PR professionals: What works better for you? Agency or in-house?

As a PR agency recruiter in Sydney, I face a different challenge to many recruiters in the current economic climate. There is no shortage of jobs, but there is a definite shortage of great PR agency talent. And the million-dollar question that my clients ask me is ‘WHY?’ In a job market that is often deemed to be suffering, shouldn’t people be standing in line for new roles at great agencies? Why is there not enough qualified talent to go around?

PR agencies struggle to identify, attract, and retain great talent in spite of competitive salary offerings, good benefits and great brands. My own observations from speaking to many PR candidates are that a lot of great talent, especially senior talent, are moving in-house, within corporate departments.

I found this intriguing and I wanted to know more, so I have asked questions from clients and candidates alike; those moving from in-house to agency and vice versa; those with strong opinions on either and both; and here are some opinions i’ve encountered:

– Hours are too long
– Culture at their organisation
– They are spread too thin
– Not getting credit for the work they are doing as a team (senior person gets the credit)
– Not enough support from their manager
– Frustration that their concerns are not heard

Some feel they have just had enough; that all agencies are the same and their issues will persist at any agency they move to, so they opt to move in-house.

The thing I’ve found, however, is that agencies in Sydney all have vastly different cultures, and this stereotype is not the case at all. I have met with many agencies who have “non-burnout” policies in place, people-centric hiring ideals, career-path mapping, access to top-level management to mentor and guide, and those who simply take the time to listen to their staff’s concerns and make changes to the role to keep them interested. These are the happiest candidates I’ve spoken to, and the agencies that retain the most staff.

So this poses the question: which is the right choice for you, agency or in-house? In order to answer that, you must first identify the true motivation for leaving your current place of employment, and then examine all sides of both agency and in-house.

In an agency, you will be exposed to a variety of clients, and are likely to work with a team of people to bounce ideas around. You’ll always be working on something new, and yes, you’ll be spinning a lot of plates at once. You’re likely to have the opportunity to manage and mentor staff or teams as you progress. Hours can vary and in some cases be longer than an in-house role, but again, this depends on the agency. Base salaries are overall lower than in-house, but there is opportunity for uncapped bonuses through new business wins. Some people say that they don’t get to know clients as well as they would in-house, however some agencies are so client-centric that it feels at though you’re working in-house for each client. On the downside, there may be less stability in agency-land if an account is lost. On the upside, positions open up and agency structure changes rapidly which allows for quick career progression.

In-house, you’re working on one client and learning it through and through, which some people like, but others miss the variety of agency. Some in-house companies do have multiple brands, which gives the feel of working for an agency. Hours are generally more predictable and stable, and many in-house roles offer extended paid maternity leave. The team is usually quite small, and could be just yourself or one other person, so ideas are likely to be more autonomously generated, and brainstorming creative ideas with a team is not possible. The pace of in-house is generally slower than agency, which suits some and not others depending on your personality. Your base salary will probably be higher than in agency, but you won’t get bonuses from bringing in new business.

While in a PR agency, people have different roles as they climb the ladder, in a client-side role you will still have the opportunity to execute all aspects of your PR strategy. Due to having smaller teams and less available roles, people staying in roles longer when client-side, so career progression in one company could be difficult.

So whether you’re working in-house or agency, if you’re making this change because of the culture, do a little more homework. There are companies out there that really care about their staff and will fix all the issues that aren’t working out for you, whilst still ticking all the boxes about the type of environment you love.



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