When I told people that I was moving to work at a PR agency, having spent all of my communications and marketing career working in-house, I got a few questions. Quite a number of people assumed that there would be a huge gulf between agency and in-house life that would take me a while to get used to.
I did start to get nervous and wonder if these people knew something I didn’t. Would the clients be terrifying? Would I be out of my depth? Was this going to be a horrible mistake?
Essentially, my work now involves understanding clients’ needs – what their strategy and priorities are and how we can help them to achieve those aims. I listen to them, advise on issues, have meetings, discuss over emails and phone calls, draft articles and press releases, and deal with journalists. That’s pretty much what I did in-house too.
There is a difference though. Working at an agency feels much more ‘front line’ – if that doesn’t sound too over dramatic. As an in-house communications person, I was able to use an agency as a buffer between the media and me if I needed to. I could also off-load work that I didn’t have time for, secure in the knowledge that the agency was packed full of experts both on writing and the relevant industry sector who could pick up the article and do a fantastic job.
That luxury is no longer available to me. I am the buffer. I am the person to whom things are off-loaded. Luckily, I enjoy it. It’s a great challenge and opportunity. I am being stretched and educated, and as that continues I am able to provide better counsel and expertise to our clients.
In addition, I am surrounded by people who do a similar job to me. We all have different experiences and talents, but we understand the nature of our work, I can bounce ideas off my colleagues (keeping in mind confidentiality of course) and pick up advice and tips in a way that can be harder in a small in-house team. Where I sit now also provides a healthy sense of perspective, which is refreshing.
Being in-house and doing PR for one company, you have the huge advantage of knowing all the necessary internal detail, but it’s easy to get deeply entrenched in the daily minutiae. You sit in an internal echo chamber that might shelter you from a broader understanding of the market you operate in, or from further developing professional skills. With a slight distance, you can provide considered advice from an external source that offers an external – dare I say a slightly broader – perspective that is incredibly helpful to the client, including offering significant support to the in-house team.
Some PR practitioners are firmly wedded to being in-house or agency. I find that – rather unsurprisingly – there are pros and cons, and differences and similarities to both situations. You will always have to manage stakeholders, negotiate politics, and manage relationships with colleagues wherever you work.
I’m delighted to discover that I enjoy both roles, but more importantly, having experienced each side gives me a great advantage in understanding the pressures both on in-house teams as well as external advisers.
In the end, whether your clients are at the next desk, on the other side of town – or even the globe – the key is to be confident in your expertise and the value that you can offer as a PR adviser. The job is about doing your absolute best to get your clients’ messages across in a clear, engaging and convincing way, and you can do that well wherever you sit.