***This post originally appeared on Medium***
In-house marketing and communications professionals all face the decision at some point in their career: to hire an internal public relations professional, or outsource to a PR firm that specializes in your industry. This is especially true in the start up space, especially for companies seeking tech PR, healthcare PR, and sustainability PR solutions. Rapidly evolving industries require nimble media relations strategists to execute the best public relations efforts.
However the size of the company, the stakes can be high and also very expensive. Should you choose in-house, you must be prepared to add a new dynamic to your office, and also extra costs in the form of employee salary, taxes and benefits.
On the other hand, should you choose to retain an agency, you must be prepared for monthly retainer costs. Depending on the scope of services provided, you’ll also likely need someone internally who is capable of managing the firm.
The point is, these are both commitments that need to be outlined upfront and navigated appropriately to succeed.
There are pros and cons for doing each, and as someone who has survived nearly a decade of agency life and also managed communications/marketing teams internally, I feel just qualified enough to show you were to start.
First, determine why you want to hire a PR firm. Is it to support a major news announcement? Build online search using articles and media mentions to bolster SEO? Create sales and marketing literature? Your answer to this question will impact your need for hiring to meet these objectives. Let me explain.
If you’re the one responsible for managing the marketing and communications department and functions, your title is likely Director of Communications, VP of Marketing, Head of Business Development, etc. This means you’re expected to achieve media visibility, put a blogging/content marketing schedule together, write press releases, etc. All fun and good, right?
But what happens when your company attends a trade show? You’re likely the one organizing the booth and giveaways. One of your biz dev or salespeople needs a sales deck by end of day? Guess who’s jumping on that. Website a little stale? They’re looking at you to manage the brand refresh.
VPs of Marketing…I can sense you nodding along, maybe even screaming “that’s me!” at your computer screen showing a web browser with 35 tabs and seven versions of a PowerPoint presentation.
ESPECIALLY in a startup environment, you’re wearing a lot of hats, many of them far outside the traditional marcomm responsibilities so carefully outlined in your job description. When you jump on these items, what happens to the media coverage, SEO boosts and social media presence you set out to build? They can very easily fall by the wayside.
If you have the bandwidth to hire graphic designers, SEO specialists, writers and media specialists…I get it. It’s not a bad idea, and it’s the same route I took in 2011 when I was building out a corporate comms function. Having an internal team to manage media outreach for enabled us to have the best public relations program possible put into place.
But what if you don’t have the budget, time or infrastructure? Hiring a PR firm capable of managing key initiatives you were hired for — media relations, email marketing, social media, SEO and content writing — may be the better solution.
Perspective is also an important aspect of this discussion. Working in-house, especially for a startup or in any fast-moving corporate environment, often means taking orders directly from and consistently interacting with the c-suite. Sometimes it can be very challenging to push back on creative ideas, media/marketing campaigns, and other ideas that company leaders cook up in their downtime. Hiring a PR firm, especially one who knows your respective industry very well, means you’re going to get real-time feedback from a group who’ve been through dozens or hundreds of campaigns, and can push back appropriately to ensure things are done right, not done because it’s the CEO’s vision. This perspective can mean everything, and the difference between the best public relations support or something that is rendered ineffective.
If you’re reading this and convinced I’m advocating to always hire a PR firm (after all, I’m biased), that’s only partially true. I think hiring the right PR firm capable of providing the best public relations support is much more important than hiring one at all. If you can find a group that not only manages the marketing and communications functions you don’t have time for, but more importantly understands how they all work together, you’ll be in a better place.
If you hire a firm that does one or two things well but requires your hand holding to complete ideas or doesn’t understand your big picture objectives, I’d recommend hiring in-house…even if that means a contractor model.