Hiring a PR Agency vs In-House Public Relations: Pros & Cons

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Should you hire a PR agency or handle public relations in-house? Well, it’s complicated

Making the decision between hiring an outside PR agency to handle your public relations or relying on your own in-house team can easily turn into one of those endless “on the other hand…” conversations. We know how hard it can be and that’s why we’ve put together a post dedicated to helping you make the best choice for your organization. 

But like we just said, there’s never one easier answer. That means we can walk you through the pros and cons of the different options but ultimately the tough decision belongs to you. 

We’re in a good position to give advice since we have extensive experience with both PR agencies that use Prowly to create and organize the work they do for their clients and with brands that use Prowly to do everything by themselves. 

Here’s what we’ve learned from them that could be helpful to you when trying to decide whether you should hire a PR firm or manage your own public relations with the team you have. 

Why should you hire a PR agency?

Let’s start on this side of the fence. Hiring an outside PR firm to manage your public relations is a better choice because… 

PR agencies have more (and better) media relationships

“Relationships” is a key word here since they are so often the difference between getting media coverage and being overlooked. 

It’s obvious that the experience of PR agencies will result in them having more and better media contacts. They’re simply far more active in the spaces that PR agencies and journalists share than most brands are and that means they form relationships they can call on later. Agencies learn which doors are worth knocking on and which aren’t. 

It works the other way, too. Journalists who may ignore a press release sent from your company email might be interested enough to open it if they see an agency’s name attached to it. It’s a simple matter of recognizing a name they’ve worked with before.

Remember, on top of everything else you’re getting from an agency, you’re paying for access to their contact lists. More often than not, it’s a price worth paying.

Example of a media list created in Prowly
Example of a PR list created in Prowly

When PR is too far outside of your core competencies, don’t do it

Depending on the nature of your business, the whole concept of marketing, public relations, and related ideas might be far away from what you’re good at. 

Do you really want to go through the recruiting process, put together your own team (and pay a lot for it—more about costs in a moment), and hope for the best, all while your time and attention are dragged away from the heart of your business? 

Didn’t think so. 

Businesses of all kinds hire PR firms for the same reason that they outsource any number of processes and tasks—because others can do it better and more efficiently. You could clean your own office at night, hire your own security in the building where you work, and never spend a cent on anyone who doesn’t directly work for you but you don’t because it makes sense to hire others who specialize in services. 

The same logic applies to PR firms. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can do just as good a job as the experienced pros can. When you need PR help but you have no idea how to do it, hiring a PR is the obvious choice. 

Get a fresh perspective on your business, your brand, and your customers

For an established brand, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything about your industry, customers, market, and so on. Maybe you do, but maybe you’re not as up-to-date as you think.

If you’re starting a new brand, you may not have a complete roadmap for your media outreach yet. Without experience to draw on, it can be easy to make mistakes and waste time while you learn through trial and error. 

That’s why fresh, outside perspectives can bring new ideas to the table that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. Brand image, the focus of your messaging, the mediums where you’re active, and even your logo—it’s easy to fall behind the times if you don’t bring in different voices to encourage you to think about new ways of doing things. 

Our experience shows that outside PR agencies are far more likely to propose bold changes when needed. In-house teams, despite their many benefits, are typically much more conservative when it comes to changing directions. This shouldn’t be surprising since PR agencies look for ways to restart your media presence and try something new to put their stamp on it. 

That’s what you’re paying them for, right? 

From a simple refresh of your image to a fundamental makeover in the way you reach out to the media world, you will always benefit from the expertise and informed perspective of PR agencies. If you’ve been around, they can keep you from falling behind. If you’re just starting out, they help you start on the right path. 

And if you feel like you need a complete reset of your PR activities, an agency is the way to go. 

Agencies are more in touch with trends, the media landscape, and the big picture

Still wondering what a public relations agency does? 

PR agencies are almost certainly better informed about the current media landscape, best practices, and under-the-radar trends than you are. They have their finger on the pulse of everything in the PR world. This is what they do

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to put together an in-house team that eats, sleeps, and breathes PR like an agency does. We’re not questioning anyone’s dedication or competence, it’s just that staff in an agency take a much wider, comprehensive view of things. They work with PR across industries and markets, not just a single brand. 

Representatives from PR agencies participate in PR industry events. They watch what other agencies are doing. They see what creative, innovative strategies get noticed and what works for brands that are not even their clients. They watch the world of PR like a hungry shopper notices everything in a supermarket—everything gets their attention. 

And when it’s time to work for a new client, they can apply all of that broad knowledge and experience. PR agencies are simply far more likely to have a much deeper and informed background to work with. Especially for brands in dynamic, highly competitive industries, a PR agency is in a much better position to keep you on the leading edge than an in-house team

You get access to senior talent that you’re unlikely to have on an in-house team

Here’s a little secret. Much of the best PR talent out there wants to work for an agency because they’ll get a variety of experience that working for a single brand can’t match. They want to work for the best, and that usually means an agency.

Of course, there are plenty of serious pros working on in-house teams but we still feel comfortable saying that PR agencies give you access to entire departments full of talent you almost certainly wouldn’t put together yourself. 

From graphic designers to copywriters to video production and more, agencies will have dedicated staff for every aspect of your PR needs. Whereas in-house team members typically wear multiple hats, PR agencies are full of people who wear one, very specialized hat. 

Hiring a PR agency will connect you with very senior, very talented, and very experienced creatives who are great at what they do. With no offense intended to anyone on an in-house team, working with a PR agency almost certainly delivers a higher standard of work. 

In a nutshell, here’s what a public relations agency does. Now, let’s take a look at in-house public relations and its advantages.

Why should you handle your public relations in-house? 

There are two sides to every story and it’s time to look at things from another perspective. Hiring an agency isn’t necessarily the right fit for every business. The costs can be significant and beyond the reach of many, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options for effective management of your PR activities.

Here’s why you should go with an in-house team to manage your PR needs: 

In-house PR teams can do a lot more than you think

In-house teams are fully capable of achieving a level of PR excellence far out of proportion to their size, especially when using modern PR tools like Prowly

From creating, sending, and tracking email campaigns to selecting the best media contacts to making expert-level press releases to maintaining an online newsroom and more, advanced tools now make it possible for an in-house team to do things they couldn’t not so long ago. 

These days, it’s often a mistake to think about PR agencies by default, assuming that they’re capable of things you can’t do yourself. There are now tools that can easily take care of everything required to run effective PR campaigns along with all the related support you need. 

Before switching to an agency, give your in-house team a chance to step up their game with dedicated PR tools like Prowly.

No one knows your business and industry as well as you do

In-house PR teams are closely plugged into the rest of your staff. They may not know your product as well as your designers or engineers but they certainly know it better than any outside PR agency. 

This is a massive advantage when it comes to knowledge—both basic and advanced—of your brand, your organization, your customers, your audience, etc. Whereas you need to educate an outside PR agency about all of this and constantly monitor their work to be sure it’s accurate, your in-house team is unlikely to make any mistakes when talking about their own company. 

Yes, a good PR agency will invest the time necessary to understand what you’re all about but they can never think and talk about you in the same informed way that your own staff can. 

This is especially important if you’re involved with a highly technical field or operate in a very specific niche full of its own jargon and concepts. Don’t expect a PR agency to ever “get” you like the people who work directly for you do. 

An in-house PR department works closer to the rest of the company

Large PR projects can involve lots of meetings, memos, discussions, feedback, revisions and more meetings. It’s complicated enough when all of this takes place under the same roof with members of the same team—what do you think it looks like when it has to be coordinated between two separate offices?  

With your own in-house PR team running things, communication of all kinds is much easier. Scheduling meetings, getting answers and arranging facetime when needed can all be done with an internal messenger or maybe even by walking to the end of the hall. This means moving the whole project forward is faster and easier. 

Working with an outside agency means working with an outside bureaucracy and another level (or two, or three…) of management, gatekeepers and people who will “get back to you”. 

If speed, efficiency and agility are important to you, let your in-house team handle your PR. 

You always know you’re the top priority

We would never suggest that PR agencies don’t devote all necessary time and attention to their clients but, ultimately, their team has to spread that time and attention across many clients.

It can happen that you start working with an agency only to quickly feel that you’re not getting the priority you deserve. When an agency is juggling multiple clients—that’s why it’s called an agency—you might not like the tradeoff you have to make in terms of access when you want it. 

When you work with your own in-house PR department, it’s always easy to get an update on where things stand or answers to questions you have. Your team doesn’t have any other clients or claims on their time, just you and your brand’s PR needs. 

Unless you’re spending more with a particular agency than any other client, be prepared to be a little lower down on their list of priorities than you would like. 

Depending on your needs, having an in-house PR team can save you money

How much does it cost to hire a PR company? Obviously, we can’t get into numbers here because much depends on a long list of variables. However, Rebecca Riserbato, Writer @ HubSpot Marketing, Sales, and Service Blogs, found that the current average cost of hiring a PR agency is about $3,000-5,000/month. Project-based costs tend to be lower, running at about $1,000.

Depending on your needs, just one or two people can use a tool like Prowly to conduct PR work that looks like it was made by a much bigger team. If Prowly was a military weapon, they would call it a “force multiplier”.

The point here is simply that you can do much more than you think with a small team. And if your budget only allows for a small team, then your PR needs might be covered better than you realize. The vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses can do everything they want to do with just a couple of people and PR software.

That means hiring a PR agency involves spending more than you need to and paying a lot more for the same services your own team can deliver if they have the right tools.

The bottom line 

We hope these points helped to clarify things for you but we understand there’s an equal chance they may have complicated an already difficult choice. 

In summary, let’s say that if you’re enterprise-level, are connected with a high-profile product or industry or want to focus on what you do best (which is nothing close to anything to do with PR), then you probably lean towards hiring a PR firm.

On the other hand, if you’re in a highly technical field, are small to medium-sized or under budget constraints, or just value having a team dedicated to you and only you, then you probably lean towards going with your in-house team. 

Again, we’re generalizing and no one knows your business better than you do. That’s why it’s your decision. 

Just bear in mind that PR tools such as Prowly allow PR pros to find media contacts, send email pitch campaigns, and use analytical insights to optimize results in the quest for press coverage. It even offers the ability to set up a branded online newsroom and share instant access to your press materials with journalists with a single click.

Also, check our lists of the top PR firms in several cities around the world along with tips we share with our agency clients.  

Either way, best of luck going forward with your PR!

Cover photo by S O C I A L . C U T