Working in corporate communications can be an exciting and rewarding career path and there are many opportunities available with in-house communications teams and with PR agencies. As an Executive Search firm based in London, we’ve seen public relations professionals take on amazing roles in both environments and grow successful careers. When our Salary Guide 2022 revealed that PR specialists are now a staggering six times more likely to want to move in-house than join an agency we asked PR and Communications Senior Advisor, Charles Ansdell to share his thoughts on the topic of agency v in-house.
There is no simple answer as to which is best overall, so it’s important to really understand which option will suit you personally. We take a look at how working for a public relations consultancy (“agency”) varies from life as a comms professional for a single organisation (“in-house”) and we consider the benefits of each.
While both options have their advantages, there are several reasons why someone might choose to work for a PR agency instead of in-house.
Here are some of the key reasons:
1. Exposure to a wide range of clients and industries
One of the most significant benefits of working for a PR agency is the opportunity to work with a wide range of clients and industries. As an agency employee, you will have the chance to work on multiple client accounts simultaneously, allowing you to develop a broad range of skills and experience. You'll be able to work with a variety of different types of clients, giving you the chance to learn about and explore diverse industries. You may end up then specialising in one or two of these industry sectors.
2. Fast-paced work environment
PR agencies are known for their fast-paced work environment, and for those who thrive on challenge and variety, an agency can be an exciting place to work. You'll be working on multiple accounts, pitching stories to journalists, drafting press releases and messaging, and managing crises. This fast-paced environment will keep you on your toes, and you'll have the opportunity to work with a highly motivated team.
3. Opportunity for career growth
Working at a PR agency can provide excellent opportunities for career growth. As you work on multiple accounts, often in a matrix structure, you will work with and learn from lots of experienced colleagues. There is a clear career path and it’s possible to get promoted regularly making you feel that you are progressing quickly. You will likely be given the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role, manage client accounts as you gain more experience as an advisor, and you'll be encouraged to pursue ongoing professional development.
4. More variety in your work
In-house PR teams often focus on the specifics, which can be limiting in terms of the variety of work you do. At a PR agency, you'll have the opportunity to advise on multiple clients across different industries and sectors. Some of those sectors may be more conservative and reactive with their communications and others will be more open to creative proactive positioning or repositioning campaigns. This variety will keep your work interesting, up-to-date and you'll have the chance to develop a wide range of PR, digital, social and branding skills that you may not have the opportunity to develop in an in-house role.
5. Networking opportunities
Working for a PR agency can provide excellent networking opportunities. As you work with multiple clients, you'll have the chance to connect with a range of industry professionals, from journalists, analysts, bankers, lawyers to other PR professionals. Additionally, many PR agencies hold networking events or attend industry conferences, providing further opportunities to meet and connect with other professionals in the field. This network is invaluable and will be useful throughout your career.
While working at a PR agency can provide many benefits, there are also advantages to working in-house. Here are some reasons why someone might choose an in-house PR role over an agency role:
1. Deep understanding of the company and industry
When working in-house, you'll have the opportunity to become an expert in your company's industry, products, and services. You'll be working closely with internal stakeholders, such as C-Suite executives, heads of business units/departments, product managers, and sales teams, and you'll have access to internal resources and information that can help you develop a more comprehensive understanding of your company and its offerings. This deep understanding can be valuable in developing effective communication strategies and building relationships with external stakeholders, such as journalists and industry influencers.
2. More focus on one client
In-house PR teams typically focus on promoting and protecting their own company's reputation, whereas agency PR teams work on behalf of multiple clients. When working in-house, you'll be able to devote all of your attention to one client, allowing you to build deeper relationships and create more targeted and effective communication strategies. You'll also have the opportunity to work closely with internal stakeholders, giving you a greater degree of control over the messaging and positioning of your company. Having said that, a Director of Comms is dependent on a CEO and the management board valuing communications. If the people who run the business and create the strategy are not interested in communicating their strategy and the Director of Comms doesn’t hold a seat at the boardroom table, then comms may have less influence and impact overall. Understanding whether a company values communications is good to know before joining.
3. Stronger connection to the company's values and mission
Working in-house can provide a stronger connection to the company's values and mission. As an employee, you'll be part of the organisation and have a vested interest in its success. You'll also have a greater sense of ownership over the company's reputation and communications strategies, which can be highly motivating especially if the company has a clear purpose.
4. More stability and predictable workload
PR agencies are known for their fast-paced, deadline-driven work environments, which can be exciting and challenging but also stressful. Working in-house can provide a more stable and predictable workload, with fewer surprises and a greater ability to plan and prioritise your work. This can be a good fit for those who prefer a more planned out approach to their work schedule and environment. That’s not to say that all in-house roles are ‘easier’ as that isn’t the case, however, when you handle several clients in an agency, there is more potential for something requiring your immediate attention on a Friday afternoon.
5. Opportunity to specialise
When working in-house, you may have the opportunity to specialise in a particular area of PR, such as media relations, digital communications, financial comms, or crisis management. This can be valuable in developing deep expertise and skills in a specific area, which can be beneficial for your career growth and advancement.
So there you have it, both agency and In-house offer amazing opportunities to grow and develop. At The Works Search, we are experts in matching the right candidate to the right position and can help you to understand more deeply which roles will suit you best. You can find out more about how we work with Senior PR and Communications professionals here.
For a free download of our full Annual Salary Guide 2022, click here.
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The Works Search is a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and are known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org