If you’re an entrepreneur, you know just how much decision making goes into starting and growing a successful company. From basic decisions like picking the right office space to crucial ones like hiring the right team, every choice matters.
Perhaps one of the most critical decisions you’ll face is determining the best channels -- and partners -- to help promote your brand’s message. When it comes to public relations, a regular question I hear from other founders is, “Should I hire someone internally or is it better to use an agency?”
The truth is, there’s no hard and fast answer to this question, as it depends on your individual company, needs, budget, time and preference. I’ve seen startups and Fortune 500 brands alike flourish using both methods. To help make the right call for your company, here are a few pros and cons of hiring in-house PR and partnering with an agency.
The pros and cons of a full-time, in-house PR specialist
When considering which route will provide your company with undivided attention, a full-time communications professional could be best. Without any other clients to occupy their time, they can focus solely on your brand and even tackle other projects, such as running an event, handling social media or crafting the perfect email blast.
You may also find it easier for an in-house publicist to grasp your brand’s story and essence quickly, simply because there’s a great deal of knowledge to be gained by working closely alongside the team and product. Lastly, some find the accessibility factor of an internal PR presence to be beneficial, largely because you can explain projects and strategies daily and in person rather than over communication channels or scheduled weekly calls with an agency.
However, there are also a few common drawbacks of bringing PR in-house. For starters, it’s more difficult than you might think to find a single expert who can execute on everything you need for a full-fledged PR campaign (e.g., graphics and creative, effective content writing, media pitching, coordinating and planning events, running social media, handling email marketing and more).
If you are lucky enough to find this magical being, they likely won’t come cheap. In some markets (and depending on desired experience level), hiring in-house can be more expensive than hiring an agency, especially when you factor in the perks and benefits required for full-time employees. Additionally, consider how much time and hands-on attention you can devote to onboarding and ongoing management, as this hire will need to be coached internally.
The pros and cons of a PR agency
When determining whether to take your PR in-house or to an agency, consider your budget and individual needs. For example, do you need help ironing out your messaging for consumers, partners or investors? Are you seeking advice or ongoing support on your web and social media presence? Would a content strategy help your company drive stronger results? If the answer to any or all of these questions is "yes," an agency may be your best bet.
At a PR firm, your budget can grant you access to a full bench of domain experts, including pitching specialists, content gurus, social media pros and more. If catching the attention of top-tier media is a priority for your brand, you may find that experienced PR firms really move the needle. When it comes to media pitching, in particular, an agency can usually crowdsource its strong media relationships to your benefit, which is tough for any single person to match.
Finally, you must honestly ask yourself how much energy you can devote to driving a PR strategy; for many busy founders, there just isn't enough time in the day. A good agency can drive this for you with a holistic approach -- managing you and providing deadlines, direction and honest counsel on strategy, best practices and opportunities worth pursuing.
On the other hand, not every PR firm is a fit for every company. I hear a lot of agency horror stories and issues that emerged for clients while working with past firms. Sometimes it can be challenging to feel that an external agency is really an extension of your team who “gets it” and who is fully up to speed and constantly in stride with your company.
Additionally, when working with a large agency, some clients perceive their PR team as too busy to focus on their brand. No company wants to feel like merely another retainer. Keep in mind, though, the responsibility of developing a successful relationship with a PR team does not fall solely on the agency. A strong PR strategy is a collaborative effort that cannot thrive without an adequate level of client buy-in. Often times, agencies tend to get pushed aside as a lesser priority because they are incorrectly viewed as simply a vendor, rather than a fundamental element of your team.
At the end of the day, you need to go with your gut and give one option a go. Maybe you’ll find a rockstar agency team that feels like it’s practically an internal department. Or perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to land a multitalented PR superstar looking to go in-house.
Business needs evolve as companies grow, and in turn, so do your PR needs. It’s possible your company is beyond the growth stage and ready to build out a larger internal communications team. As long as you factor PR in some capacity into your business strategy, you’re headed in the right direction.