“Agency versus Corporate” is a common topic among us PR folks — what’s the difference, which is better, which one is more “going to the dark side” than other…?
I’m just over a year into my first corporate stint after 15 years at agencies and three years as a freelancer. Without offending, hopefully, my colleagues on either side of this fence, a few points that may offer some clarity to anyone looking toward one side or the other.
1. There is a difference. Yeah, PR is PR. But, working at an agency and working within an organization are different jobs requiring different skills mindsets. Look at it this way: The same person can play baseball and football, and if you’re a good athlete, you can play either at a very high level. But you’ve got to work different sets of muscles to be successful. Agency folks have to work their ‘what should they do muscles.’ Corporate flexes their ‘what can we do’ muscles.
2. Agency Pros are External Catalysts. In the best view of yourself,the external agency is a catalyst for change with clients. You bring in strategy, focus, an outside point of view. You bring in insight from your interactions with influencers, and your work with other clients. You share best practices. You add focused skill and expertise to the client’s world. And your ideas and strategies provide a spark that might just generate sales, change perceptions and drive change. While on the inside…
3. Corporate PR Pros are Internal Agents. You’re representing your organization and your function. You’re deploying your strategic skills in messaging, positioning, writing and communicating that, in most cases, few others in the organization possess. And in the best view of yourself, you’reeffecting change in the organization…not by fanning the flames of change but by channeling creative energy into operational reality.
4. Corporate PR has no idea how frustrating it is to be their PR agency.The very first time I worked with our agency after joining my company, I felt like a complete idiot. I didn’t have the information he needed, I didn’t have time to offer a proper explanation. I fired off short, probably cryptic emails just to keep things moving. I was acting, in short, just like the most frustrating clients I’d ever had. The challenge for the agency is to respect the client. To be a true partner, while standing outside of the day to day work of the client, helping the client to be their best self while never really knowing the whole story of how things are actually getting done on the inside.
5. Agency PR Pros have not idea how to effect change inside a client’s organization. Even the best agencies with the closest client relationships don’t really know what it’s like for their clients day to day. There’s the meetings. There are the multiple functions involved….organizational alignment needed…the moving parts necessary to turn a creative program into an operational success…From the outside, it might look dysfunctional…and sometimes it is….look at even the most effective organization from the inside and it’ll seem like chaos. But at their best, corporate pros are smarter than anyone about their business, effectively experimental, and cheerful agents of change.