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Hiring an agency vs. building an in-house team – Consumer PR Heads of Media and PR Managers advise

07 Oct 2015 by Sarah Leembruggen.

A successful campaign will help expand your business in ways you could never on your own, but hiring an agency to carry out that campaign is no longer the first port of call for many businesses.  PR services are not cheap and there is no guarantee that the campaign is going to produce the desired results, so when the right time to hire an agency, and – if you do hire one – how can you ensure that you pick a good match?

Catherine Bayles, Head of Media Relations at Eurostar, believes that if you work with an agency, the relationship needs to be viewed as a true partnership. 

“I firmly believe that you should think of your PR agency as part of your team, not as a third party,” she explains.  “While they will work with more than just your account, you should never feel as though they are working with anyone but you.” 

Catherine recommends looking for an agency with a similar approach to the one you adopt in-house. “You must never lose sight of the fact that you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people, so look at the relationship as all inclusive, not an average client-agency collaboration.  Working together as partners is the only way to have amazing PR success and reach the goals you have for your business.”

While looking for a good track record in delivering results and an understanding of the brand are critical in the selection process, it’s equally important to seek out evidence that the agency has a genuine passion and belief in the pitch.  The Head of Consumer PR at one leading retailer explained how agencies have come in, all guns blazing, with fabulous ideas and a big budget, but with little or no strategy to support their amazing pitch.  At the end of the day, Heads of Media need to see that the agency will see the campaign through and make their dazzling promises a reality.

If you have clear objectives for your business and the resources to support your investment, hiring a PR agency can be a very smart move.  But it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.  Not every business will have the budget to seek external PR counsel and will focus instead on growing their in-house function, as is the case with many upcoming challenger brands.

When we spoke to Amy Grimshaw, European PR Manager at online designer furniture retailer Made.com, she revealed that they were not using the services of any agencies for their consumer PR in the UK.  Amy is in charge of all their campaigns and heads up the small and very busy in-house team of two.  “The key reason is that our business model is all about cutting out the middle men – this includes agencies where possible but also, in-house teams know more about the brand – the depth of their understanding is hard to match.”  Aiming to differentiate their original products from the leading brands, the focus at Made.com is to promote their uniqueness to certain segments of the market. “We don’t see ourselves as a High Street brand,” explains Amy, “and we rely on very different ways to engage with consumers.  I think this drives the desire to hire in-house as we grow our PR function.”

It’s a similar story at online furniture retailer Loaf, where all PR is handled in-house, headed up by their Communications Manager and Head of News, Sally Flower.  With a team to support her, Sally believes that an understanding of the brand grows hand in hand with the company culture.  “We can put 100 per cent of our focus and energy into the brand and produce work of a better calibre,” she says.  “Our goal is to stand out from the crowd, we have a clearly defined view of what success looks like – and we can accomplish these things with our in-house team.”

The Works specialise in placing high flyers in PR and corporate communications. We have a strong track record of placing with professional services and offer career-making advice. Do get in touch if you would like our support building your team.

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