Breaking Down Differences: In-House vs. Agency PR

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Time and time again, there’s always one question we constantly hear from students preparing to begin a PR career… “Should I begin working in-house or experience an agency setting?”

To set the record straight - there really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this age-old debate among PR pros. Before joining the Peritus team last October, I spent more than three years in the nonprofit sector as Mobile Baykeeper’s communications director, where I wore just about every hat imaginable under the PR and marketing umbrella in a communications department team consisting of me, myself and I.

One day I was chief editor and digital strategist and the next day I was media buyer and graphic designer. From drafting press releases and blog posts translating complex environmental issues into layman’s terms to getting my “fifteen seconds of fame” promoting fundraising events across every broadcast and radio station in town, no day was ever the same in this always challenging but ever rewarding non-profit role.

Fast forward nine months ahead – and now I’m getting a taste of the other side of the PR spectrum in the fast-paced and dynamic environment of a growing boutique public relations firm. For me, the transition has been a welcome change of pace. Each day brings a new adventure collaborating with clients of all industries, budget sizes, communications needs, unique challenges and personality dynamics to help them accomplish their goals and connect our communities for a brighter Alabama.  

Are there pros and cons to each? Of course, as there are with any decision you will make in your career. But before you go picking sides, it’s important to understand three key differences from each perspective of the PR world to determine which one might be a better fit for you.

1)     Teamwork makes the dreamwork

Depending on what type of entity you work for in-house, you might be the only communications staff member or work on a small team who reports to higher-ups that may not always prioritize or understand communications value. While the C-suites and executive directors aren’t typically PR pros by nature, their leadership experience, vast networks and extensive brand knowledge will benefit your career in other ways.

When working at agency, you’re surrounded by a team of fellow communications experts who share similar challenges and can help brainstorm roadblocks from familiar experiences, or nerd out and celebrate with you when you secure that big media hit you’ve been pitching for your client. A fair warning – collaborating on a team of perfectionists also means an extra round or two of track changes than handling on your own.   


2)     Become your own expert

The expertise you gain through the lens of an agency will be quite different than your experience with an in-house position. Managing a wide range of clients means you’ll need to keep your research cap on constantly and quickly digest many industries. While this fast-paced work environment energizes the agency veterans, it certainly isn’t for everyone.

On the other hand, an in-house role gives you the opportunity to focus entirely on one brand and know your company’s story inside and out…so much that you might even find yourself reciting the elevator speech in your sleep or in any random airplane or brewery conversation (Hypothetically speaking…of course).


3)     Pursue your passion

If there’s a cause you’re passionate about or a specific industry that interests you, finding an in-house role with a company who aligns with your interests might be the best way to jumpstart your PR career.

Not sure yet? Switch gears and pursue an agency with a diverse roster of clients instead. Working with brands across a variety of industries will help you discover which ones you enjoy most…and which ones you wouldn’t mind kindly passing along to the new guy or gal in the office eager to get their feet wet.

My PUBLISHED by Peritus takeaway is this:

Find what motivates you to wake up and go to work each morning – whether it’s managing multiple types of client projects at a fast-paced agency or being the communications jack of all trades for a company whose mission or values you connect with. If you’re on the fence and want to learn more, try reaching out to fellow young professionals or industry leaders who can offer insight from each perspective to help you make a more informed decision.

Should you still try an in-house role if you start at an agency and feel like it’s the right fit for you? Not necessarily. Does that mean you have to stay in an agency setting your whole career? Of course not.

Find where your passion and strengths best align in the PR industry and stick with it…wherever that may be. But if you feel it’s time for a change, don’t be afraid to take a leap into the other side of the PR spectrum.