience could be very different than what was described during this panel.  Working at a large agency could have the look and feel of working in-house, depending on the agency.  PRSSA recently profiled a day in the life of a PR professional working at a small business, which closely resembles agency life.  It is vital for anyone going through the interview process to research the company before you apply for a position with them and know the size of the company, as well as its corporate culture.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marco Fiori 04.30.10 at 10:05 am

Very interesting arguments, thanks for sharing! I’m at my first PR job, at a small agency. It’s definitely more varied than I think in-house would be! The difference between big and small agencies is also different.

Regina Nisita 04.30.10 at 5:37 pm

Thanks for commenting, Marco! I agree, the difference between a big and small agency is also very different, but almost parallel to the difference between agency and in-house. Good luck at your first PR job!

Ed 06.13.11 at 7:50 am

Any comments on pay differentials?

james 07.16.11 at 10:01 am

I know its almost 12 months late but its still relevent as I search for my first full time job. I am currently awaiting the final decision from two employers- one of the top PR agencies in the UK, or in-house at a National Museum.- So which do I choose? the agency where I will work on different projects across different sectors, working the some of the top people in the industry but having to commute around 1hr each way and paying up to £1900 in travel. The agency’s salary is £17000-18000. Or in-house at the museum, similar job roles to the agency, no commuting as it’s in the town where I live, and the salary is £25,000.

Lauren 04.22.12 at 5:26 pm

I know I’m late too, but this is a really helpful blog post. I’m a PR major and was wondering if I could use one of your points as a direct quote for an article I am writing for a student publication, Platform Magazine (www.platformmagazine.org).
Thanks!

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