Whether to hire an in-house public relations/marketing officer or to use an external consultancy is a question a lot of organisations face, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, not-for-profit and other organisations that have restrictive operating budgets.
Some companies employ in-house PR teams, others hire external PR agencies or, in the case of some of the larger organisations we work with, use a combination of the two. Naturally, there are pros and cons to each, and much of it depends on the size of the organisation, the type of business it is, available resources and the environments surrounding it.
The overarching goal of public relations within any organisation is to provide strategic support for a company and its products and ensure the highest quality of communications to foster a positive public perception of the company.
Having worked as part of an internal PR team, as well as running an agency, we can honestly say, there is no right or wrong answer. It is what works for your business and what will ultimately help you achieve your goals most successfully.
Here are a few factors to consider which might help you make that all-important decision:
Internal & External
An in-house PR manager will know your business inside and out and the depth of their understanding may be hard to match, whereas a PR company will have to spend time researching and working with you to understand your business. Since the in-house PR department only works for a specific organization or one client, they are able to give their full, undivided attention to PR matters. However, it can also be argued that this can spur less creativity as they are the only company focused.
If you appoint a PR consultancy, you are not just paying for their time and expertise, you are paying for their contacts and ongoing established relationships with journalists. A successful PR agency has the power to contact many influential members of the media, which can only be beneficial for organisations seeking to improve relations with the public.
The level of support will ultimately come down to budget. The cost of employing a PR consultancy can vary by thousands but don’t be put off by the common misconception that only large organisations can afford PR. The same could be said for hiring in-house because the experience of the person hired is limited by the budget you have to pay their wages.
In many cases, external support can be more cost-efficient than hiring an internal person because it is not just wages you have to consider. There are many extra resources you will need to support a PR person in their role, and the costs of supplying these for one organisation can be much greater than they would be through a PR consultancy where they can share these same costs across their portfolio of clients. This includes media monitoring, media contact platforms, necessary licenses to receive coverage, on-going training etc.
Combining internal resources with external support
Even if you have an in-house comms team, there may come a time when extra help is needed and the benefits of combining the two can deliver exceptional results.
An external PR team can deliver as much as you want for as long as you want, scaling up and back in time with the ebb and flow of your need for support. Sometimes internal resources may be stretched and PR can be one of the first things to fall by the wayside. But success in the media is delivered by consistency, so having someone constantly managing this for you on the side can be helpful.
An external PR team will not be emotionally connected to your company, therefore able to deliver a neutral perspective and give an objective analysis. Sometimes companies that handle PR in-house run the risk of being too biased towards their brand and editorial content can creep into more of a marketing pitch than a news piece, which will ultimately be rejected by journalists. A fresh pair of eyes may highlight opportunities that would otherwise be missed.
Your inhouse PR team may have a list of established contacts which they regularly contact but are they looking outside your own industry for further opportunities? For example, let’s say we are working with a company that wants to target landlords. The easy thing to do is focus on landlord specific websites or publications. But a landlord could be anyone, so you need to have contacts in a wide range of media from property and investment publications to money magazines and consumer lifestyle publications. An external PR team can bring fresh ideas and energy to a campaign, generating more opportunities and positive results than would otherwise be possible.
NOTE: One of the areas of confusion, when a company has both internal and external PR support, revolves around the roles and responsibilities of the teams. In order to strategically leverage public relations and foster a positive relationship between the two teams, the roles and responsibilities should be clearly outlined. It is also ideal if the external team and internal PR specialists and managers have shared expectations about processes and procedures.