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In the partner post to this one, I presented 14 reasons why working in public relations in-house kicks agency butt. This post, obviously, presents the flipside.
Working in a PR agency is one of the most exciting, valuable and positive experiences any PR professional can have. In the early years of your career, in particular, you are less hamstrung by process and get your hands on a range of projects. Agency employees are often perceived as experts; it presents a range of professional and life opportunities; and you are surrounded by peers who understand the discipline and provide excellent support.
What do you need to work in a PR agency? Hunger and a can-do attitude. Wallflowers need not apply
But what do you think?
The advantages of agency PR roles
1. As you are working at a remove from an organisation, this distance often allows you to see issues more objectively and more clearly, thus helping develop solutions that those in the ‘organisational mist’ don’t generate.
2. Without a doubt, working in an agency is a more pressurised, and hence more dynamic, environment than in-house. This can facilitate a quick learning curve because of the exposure to different responsibilities you are given and the faith that is placed in your skills.
3. You are more likely to be perceived as being an expert in a certain area of professional communication (i.e. look at how agency employees dominate speaker line ups at conferences). Social media is currently an excellent example of this, but so is government relations/lobbying, media relations and CSR.
4. Speaking of experts, Geoff Kelly made the excellent point in a Public Relations of Australia LinkedIn discussion of my preceding post that often external consultants are respected and viewed as experts partially because they are…external! Great for both self-esteem and getting relevant, productive and interesting communication programs into play.
5. Despite often being introduced to an organisation to carry out tactical projects (with media relations and social media being king and queen), this often evolves into agencies making important strategic contributions to an organisation’s communication. This can be relevant to the specific project an agency is brought on-board for, or it can evolve into a broader remit, one that impacts on the fundamental nature of an organisation’s communication.
6. Winning new business is a great buzz. It needs to be, because as you get more senior in an agency it will always part of your responsibilities. The new biz process is outside the ‘PR process’ (strategy and tactics), but PR pros’ typical skills of networking, customising activity to stakeholder needs and empathy strongly come into play in the new business process. For some, it is an additive elixir…and it is ALWAYS a challenge.
7. Through interaction with a diverse range of businesses, issues and people, you will learn a lot about the world and you will, without even trying, be presented with a range of opportunities – PR/work-related and personal. You just need to be sensitive to these opportunities and not sleep walk through life.
8. By working with a variety of clients and in a diversity of industries, it gives you a great insight into the sorts of PR areas and industries you’d like to work in. This doesn’t mean you have to devote your entire career to these niche areas or industries, but it can help you learn where you will be most fulfilled.
PR areas include media relations, social media, CSR, public affairs, issues & crisis management, publications (e.g. annual reports) community liaison, event management, consumer, B2B and many more.
Industries include FMCG, utilities, renewables, NFP, government, engineering, architecture, resources and many more.
9. You can progress your career more quickly. Opportunities tend to come up in agencies for promotion more often than in-house. The war for talent seems to be stronger in agencies than in-house and agencies work hard to offer interesting roles at competitive packages. This means you can nearly always negotiate different responsibilities, experiences and opportunities into your role, even if increased remuneration isn’t always an option on the table.
10. You are less likely to be typecast into roles, which can occur in-house. Recruiters love to pigeonhole candidates. It makes their lives easier. Working in an agency means you are perceived, as a default, as being very flexible and able to adapt to the needs of a diversity of roles and industry areas.
11. It is much easier to get an in-house role with an agency background than the other way around. The former is the more common path. The simple reason is that if you have proved yourself in the furnace of agency life, you should definitely be able to make it in the, typically, less mentally and emotionally draining/demanding world of in-house PR.
12. One of my highly respected peers, Graham White (@GWhiteOz), believes it is less lonely working in PR when you are in an agency. Possibly Graham thinks that because in an agency you will have many (or very many!) PR peers who have a good understanding of the pressures and opportunities of working in the field. Working in-house you may be a sole operator or part of a small team, which can lead to perceptions of not feeling understood or appreciated in your role. ‘MadeTheSwitch’ said as much after making the switch to in-house PR. And in the same comments section Nicola said she really struggled to get moral and professional support.
13. You can generally negotiate a greater degree of work-life balance into an agency role. This is my experience, anyway. Promises of working from home and flexible hours are easy to give, but not so easy for any organisation/agency to follow through with, no matter how well-intentioned. The employee – not the employer – really needs to ensure the promises are fulfilled. There are no free passes in this area.
14. You are less likely to waste your life away in meetings when working in an agency, according to Marc Cornelius, who flagged this in a Public Relations and Communications Professionals LinkedIn discussion. By implication, you get to spend more time on ‘doing’ and ‘achieving’ then pontificating. Fair comment, I thought.
15. You are less likely to fall victim to client internal politics when you are working in an external agency, Marc also said. I don’t think this is necessarily true; politics has a way of wending its fingers around you when you work with a client long enough!
16. Working in an agency can lead to equity in the business. This is great if you want to eventually run your own show. You can often get experience in running a business in an agency environment, which is obviously beneficial if you have ambitions to run your own show. It can also lead to you making more money than you otherwise would have, which applies to both agency and in-house experiences.
17. And one final point. If you are in a global PR agency (and there are plenty of them) there are opportunities to work overseas for the same agency. Ah, if only I was smart enough to figure that one out when I was younger!
I always counsel less experienced practitioners to get at least a few years of agency experience under their belt. It is a dynamic, fast moving, pressurised environment that is a lot of fun. You are expected to deliver and deliver fast. Working in-house can lead to this high quality delivery mentality too, but with agency you are much more likely to get there quicker and to keep it. I highly recommend it.
What are your thoughts on working in a PR agency? What are your good and bad experiences? Is there one environment you prefer working in – agency or in-house? What do you think about the positive points of working in a PR agency made in this post?
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